Lightrail and Metro, Portland
One of the best ways to get from the airport to the city center is my Max. On both of my recent trips we took the Max into the city center, which is about a 30 min ride. It's cheap and efficient way to get in and around Portland, not to mention in the the "Yellow Zone" (city center) its FREE.
The cost to travel to the city center from the airport (for an ALL DAY Max ticket) is $4.25. This is well worth the price especially if you are taking the Max back to the aiport and plan to visit outside the Yellow Zone. You can also use this to visit Washington Park which is located outside of the city center and the use of the bus system as well.
Take the Blue or Red line to the city center.
Please note that the machines that dispense the tickets in the airport only take CASH.
MAX is the local street tram system. One of my favorites as it reminds me of Karlsruhe. It is connected to the airport. Free in the downtown zones. And for $4.25 USD you can get a day pass that is worth it if you just don't want to hassle worrying if your ticket is valid. Especially if you're mileage running and need to get back to the airport to head home the same night.
The Portland metro area truly has wonderful public transportation, including the MAX which is a light rail electric transport that recently expanded to the Portland Airport and a lot of people are using that now instead of driving and paying to park.
We were going to ride from the airport to downtown when we returned from London, but my daughter surprised me and picked us up.
MAX is free in the downtown core of Portland.
It's easy to get on and off, even with a bicycle, is comfortable and fun to ride.
Tri-Met is Portland's great public transportaion service. Between the MAX light-rail trains, the buses, and the streetcars, there is definetly a way to get where you need to be without needing a car.
The MAX just opened its third line and runs east/west (Blue Line), to the airport (Red Line), and now north/south (Yellow Line).
The Portland Streetcar traverses between Portland State University (5th & Market) and Good Samaritan Hospital in Northwest (23rd & Northrup).
There are ninety-three bus lines in the Portland Metro area, most of these connect with MAX stations.
Costs for the Max, streecar, and buses are $1.60 for an all-zone adult ticket, $4 for a day pass. Remember, your ticket is transferable from one form of transport to another!
Also, take advantage of the FARELESS SQUARE, and ride for free! The fareless sqare includes most of downtown and stops near the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd Center Mall. As long as you board and exit while within the square, you don't pay a penny!
Maps and schedules are found easily online at www.trimet.org.
To be honest, we didn't need to use much public transportation in Portland because it's really easy to get around on foot. However, the TriMet public transportation system is quite convenient to use when you're travelling with luggage or if you plan on visiting one of Portland's numerous parks or, in our case, Pittock Mansion. The MAX light rail system is quite easty to use since it works a bit like a metro, with the green and yellow lines running on 5th and 6th Ave. in downtown Portland, while the red and blue lines run on Morrison and Yamhill St. (most of the downtown area is included in the free ride zone). To get downtown from the airport, you can ride the red line to Pioneer Place - the fare for the 40-minute trip is $2.35 and you can buy tickets from the machines using cash or credit cards.
When it comes to riding the bus, there are all sorts of hourly/daily/weekly passes available. In our case, since we were only planning on riding the bus once, we thought we'd buy a regular ticket as we got on board. The fare should have been about $2, but when the driver realized we were from out of town, he gave us a free daily pass :o) Bus routes usually run in straight enough lines but the quickest way to figure out which bus to take is to use the trip planner available on the TriMet Website.
TriMet (Tri-County Transportation District) operates the city bus services and light rail trains in the Portland area. The light rail trains (essentially modern tram to the world outside the USA and Canada) are called MAX, and Portland Streetcar (a more traditional tram) is a street running only version that is smaller in size and slower in speed.
Please also see my TriMet Arrival by SmartPhone Tip.
The primary MAX route runs east-west through the metropolitan area, with two branches extending north to the Portland Airport and the other two the Portland Exposition Center along Interstate Avenue. One branch runs south to a suburban shopping mall called Clackamas Town Center, connecting a number of east side bus routes as well. In downtown the routes split so that routes going west to Beaverton and Hillsboro (the red and blue lines) go through downtown on Yamhill and Morrison. Yellow line (trains going north) and green line (trains going to Clackamas Town Center) go north and south through downtown on 5th and 6th Avenues.
Portland Streetcar runs in a large upside down U around downtown, from the far southwest side of town over the Broadway Bridge to southwest Portland.
Major points of tourist interest and utility served are the Portland Airport, downtown Portland (various things), Portland Union Station, Portland Greyhound Station, Portland Zoo, Pioneer Courthouse Square (where tourist information available weekdays), several shopping areas, and the two major convention locations (Portland Convention Center and the Exposition Center).
The tickets that are sold from MAX vending machines are are valid on MAX, Portland Streetcar, and all TriMet buses. Tickets sold on Portland Streetcar are quite a bit less expensive, but are not valid on MAX or buses. C-Tran is the bus system in Clark County, Washington on the other side of the river, and most TriMet tickets and passes are also valid on most C-Tran routes - but not the express routes that serve downtown Portland.
