Guide to Portland Public Transportation

Travel Tips — By Brie Milgrom on September 3, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Three years ago my car stopped working. I donated it to the Humane Society and never looked back! Portland has an excellent public transportation system including buses, light-rail (MAX), commuter rail (WES), streetcars and an aerial tram. TriMet oversees these resources, and they have a helpful website. On the website, enter your starting address and destination address, and you will receive detailed directions to reach your destination (including transfers and walking directions).

TriMet buses are great for crossing the river and accessing Portland’s five quadrants (North, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest), regardless of your point of origin. For trips to the suburbs, the MAX and WES are speedier options.


Bus stops are marked with a blue post with at least one white and blue flag on it. The flag lists the route number.

Bus stops are indicated by tall blue poles with numbered signs at the top. There will be one or several on a pole, depending on how many buses stop there. Many bus stops also have shelters and include route maps and transit schedules. Each stop has its own ID number. You can call TriMet’s Transit Tracker line (503) 238-7433, enter the stop ID number, and an automated system tells you when the next bus is scheduled to arrive. Buses stop about every two blocks, depending on the route. Drivers are usually friendly and helpful. They will announce your stop if you ask them to.

Newly renovated bus mall on 5th and 6th Avenue Downtown.

Monitors announce the next arrival time for buses scheduled at that stop.

Signs show the route numbers of buses that serve that stop.

Maps help you locate the nearest stop on your route.

Payment System

There are a number of ticket options depending on your transit needs. For a full list of fares and ticket options, see the TriMet website. The simplest option is a one way ticket. Your fare is based on how far you’re traveling. Portland is divided into three zones. A one or two zone adult ticket is $2.05. Three zones costs $2.35. Deposit exact change (cash and coins) into the fare box when boarding the bus. The bus driver will give you a transfer that is good for at least one hour on week days and two on weekends. The time at the top of your transfer is when it expires. Keep it as proof of payment, and use it if you need to ride additional buses to reach your destination.

One way tickets and day passes can be purchased from the bus driver. All other tickets and passes can be purchased at the TriMet Ticket Office, or local grocery stores.

How to Ride

After you insert your ticket or cash fare into the box, find a seat. You may sit in the seats closest to the front of the bus, but be prepared to move for seniors and others who need that seat more than you. If all the seats are taken, move as far as you can toward the back of the bus and hang on. Pull the yellow cord on either side of the bus, or press one of the red buttons near the back door to signal your stop.

If possible, exit through the rear doors. Wait until the light comes on, then push the doors open to exit.


  • Have your exact fare or ticket ready. The bus operators are unable to provide change.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, or talk loudly on your cell phone. If you must make a phone call, keep it brief and quiet.
  • Service animals are permitted and pets are allowed to ride if they are in carriers.
  • Exit through the back door when possible.
  • The seats near the front of the bus are for seniors and other people who need that seat more than you. Please be gracious and offer your seat to someone who needs it.
  • Thank your driver when you exit.

If you forget the rules, they are posted near the bus roof.


  • MAX, WES and Streetcar tickets are valid on buses, and vice versa.
  • If you are making multiple trips in one day or plan to use public transportation exclusively, a one- or several- day pass will save you money.
  • Sitting or standing closer to the back door allows for an easy exit during peak commute times.
  • If standing, face the side of the bus with your feet at least a foot apart, or if facing forward, place one foot a short distance in front of the other. Bend your knees slightly. This will help you keep your footing when the bus stops, starts, and turns.

[Photos courtesy Brie Milgrom]

Tags: "public transportation", Bus, MAX, portland, TriMet, WES


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