Refugee Orientation: Public Transportation

August 15, 2016

Many refugees arrive from places where public transportation is scarce or too costly to use. But in the Portland area, it becomes the primary way most of our newest residents will travel.

The transit system can be a confusing and daunting experience for those who don’t speak English or who are not using to sharing space with people who don’t look like them.

Participants in Catholic Charities' cultural orientation class series learn about transportation

Catholic Charities’ eighth cultural orientation class for new refugees focused on public transportation and staying safe as a pedestrian.

Zadok Taylor, a facilitator with People-Places-Things, reminded people to look both ways before crossing the street, and to cross at designated crosswalks. It’s safe, and it’s also the law.

The transit system can be complicated, but Taylor explained the basics. There are different types of tickets. People can buy a ticket for a single ride, a day or a month. And there are a lot of places to buy them. Stores such as Fred Meyer and Safeway sell them. People can buy a single-ride  ticket at a MAX station or from a bus driver. A passenger must buy a ticket when they get into a bus, but before getting into a Max train.

But the bus drivers only take cash and don’t give any change. So it’s important to have the exact amount of money they need.  

Kids ages 6 and under ride for free, while kids ages 7-17 need to pay. But kids, senior citizens and people with a disability can get a monthly pass for a reduced cost. If a person is caught riding without a ticket, they can get a fine of up to $250.

Taylor showed the participants how to check arrival times for Trimet by using their cell phone. Just text the Stop ID to 27299 to find out when the bus or max will arrive.

“Today, I learned a lot about the transportation systems in Oregon,” said Karar Almaliko, 17, from Iraq. “This is really cool!”

Until people get used to the system, it can be easy to get lost. Taylor said they can ask a bus driver or MAX conductor for help. are lost and don’t know where they are going, they can ask the bus driver or MAX conductor for help. A person can show the driver the address where they need to go, and the driver will tell them how to get there.

People who don’t want to take public transportation might prefer to use a car or ride a bike.

Unlike in many places, the law in Oregon requires that people wear a seatbelt when they ride in a car. The Oregon driving laws also require children to sit in a safety seat until they weigh 40 pounds. People can be fined if they don’t follow these rules.

Portland is a good place to bike, as well, and lets people avoid the cost of public transportation or auto payments, said Beth Hammon, a volunteer from Havurah Shalom.

Hammon worked as a bike mechanic, repairing used bikes and donating them to Catholic Charities to distribute to newly-arrived refugees who couldn’t afford bus fare or a car. She said she relies on Trimet and her bike to travel because even if she wants to take the bus, she can bring her bike and it doesn’t cost any extra.

“Portland is a great city to live in even if you can’t afford a car,” said Hammon. “ I’d probably saved several thousands dollars a year by not driving.”