The TriMet web site is a clearinghouse for all of the affiliated transit system schedules, including Portland Streetcar, Westside Express commuter rail service, MAX light rail, and TriMet's bus network. Certain connecting transit agencies (such as C-Tran in Clark County, Washington or CATS in Canby) are not featured on this web site as they are separate transit agencies.
Many of the MAX stations have a display screen located somewhere on the platform (some are not easy to find) that give the arrival of the next trains. Some of these are older style systems and others are a newer style, but both give the same information: typical display shows arrival time in minutes, the line color, and the destination of the train. Some of the busy bus stops have these displays as well. See photo 4 of my TriMet Arrival by SmartPhone Tip.
There are other ways of getting information about the next arrival. Each bus stop and train platform has a unique identifying number. Sometimes you will find a sign at the bus stop that gives the number, but sometimes not. You can text message this stop number to the number 27299 and you will get a very brief summary of expected arrival times. The TriMet web site also has arrival information, and they do have a mobile version of the web site but frequently it does not automatically come up when you go to the standard TriMet web site using a mobile device. For the mobile version of the web site you need:
From there you can also enter the stop or station number to get a display of arrival times. It is also possible to call the phone number below, enter the stop number at the arrival times voice prompt, and get a voice system response of the expected arrival times.
Google maps also has expected arrival times on its map of Portland.
You will find references to "Fareless Square" and "Free Rail Area" in various places, but these areas have not existed since 2012. They were areas you could get around without paying anything. This effort was aimed at helping to move people easily through downtown Portland, and started in 1975. In 2010 it was eliminated from buses, and in 2012 all transit service in downtown Portland became paid fare only.
Photo 1 shows a typical MAX train going through downtown Portland.
Photo 2 shows a typical Transit Tracker output window on a computer: time to next bus passing through, and then the one after that. So, there is no use heading for the bus stop right now, as I have more than enough time to get there.
However, how do you find the stop ID number? Some of the stops and most MAX and train stations have schedules with the stop ID number posted in a nice public place. See photo 4 for the typical situation at a major bus stop with a full shelter. On a number of other bus stops, there is a small card on the bus stop pole that has the basic route information. Unfortunately, many of the bus stops still do not have the stop ID posted. The only way to find this number for those types of bus stops is to use the web site and locate the street location on the "transit tracker".
See photo 5: this is the typical TriMet bus stop sign. It does not have much useful information. It at least gives you the bus number. However, photo 4 does show that some bus stops, such as this example, are equipped with no schedules and no stop ID number, or even the direction the bus is going.
The system references both the GPS system and the timetable. This means that if something really awful is happening, the arrival times will not be shown. This has gotten a little better in recent years (a city wide ice storm in December of 2008 tested that!) but it is still a bit hazardous to trust the system during severe weather. Storms in December of 2008 did produce somewhat different results than previous storms: the system now put out the distance away of the rather than trying to estimate the arrival time. MAX however remains a challenge, and during our most recent 2014 winter storm the arrival information only said "Trains running approximately every half hour to 45 minutes" with no idea how long it had been since one had gone past, or when the next one was due.
The trip planner is OK, but you have to be very careful about what information you enter into it. Sometimes if you enter "shortest walk" the system may send you on a 1 hour detour just to avoid a few feet of walking. You also need to be careful about entering your departure time or arrival time. Certain buses are not available to certain areas at certain times, and the WES commuter rail service only operates during peak periods during regular weekdays. Certain pedestrian routes seem to be in the system, but certain other pedestrian only walkways don't seem to be in there.
The web site also has a trip planner. This helps you plan you trip on the system.
Photo 3 shows the typical input for the Trip Planner on the web site. You have to be somewhat careful about the entries that you put in, as the trip planner will take them literally. Typically your best bet is "fastest trip" as "fewest transfers" and "minimize walking" can send you on an hour long detour to avoid a transfer or walking a few feet between bus stops.
Many people ask for specific trips. This includes how to get from Portland Union Station or the Greyhound Station to the Portland Airport. The best thing to do when making this trip is to go to the MAX station on 5th Avenue that is directly west of the Greyhound Station (Portland Union Station is immediately north of the Greyhound station so this tip works the same for both). Get on a green line train headed to Clackamas Town Center (NOT a yellow line train). Anywhere between the Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center get off, and wait for the next Red Line train on the same track headed towards the airport. You would reverse this process to get from the Airport to the Greyhound Station or Union Station.
Timeline: March 2008
All Trimet buses have external bike racks mounted up front (two, max) & are equipped to handle wheelchair/scooters.
Bikes can be mounted on overhead hooks inside all late model MAX (Metro Area eXpress) cars, both front & rear; handicapped friendly as well. Single car trains, an oxymoron if ever there was one, are of the newer variety; at least one car of two car trains will also employ the later model.
