Portland Transportation Tips by glabah Top 5 Page for this destination
Portland Transportation: 92 reviews and 86 photos
MAX on SW 5th Avenue
TriMet (Tri-County Transportation District) operates the city bus services and light rail trains in the Portland area. The light rail trains (essentially modern tram to the world outside the USA and Canada) are called MAX, and Portland Streetcar (a more traditional tram) is a street running only version that is smaller in size and slower in speed.
Please also see my TriMet Arrival by SmartPhone Tip.
The primary MAX route runs east-west through the metropolitan area, with two branches extending north to the Portland Airport and the other two the Portland Exposition Center along Interstate Avenue. One branch runs south to a suburban shopping mall called Clackamas Town Center, connecting a number of east side bus routes as well. In downtown the routes split so that routes going west to Beaverton and Hillsboro (the red and blue lines) go through downtown on Yamhill and Morrison. Yellow line (trains going north) and green line (trains going to Clackamas Town Center) go north and south through downtown on 5th and 6th Avenues.
Portland Streetcar runs in a large upside down U around downtown, from the far southwest side of town over the Broadway Bridge to southwest Portland.
Major points of tourist interest and utility served are the Portland Airport, downtown Portland (various things), Portland Union Station, Portland Greyhound Station, Portland Zoo, Pioneer Courthouse Square (where tourist information available weekdays), several shopping areas, and the two major convention locations (Portland Convention Center and the Exposition Center).
The tickets that are sold from MAX vending machines are are valid on MAX, Portland Streetcar, and all TriMet buses. Tickets sold on Portland Streetcar are quite a bit less expensive, but are not valid on MAX or buses. C-Tran is the bus system in Clark County, Washington on the other side of the river, and most TriMet tickets and passes are also valid on most C-Tran routes - but not the express routes that serve downtown Portland.
The TriMet web site is a clearinghouse for all of the affiliated transit system schedules, including Portland Streetcar, Westside Express commuter rail service, MAX light rail, and TriMet's bus network. Certain connecting transit agencies (such as C-Tran in Clark County, Washington or CATS in Canby) are not featured on this web site as they are separate transit agencies.
Many of the MAX stations have a display screen located somewhere on the platform (some are not easy to find) that give the arrival of the next trains. Some of these are older style systems and others are a newer style, but both give the same information: typical display shows arrival time in minutes, the line color, and the destination of the train. Some of the busy bus stops have these displays as well. See photo 4 of my TriMet Arrival by SmartPhone Tip.
There are other ways of getting information about the next arrival. Each bus stop and train platform has a unique identifying number. Sometimes you will find a sign at the bus stop that gives the number, but sometimes not. You can text message this stop number to the number 27299 and you will get a very brief summary of expected arrival times. The TriMet web site also has arrival information, and they do have a mobile version of the web site but frequently it does not automatically come up when you go to the standard TriMet web site using a mobile device. For the mobile version of the web site you need:
From there you can also enter the stop or station number to get a display of arrival times. It is also possible to call the phone number below, enter the stop number at the arrival times voice prompt, and get a voice system response of the expected arrival times.
Google maps also has expected arrival times on its map of Portland.
You will find references to "Fareless Square" and "Free Rail Area" in various places, but these areas have not existed since 2012. They were areas you could get around without paying anything. This effort was aimed at helping to move people easily through downtown Portland, and started in 1975. In 2010 it was eliminated from buses, and in 2012 all transit service in downtown Portland became paid fare only.
Photo 1 shows a typical MAX train going through downtown Portland.
Photo 2 shows a typical Transit Tracker output window on a computer: time to next bus passing through, and then the one after that. So, there is no use heading for the bus stop right now, as I have more than enough time to get there.
However, how do you find the stop ID number? Some of the stops and most MAX and train stations have schedules with the stop ID number posted in a nice public place. See photo 4 for the typical situation at a major bus stop with a full shelter. On a number of other bus stops, there is a small card on the bus stop pole that has the basic route information. Unfortunately, many of the bus stops still do not have the stop ID posted. The only way to find this number for those types of bus stops is to use the web site and locate the street location on the "transit tracker".
See photo 5: this is the typical TriMet bus stop sign. It does not have much useful information. It at least gives you the bus number. However, photo 4 does show that some bus stops, such as this example, are equipped with no schedules and no stop ID number, or even the direction the bus is going.
