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Free ride area on TriMet (Portland, Oregon's public transit system) in the downtown core of Portland. All buses, MAX light rail trains, and the Portland Streetcar can be ridden without paying while within the square. Fareless Square is bordered by the west bank of the Willamette River on the east, by Interstate 405 on the south and the west, and NW Irving Street on the north.1 The square encompasses the Transit Mall (Portland's main transit transfer hub), Pioneer Square ("Portland's Living Room"), Portland State University, the Union Station Amtrak station, the Saturday Market, and the main downtown business and retail district.


Effective September 1, 2001, the area was expanded east across the Steel Bridge to the large Lloyd Center mall, the Convention Center, and the Rose Garden stadium. Ten bus lines and the MAX light rail pass through the extended free area. The narrow strip extends from NE Multnomah Blvd. on the north, Holladay St. on the south, 14th St. on the east, and the Central Business District (CBD) free area on the west.2 Goals of the extension, as cited by TriMet, include:3

  • Reducing the number of trips between downtown and the Lloyd District, 92% of which are currently by Automobile
  • Increasing transit ridership and transportation options between downtown and the Lloyd District
  • Increasing shopping opportunities through an "extended downtown"
  • Increasing the potential for new development in the Lloyd District and downtown

The extension is expected to cost $900,000 per year in lost revenue, of which $300,000 will be covered by the City of Portland, $300,000 will be replaced with revenues from new parking meters in the Lloyd District, and $300,000 will be covered by TriMet itself.4 There are concerns that the area's neighborhood streets will become a Park-and-Ride, and a parking permit zone may be needed to avoid this.


Fareless square was instituted in 1975, following a 1974 TriMet staff report recommending it. The report cited the following goals:5

Fareless Square proved very successful. Ridership within the CBD rose from 1,000 daily in 1975 to 8,200 daily in 1979.6 The Square is often utilised mid-day by workers during lunch break to eat or go shopping. Providing this free, convenient service was intended not only to cut back on mid-day downtown car trips, but also to encourage commuters to use transit to get to and from work, as the need for a car during the day would be greatly reduced. Indeed, 50% of transit commuters to downtown take advantage of the free downtown service.5 This, along with the 1977 construction of the Transit Mall, contributed to increased overall ridership. Only 1 in 5 trips to downtown prior to 1977 were on transit, but by 1984 transit's share had grown to a full half.6 Auto commuters also use Fareless Square, and constitute 42% of its users.5

Transit was an integral part of the Central City Plan to revitalize the downtown. Transit improvements increased overall accessability to and within the CBD, which is often difficult and expensive to park in, in turn encouraging businesses to locate there. Portland's downtown underwent an impressive rebound in the 1970s and '80s, in contrast to the decay seen in most central cities across the country.

(1) http://www.trimet.org/schedule/fareless.htm
(2) http://www.trimet.org/farelessmap.htm
(3) http://www.trimet.org/farelesssquare.htm
(4) http://www.oregonlive.com/news/99/08/st081207.html
(5) http://www.trimet.org/fareless_hist.htm
(6) http://www.engr.utexas.edu/uer/past/spring96/papers/en_paper/en_paper.html

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