Streetcars are also handicapped friendly via rear door. Bicycle storage is trickier, a bit less obvious. Mid-section of all cars are near sidewalk level. Front & rear seating is two steps higher. Stanchions alongside steps, both sides, are designed to insert & capture front wheel of bike. Owner is expected to hold bike in place. Capacity, 4 per uncrowded car - a rarity.
I've only seen the upright bike slots used properly on a single occasion, the only reason I'm therefore aware of their existence. Future versions may mount them externally up front like Trimet buses for that reason. We'll see. Time will tell.
We were staying at an airport hotel for our last night in Oregon and discovered this great way to get into the downtown area and around downtown while there. For about $4 each we got a multi zone pass that whisked us past all the stalled freeway traffic jams to Chinatown in about 15 minutes.
The train was fairly clean and felt safe. The machine you are supposed to buy your ticket from before boarding were either out of service or, if they worked, seemed harder to figure out and operate than most I've used in other cities. If you think you will be using the train, I'd suggest looking at their website ahead of time. I think we paid more than we needed to. Also was interesting that noone asked to see our tickets....
Train ran every 15 minutes from the Cascade Station. The hotel driver recommended that station rather than the airport one as it was easier to get to and far less crowded.
The downtown zone is free to all.
Fareless Square means almost exactly what it says except that it is not square. Most of downtown Portland and "The Lloyd District" is accessible by free bus and/or light rail. You can board and leave this system at any stop within the fareless area as many times as you like at no cost. If you plan to leave Fareless Square via bus or light rail, you are supposed to pay the fare when you board. Many of the most popular hotels, tourist attractions, and Portland State University are within Fareless Square.
The Lloyd District is a cultural and educational area on the east side of the Willamette River where you will find the Oregon Convention Center, Rose Garden Arena, and Memorial Coliseum, among many other wonderful stops.
The TRIMET website also has a rather unique trip planning service. It is similar to Mapquest. Just enter your starting point and destination and it will tell you which bus and train routes to take as well as departure and arrival times.
If you find yourself at a transit stop with no bus or train in sight, call 503-238-RIDE with the Stop ID number and the computer will tell you when the next bus or train is due.
All Trimet vehicles are accessible to disabled individuals.
Similar to Seattle's "Free Ride Area" is Portland's "Fareless Square." It's an area in Downtown Portland where fare is not collected. For as long as you stay in the Fareless Square, you can ride buses, streetcars, and MAX (Portland's light rail train) for free.
The following are some of the attractions in the Fareless Square: Portland Public Library, Powell's Books, Portland Art Museum, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Chinatown, and the Rose Garden.
Take advantage of the free transportation within downtown Portland. You can'get get everywhere for free, so check the maps at the stops to see if where you want to go is withing the free zone. The streetcar, Busses and Max light rail are all free within a certain area also known as fareless square. If boarding a bus just say "fareless" If you do leave fareless square buy your ticket on board. They don't check often...but make sure you keep your ticket with you, its good for 1hr 45mins (i think)
The metro and the buses are really easy to use. And they are very handicapped friendly!!! Alot of buses end up downtown on 5th or 6th streets. Those are the major bus streets. So, if you need a bus out of downtown head for those streets. They have tv monitors w/ schedules and easy to use maps posted at every bus stop. The metro is obtainable from Pioneer Square of Saturday Market downtown and goes far N and to the Airport. It also goes to Hillsboro. An all day pass for all the public transport is 3.50$ per day per person and one way for two zones is 1.70$ and it's good for an hour. A one zone is 1.40. It's free to ride both modes in the downtown area. Ask someone as to the amount of area that covers.
Portland is an environmentally conscious city that "walks the talk." Most of the downtown area falls into what is known as Fareless Square, where riding the public transit system is free.
According to the Tri-Met website, the boundaries of Fareless Square are "the Willamette River to the east, I-405 to the south and west, and Hoyt Street to the north."
TriMet buses serve Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Many bus lines connect with MAX Light Rail and 16 lines provide Frequent Service (every 15 minutes or better, every day).
MAX Light Rail
TriMet's Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) Light Rail system connects the communities of Portland, Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro, and the Portland Airport.
The Portland Streetcar travels between the RiverPlace area in Southwest Portland and Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Northwest Portland.
TriMet fares are valid on buses, MAX and the Portland Streetcar.
Adult fares are based on the number of zones you will be traveling through.
Honored Citizen fares, Youth/Student fares, LIFT fares, All-Day Tickets and 3-Day Adventure Passes are valid in all zones.
All trips that begin and end within Fareless Square are free—all day, every day.
Portland's excellent transit system will get you anywhere. Take a MAX train directly from the airport into downtown. Hop on the streetcar or trolley from Portland State University to Powell's Books on 10th or up to NW 23rd Ave. Everything's free within the fareless square of downtown, and you can carry your bike with you on the bus. Monitors inside the downtown stops tell you how soon the next bus is coming.