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Thousands of TriMet bus riders don't pay, and most get away with it

<p>Bus fare evasions could cost TriMet as much as $1 million a year and create what drivers say is an unsafe situation for everyone else on the bus.</p>

Sara Roth

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Christopher Day was driving a TriMet bus along Northeast 82nd Avenue on May 30 when he was assaulted for the second time in eight months.

Like the first assault, it involved a rider who refused to pay bus fare.

Day said he easily sees 40 to 60 people a day evading bus fare – and he’s not alone.

Bus driver Christopher Day says he sees dozens of people evade fare every day.&nbsp;

Bus drivers across the city are pushing a “fare evasion” button more than 1,000 times every day, alerting TriMet that someone skipped out on some or all of the fare but rode the bus anyway.

Unlike cities such as New York, Portland allows riders on the bus even if they don’t pay. And unlike cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, TriMet doesn’t have a robust crew regularly checking fares and issuing tickets on city buses.

Fare evaders could face a hefty $175 fine, exclusion or arrest, but TriMet’s infrequent enforcement operations mean evaders often ride the bus for free without consequence.

A lot of people take advantage of that. Last year TriMet riders evaded fare, on average, more than 35,000 times a month – costing TriMet up to $1 million a year in potential lost fare and creating dangerous situations for everyone else on the bus.

This year, fare evasions are skyrocketing.