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December 26th, 2007 Jeremy Gillick | News Stories
 

The Square Dance

Here’s every number to know before deciding whether Fareless Square should stay or go next month.

     
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TriMet general manager Fred Hansen’s campaign to limit Fareless Square’s hours to 7 am to 7 pm has jarred Portlanders almost as much as the November MAX station assault that prompted it.

“The logic of this escapes me,” says Annette White-Parks, a retired English professor who has been riding TriMet fearlessly for four years. “I don’t see what getting rid of Fareless Square will accomplish.”

TriMet’s board meets next month to hear Hansen out, then perhaps resolve the 32-year-old program’s fate in February or March. Until now, Hansen’s case has rested on the assumption that cutting back Fareless Square’s hours will reduce crime. But does transit crime stem from Fareless Square?

The November baseball-bat attack on a 71-year-old man took place in Gresham, not downtown. And TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch admits crime rates are no higher in Fareless Square than outside it. “Part of what keeps the [crime rate] low [in Fareless Square] is the inability of officers and supervisory folks to interact with customers by asking for proof of payment,” she says.

Hansen, too, insists the costs of Fareless Square are real. Citing a 1998 review of free transit, he claims that free public transportation comes at the expense of commuter safety. He asserts that Fareless Square gives “panhandlers…drug dealers, rowdy gangs of young people, homeless people and drunks…a place to do their business”—an opinion many consider an unwarranted attack on Portland’s already beleaguered.

But White-Parks wants “some evidence” about a link between Fareless Square and crime. Here’s some numbers to consider before TriMet’s Jan. 23 meeting:

  • Number of crimes committed in Fareless Square between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2007: 85

  • Number of crimes committed in Fareless Square over that same period in 2006: 123

  • Total number of TriMet crimes committed between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2007: 875

  • Total number of TriMet crimes committed over that same period in 2006: 1,014

  • Number of drug- or alcohol-related crimes committed in Fareless Square between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2007: 53

  • Number of drug- or alcohol-related crimes committed in Fareless Square over that same period in 2006:39

  • Total number of drug- or alcohol-related TriMet crimes committed between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2007: 513

  • Total number of drug- or alcohol-related TriMet crimes committed over that same period in 2006: 345

  • Estimated annual revenue to be gained by limiting Fareless Square hours to 7 am to 7 pm: 450,000-$600,000

  • Amount of money to be spent on additional TriMet police officers: 500,000

  • TriMet’s 2008 budget: $741 million

  • Number of complaints about “drug dealers or homeless people” in Fareless Square since Jan. 1:9

  • Number of complaints about dogs in Fareless Square since Jan. 1:2

  • Number of complaints about panhandlers in Fareless Square since Jan. 1: 3

  • Number of complaints about rowdy teenagers in Fareless Square since Jan. 1: 5

FACT: Fareless Square, created in 1975, has expanded over the years from a small downtown area to its current boundaries of I-405 to the south and Northwest Irving Street to the north. It even protrudes into a small section of Northeast Portland.
 
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