The system references both the GPS system and the timetable. This means that if something really awful is happening, the arrival times will not be shown. This has gotten a little better in recent years (a city wide ice storm in December of 2008 tested that!) but it is still a bit hazardous to trust the system during severe weather. Storms in December of 2008 did produce somewhat different results than previous storms: the system now put out the distance away of the rather than trying to estimate the arrival time. MAX however remains a challenge, and during our most recent 2014 winter storm the arrival information only said "Trains running approximately every half hour to 45 minutes" with no idea how long it had been since one had gone past, or when the next one was due.
The trip planner is OK, but you have to be very careful about what information you enter into it. Sometimes if you enter "shortest walk" the system may send you on a 1 hour detour just to avoid a few feet of walking. You also need to be careful about entering your departure time or arrival time. Certain buses are not available to certain areas at certain times, and the WES commuter rail service only operates during peak periods during regular weekdays. Certain pedestrian routes seem to be in the system, but certain other pedestrian only walkways don't seem to be in there.
The web site also has a trip planner. This helps you plan you trip on the system.
Photo 3 shows the typical input for the Trip Planner on the web site. You have to be somewhat careful about the entries that you put in, as the trip planner will take them literally. Typically your best bet is "fastest trip" as "fewest transfers" and "minimize walking" can send you on an hour long detour to avoid a transfer or walking a few feet between bus stops.
Many people ask for specific trips. This includes how to get from Portland Union Station or the Greyhound Station to the Portland Airport. The best thing to do when making this trip is to go to the MAX station on 5th Avenue that is directly west of the Greyhound Station (Portland Union Station is immediately north of the Greyhound station so this tip works the same for both). Get on a green line train headed to Clackamas Town Center (NOT a yellow line train). Anywhere between the Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center get off, and wait for the next Red Line train on the same track headed towards the airport. You would reverse this process to get from the Airport to the Greyhound Station or Union Station.
Phone: (503) 238-RIDE
Typical Large Version of TriMet Bus Stop Sign
Each TriMet bus and train station have their own unique number. This number is used for getting next arrival time information by web site, smart phone, text message, or the voice phone line.
Next arrivals may be obtained by regular voice phone by calling (503) 238-7433 (which is (503) 238-RIDE if that helps you). To obtain the next arrival information by text message, text the stop number to 272-99. Mobile web site and assorted phone apps all have their own methods.
The systems that determine when your next bus or train is coming rely on the stop number, or work best if you already have a stop number. Some will work OK with GPS and guess your nearest stop number or allow you to enter an intersection, or select a stop from a list of stops along a bus or train line.
At stops that have a large rectangular sign or a schedule in a shelter, it should be easy to find a stop number. However, at stops that just have a blue pole and a bus stop sign, the numbers may not be there. If they are there, take a look at the pole itself, as someone may have scratched the number into the bus stop pole, or written the stop number on the pole in permanent marker - yes, its vandalism but it is useful vandalism. See photo 2 for an example of a bus stop number etched into the paint on a bus stop pole. You may have to look carefully to find this, and some stops may not have this, but many of them do.
The main photo, above, shows the typical new bus stop sign that has the stop number on it in large letters. A smaller version of this sign may also be seen at many stops and this will also have a stop number on it.
If you have an iPhone, one of the best sources of information on TriMet is the App called PDXBus. It takes a while to learn how to use as it has a lot of features. You can browse routes for each stop, or you can enter the stop number into it and it will give you the next scheduled arrival, or you can link to the TriMet trip planner. There is also an option for looking at a map and finding the nearest stops this way. An arrival alarm can be set when your bus or train is a certain number of minutes away.
A number of different Apps are available for other phones, and of course there is also Google Transit.
The Portland Afoot web site decided it prefers several different Apps. For example, PDXBus and Dadnab are though to be the best at trip planning, Transitly and Transit Surfer as the best simple minutes to arrival indicator, and PDXtrian as the best location and arrival App.
See the web page at
to see a list of the various Apps available, as well as some of the web site tools. Some of these are no longer supported by their publisher.
GlobalSherpa also has made a mobile phone ticket system for TriMet services. See
Interior features Sky Lights, Artwork
For those that haven't been to the Portland airport in a while, you should know that the airport has been improved a bit over the years. It wasn't that long ago the place was one of those horrid ugly utilitarian concrete octopus structures that was horribly unappealing.
From the outside the structure is still the horrid unappealing nature that these places always have, but the inside has been made much better. Skylights have been added, for one. Various artwork scattered through the airport lend a more personal and regional touch to the place, and sometimes the artworks in some of the areas is changed out to provide some variety.
