Getting Around Portland: Guide to Public Transportation

Red Portland Streetcar going through town

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Portland, Oregon has earned its reputation as one of the country’s top biking cities. But there are a lot of ways to get around town other than on two wheels. From a light rail to streetcar, bus service, car-sharing programs, and scooters, there are many options for exploring the City of Roses. 

About the TriMet System

Portland’s expansive and connected TriMet public transportation system offers MAX light rail service as well as bus and streetcar service. All accept Hop cards and digital tickets. You can also still buy and use paper tickets, but they will be phased out of use in December of 2019. Visit this link to access TriMet’s Trip Planner, Transit Tracker, and Service Alerts.

Rates and payment: Fares are $2.50 for adults for 2.5 hours of travel on any method of TriMet public transportation, or $5 per day. You can buy tickets at machines located in MAX stations and at the TriMet office in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Or you can use a Hop Fastpass card or the Hop app—cards can be purchased at TriMet offices, supermarkets, and convenience stores. The app can be downloaded and funded via debit and credit cards, or through Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay. Simply scan your ticket, card, or phone when boarding a bus, train, or streetcar.

Accessibility: All TriMet buses, trains, transit centers, and stations are fully accessible to people who have limited mobility, and TriMet offers tools for those who are blind or have low vision or are deaf or hard of hearing.

Bikes: Because Portland is such a bike-friendly city, many people combine biking and public transportation to get around the city. There are bike racks outside of every MAX station, and you can bring your bike aboard the MAX. In addition, every bus is equipped with a bike rack on the front that holds up to two bikes. Visit this link for information about how to load a bike onto a bus rack. 

How to Ride the MAX

The MAX light rail system connects the airport, city, and outlying areas with 97 stations and 60 miles of track. Since car traffic is not an issue on the light rail, the MAX is the most efficient way to take public transportation to and from the airport. There are pockets of Portland where there aren’t stations nearby and the bus or streetcar is a better option, but the MAX covers most of the Portland area. 

There are 5 lines, all of which run through downtown:

Trains run every 15 minutes during peak hours. They automatically stop at every station, so there’s no need to signal when you need to exit. Trains don’t run throughout the night, but every line has a different schedule, so check TriMet’s schedules if you’re looking to use it late at night or early morning.

How to Ride the Bus

TriMet has 84 bus lines serving the Portland metro area. Visit the TriMet web site for route maps, schedules, and to plan your trip. Look for the green symbols indicating lines with frequent service of every 15 minutes during most of the day, and buses offering 24-hour service.

You’ll find that the buses run fairly well in Portland, and riders are friendly, often times giving a polite “thank you” to the driver as they get off the bus.

How to Ride the Streetcar

Portland’s modern streetcar doesn’t cover the entire city, but it’s very useful for getting around downtown, The Pearl, and the inner east side. There are two lines, the A Loop and the B Loop. The A Loop runs clockwise and connects the east and west sides of the city, making stops in the Pearl district, the Broadway Bridge, Lloyd Center, OMSI, Tilikum Crossing Bridge, and Portland State University. The B Loop stops at the same locations, but moves counter-clockwise. For maps, schedules, and more information, visit the Streetcar’s website.

If the streetcar arrives at your stop and the doors don’t open, simply press the button to activate the doors. It does not automatically stop at every station like the MAX does, so be sure to signal the operator when you’re approaching your stop by pushing the yellow stop request button or strip.

Taxis

There’s a long list of taxi companies in Portland. Radio Cab is the city’s most popular, but you can view an exhaustive list here.

Uber and Lyft are both good options for cash-free rides to or from the airport and around the city.

Bike and Scooter Shares

In 2016, Portland launched the Biketown bike-share program in partnership with Nike, and now you see the bright orange cycles all over town. There are more than 1,000 bikes at 100 stations. You can pay as you go ($0.08/minute, plus a $5 sign-up fee), by the month ($19), or the year ($99). Visit Biketown’s web site for more info.

Portland also has a pilot program offering electronic scooter shares from Lime and Spin, and this quick, easy, and cheap way of getting around has been hugely popular.

Car Rentals

Renting a car is a great way to get around Portland, as the most visited parts of city are fairly compact and easy to navigate. Parking isn’t usually much of an issue outside of downtown and the Pearl, which have parking lots where you can pay for a spot if metered parking isn’t available on the street.

Rent a car for a day or a week from national car rental companies like Enterprise, Thrifty, Dollar, Alamo, and Budget. If you need one for less time, check into car-sharing programs like Car2Go and Zipcar, which allow drivers to rent for just a few minutes or by the hour or day.

Tips for Getting Around

Traffic: Portland has had a population explosion in the last several years, and at certain times of day, the roads can’t handle the influx of cars. So don’t be surprised to find traffic backed up throughout the city, especially on the bridges and busy I-5, 205, and 84 during commuting hours. If you’re planning on driving during these roads, it’s always a good idea to check driving apps with live traffic results like Waze before you head out to look at alternate routes.

Parking: Downtown and in The Pearl, parking is always at a premium. There are lots you can pay to park in, but when exploring these neighborhoods, it’s best to do as the locals do and explore on foot or by bike or scooter. 

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