Let’s make TriMet a drug-free zone

Feb 8, 2024

New legislation would give law enforcement the tools they need to keep illegal drugs off of transit.

We believe all Portland-area residents deserve a safe, welcoming and reliable transit system – one where they should not have to fear encountering illegal drug use. That’s why we support Senate Bill 1553-1, which would make illegal drug use on transit a Class A Misdemeanor.

Proposed by the Oregon Transit Association and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, Senate Bill 1553-1 would add using illicit drugs to an existing state statute that governs behavior on public transit – giving police much-needed tools to help make transit systems in the state, including TriMet, a drug-free zone, and give people experiencing addiction a path to help.

Illegal drugs don’t belong on public transit

Despite our continued focus on safety and security efforts, the rampant open drug use that is surging in our community extends onto our transit system at times, creating an unpredictable and potentially dangerous situation for our riders and employees.

In June 2023, University of Washington researchers tested the air and surfaces on several MAX trains. Although the amount found was extremely low and experts said they did not pose a health risk, many samples tested positive for fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Not only does the presence of illegal drugs (and the erratic behavior of drug users) raise fears about exposure to fumes, needles and residue, it’s also an uncomfortable and unwelcome experience for our riders and employees.

Widespread open drug use in public spaces has contributed to a more than 30% decrease in riders who say they feel safe on TriMet over the past six years. The broader public perception of safety has also dropped, with only 18% of non-riders feeling that transit is safe.

Why we must take action now

Our public spaces and public services should feel safe and comfortable for everyone to use, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community — many of whom rely on TriMet as a lifeline to jobs, schools and essential services due to age, disability or income.

This is a time when we should be promoting transit widely as a reliable alternative to driving in order to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce air pollution. But many people who would otherwise be open to riding TriMet are hesitant due to perceptions of transit as unsafe.

Our community as a whole deserves to fully realize the many benefits of our region’s investment in transit – from mobility to congestion reduction to economic development. But safety concerns will continue to hamper ridership growth unless we take action now.

Riders and non-riders continue to tell us loud and clear: We need to do more to address illegal drug use. TriMet has taken many steps to do our part, including doubling our security budget and more than doubling our on-board safety and security presence since 2022.

But we can’t fix this alone. Law enforcement also needs the proper tools to hold illegal drug users accountable and effectively enforce the rules.

What Senate Bill 1553-1 would do

It’s already a violation of TriMet Code to smoke any substance on a TriMet vehicle or at a transit station, and violators can receive a fine, citation or exclusion. But we need police to be able to help us keep the smoking and use of illegal drugs off our system.

To address this, the Oregon Transit Association and ATU Local 757 have introduced Senate Bill 1553-1, which would apply the existing crime of “Interfering with Public Transportation” to the use of illicit drugs on transit. This includes smoking, igniting, injecting or consuming drugs on a vehicle or at a transit station.

Similar to most other “Interfering with Public Transportation” offenses, violators would be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor – the most serious of misdemeanors. The legislation also makes this offense a “drug-designated misdemeanor,” which means those convicted of the crime will get access to state-funded treatment in many cases.

By making this change in the law, police will have the enforcement tools they need to help make public transit a drug-free zone.

What do you think?

TriMet stands with the Oregon Transit Association, ATU Local 757, and our fellow transit agencies statewide in taking action to ensure the safety of riders and employees and reclaim our public spaces and public services for the benefit of all.

You can share your views on Senate Bill 1553-1 by calling or emailing your legislators. Find the State Senator and State Representative who represent you.

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