There are an assortment of stores and restaurants here, both on the air side of things and on the non-secure side of things. Some of them are the expected travel marts. Powell's Books (a local bookstore that is pretty popular and famous) and the Made in Oregon store are probably the most unique in terms of what they offer.
Most of the stores in the airport offer their items at the same inflated price as everyone else - it isn't exactly price fixing but it is close. However, if you go into concourse A you will find that there is a small food and magazine store about halfway down the ramp which usually has prices that are somewhat better on things like bottled water. This is because Concourse A has much less traffic than B and C and what traffic there is tends to be shorter distance flights. Thus, the traffic in overpriced goods and snacks is quite a bit less.
There are two security lines at Portland Airport: one for concourse A and B, and one for C, D and E. These two areas are connected by a walkway along the west side of the airport main terminal building, so if you happen to notice that one is vastly less crowded than the other use that one and use the walkway to get to the other concourse. Most people still do not realize that this walkway exists, even though it has been here for quite a while. Sometimes security can be pretty backed up at one set of lines and not busy at all at the other end, so this could be a significant advantage.
Flights to Seattle on Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines and a few other locations have their own separate line. Even if you are going to a different city after changing planes in Seattle you still qualify to use this express line, which is also reserved for crew and certain other passengers. Watch for the signs at the start of the security lines that point Seattle passengers into a separate line.
Certain flights, such as certain Horizon Air, Alaska Air, Air Canada, and a few others use planes that are too small for the main terminals. Those flights use concourse A and E, which drop down to ground level and boarding must take place via a staircase. These can board fairly quickly sometimes as they board from both the front and rear of the plane using two staircases. If the weather is cold or rainy you should be prepared to be out in it for the brief walk to the plane from the terminal.
Short term parking is in a large parking garage across the airport entrance driveway from the main terminal. It is not a place that accommodates large vehicles due to the very tight spiral ramps that go between levels. Take a look at these before you enter if you have a question about if you can fit or not. The short term parking lot also has indicator lights in it which turn green when a spot is occupied and red when the spot is taken. This helps people find empty parking places when the lot is full.
The airport is connected to downtown Portland by way of the MAX red line trains, which operate reasonably frequently but currently end service slightly after 11:45 at night. The access to the trains is on the south side of the main terminal building, and may be accessed through the baggage claim level or the ticket desk level. From the arriving concourses turn right at the ticket desk area, go south past the Alaska Airlines ticket counter all the way to the end of the upper floor, and take the stairs or escelator down to ground level. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train. The current ticket price is $2.50 for two hours anywhere on TriMet's trains or buses, and $5 for a day ticket. The ticket machines do not sell unvalidated tickets any more. The baggage claim entrance to the MAX station is one floor below the ticket desk level entrance.
The web site for the airport is reasonably good and features a reasonably good map of the airport and a list of all its features and some of the future plans.
Portland Union Station from MAX station area
Finished in 1896, and significantly remodeled between 1927 and 1930, Portland's Union Station has seen train traffic to and from the City of Roses peak at over 200 trains a day, drop down to a mediocre three per day in the 1980s, and slowly revive through the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to the state of Washington effort to develop the Cascades service. The station was purchased by the Portland Development Commission in the mid 1980s in order to turn the land around the station into a housing development.
Getting Here: Auto Access:
There are two parking spots in front of the station which are reserved for active leaving-off or picking up of passengers.
The majority of the parking spaces that are at the surface lot in front of the station are reserved for Wilf's Restaurant.
There is a parking garage approximately two blocks north of the station main entrance. There is also an area of the street in front of the station and under the Broadway Bridge that has metered parking places.
From the Broadway Bridge cross the Broadway Bridge, turn right onto Lovejoy on the west end of the bridge, turn right onto 9th, and turn right again onto Marshall Street. At the end of the block turn right, and the entrance to the parking garage is an immediate right turn after the intersection.
From the station, go north past the station entrance approximately two blocks and under the west end of the Broadway bridge. The parking structure is then on the left side.
To get to the parking structure from NW Natio Parkway (formerly Front Street) turn left onto NW 9th Avenue from Natio Parkway after going under the Broadway Bridge (a large red bridge). Turn left again at Northrup Street and continue as the road curves. The entrance to the parking structure is on the right side just after the intersection with Marshall.
