Conquering the Portland TriMet system

Growing up in West Linn, a small suburb of Portland, Oregon, I never had the need to take public transportation. Freshman year, my roommate and I thought about taking a bus to Pasadena a few times, but our plan for a change in scenery and food options always fell through.  This is where my knowledge of public transportation ends.

Until now, that is.

I have always been intimidated by buses, light rail, or any form of public transportation that I am not familiar with. For this reason, I brought my friend Grace along to keep me company and help with this spring break activity.

Grace and I drove about 10 minutes to the city of Clackamas, where we purchased our $2.50 tickets for the TriMet MAX at the Clackamas Town Center. TriMet provides bus, light rail, and commuter light rail transit around the Portland area. There are five different lines: Blue Line, Red Line, Green Line, Orange Line, and Yellow Line. These lines are running all throughout different areas of the city. We traveled on the Green Line; this is the line that goes from Clackamas to City Center and then to Portland State University.


Our MAX light rail we traveled downtown Portland in.

These light rail tickets were for 2 1/2 hours riding time, but there were also $5 tickets available for the whole day.

The ticket station was simple, easy to understand, and we were on our way to downtown Portland shortly after we arrived.

Once we walked onto the MAX for our close to an hour ride, I was shocked at how few people there were on the light rail. I expected a busy and packed experience, I’m not entirely sure why, since it was a Tuesday afternoon.


The empty MAX when I first got on.

A few people began to walk on. I noticed all four of the people who entered the MAX were middle aged. One woman went directly to the first empty seat she saw, despite her many options, and fell asleep. She had her purse on her lap and her head leaned against the window.

The next man who climbed on the MAX had a backpack on and headphones in his ears. He sat down immediately and listened to music the whole time.

Everyone who was riding this light rail was quiet and kept to themselves.

After we had been sitting there for a few minutes, a boy around my age walked on, smiled at us, and sat down a few rows up. I quickly jumped at the opportunity to have a conversation with a friendly fellow TriMet rider, so I ditched Grace and switched seats. I learned that this boy’s name is Tyler Heth and he attends Portland State University. He rides the MAX every day to go to school.

“The MAX is a quick and easy way of transportation to stay out of the elements of Portland during bad weather,” Heth said.

I hadn’t thought about weather until now. Had I grown so accustomed to the Southern California sun that I had forgotten all about the daily rain and winds that cover this city?

Thankfully, I had chosen to ride downtown on a relatively clear day.

I continued talking with Heth for most of the way downtown, and he told me about some of the crazy things he has seen on the MAX.

“I’ve seen a naked guy on the MAX before. It was crazy. He was wearing a woman’s shirt and skirt. He wasn’t wearing underwear and the skirt was very short. The guy had a friend with him who was most likely on drugs and kept trying to talk to me,” said Heth.

As I was finishing up my conversation with Heth, I noticed a woman in her mid 40’s sitting pretty close to us. Unlike everyone else, she did not have headphones in her ears, which made her a prime candidate to have a conversation with me.

Rosa Frelay told me about how crucial it is that she has the MAX so she can get to work.

“My car broke down a few years back, and I didn’t have money to fix it so I started riding TriMet until it just became a habit to take public transportation. I think it is easier because I don’t have to worry about driving or parking,” Frelay said.

We arrived at Pioneer Courthouse Square about an hour after we left. Grace and I got off, walked around, and ate lunch before we headed back on the MAX.

I had never realized how important the MAX and public transportation is for so many people. Tyler and Rosa both would not be able to get to school or work without this means of transportation.

After this experience, I am much more comfortable with the thought of public transportation. It was much cleaner and easier than I had anticipated. The next time my friends and I are arguing about who has to drive, I will suggest taking the MAX so no one has to stress about parking or traffic.


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