From Interstate 5 from the north or Interstate 84 you want the Broadway Bridge exit, cross the river at the Broadway Bridge, and follow the Broadway Bridge instructions, above. From Interstate 5 coming north take the Natio Parkway / Front Street exit and use the Natio Parkway instructions.
In the primary photo for this tip, you will see that I am photographing the station from the area of the MAX station. The front door to the station is near the base of the clock tower, but is located at the spot where the half-rotunda meets the main body of the train station. The parking structure is located to the left and behind the station, and is not visible due to the Broadway Bridge.
Getting Here: Public Transit:
There are several public transit routes that serve the station, and the best one depends on where you need to go or are coming from.
From downtown Portland MAX green and yellow lines serve the station. The yellow line crosses the river and goes north on Interstate Avenue. The green line crosses the river and goes past the various hotels near the Lloyd Center and Convention Center. Stations for these two rail transit lines are two blocks south of the station main entrance, on the south side of the Greyhound Bus Station that is south of the station. To get to trains going south into downtown, from the station entrance walk one block south to Irving Street, then one block east to 5th Avenue, then one block south to Hoyt Street. The next block of the sidewalk serves as the passenger platform for trains going south into downtown. For trains going north and east, you just need to walk two blocks south from the station to 6th and Irving, and from there south serves as a platform for trains going north and east.
Please be aware that there are a large number of homeless people that wander through this area. They will ask you for money, but are otherwise harmless.
At one time bus route 77 had a stop directly in front of the station, and was the closest transit stop. However, in 2012 it moved four blocks away, to the south and east.
Bus route 33 to Oregon City also serves this area. The stop for this route is one block south of the station entrance and then one block east at 6th and Irving.
In the primary photo for this tip, you will see that I am photographing the station from the area of the MAX station. The MAX station is almost directly behind me as I took the photo, and you can see the tracks in the foreground. This is 6th Avenue. If you are going east, you need to be at the station I am standing at to take the photo. If you are going south or west, you will need to go to the other MAX station, which is on 5th Avenue, but at the equivalent spot on the next block to the right in the photograph. The front door to the station is near the base of the clock tower, but is located at the spot where the half-rotunda meets the main body of the train station.
Station Hours, Facilities, etc:
Check the "Stations" section of the Amtrak web site (be sure to select Portland, Oregon and not Portland, Maine) for the most recent information on station hours. As of this writing the hours are 5:30 am to 9:25 pm* on weekdays, and 7:30 am to 9:25 pm * on weekends.
* In reality, the station closes at 9:25pm or later if the last train out of Seattle arrives late.
The checked baggage facilities are located on the north side of the station waiting room. Follow the signs. One set of doors is for entering, and the other set of doors is for exiting.
The interior of the station features three waiting rooms: the main waiting room, a side waiting room that also serves as the hallway between the main waiting room and the restroom facilities, and the "Metropolitan Lounge" which is reserved for sleeping car patrons only.
There is a news stand / bookstore / snack shop where the main waiting room joins the smaller side hallway. They have all manner of trinkets and a number of other things, but not a huge selection of any of it. If you want a more substantial meal and it is afternoon or evening, Wilf's is the restaurant at the south side of the station. Direct access between the two has been eliminated.
In the 2nd photograph, you can see what the inside of the main waiting room looks like. The 2nd photograph is looking at the ticket sales counter. To the right of this photograph is the "QuickTrak" machines for scanning your bar code and printing the ticket. To the left of the photograph is the news stand and snack shop, and behind that is the main entrance to the station.
The station was most recently remodeled in 1930, with its extensive interior modifications overseen by famous Portland architect Pietro Belluschi. As should be expected with his works, vast amounts of Italian marble was used throughout the interior, though a restroom modernization project several years ago replaced all of the decorative marble and other such pieces in the restrooms. Decorations on the side walls of the side hallway leading to the restrooms includes various famous Oregon attractions. These are photographs that have been painted onto the walls. Most of these have worn and faded over their many years of display, but they are still great photos of Oregon.
Boarding and detraining at the station is fairly slow as the platforms have had little modification to them since they were paved and had roofs added, which was sometime in the early 1900s. This means that, due to their low level, a step box must be placed at the entrance to every single door on the train. Many other features of modern station platforms have not yet been added either.
So, be very careful as you board and detrain here, and this is also why they insist on making sure that an Amtrak employee opens the door at this station: a step box must be in place before the door is opened.
Photo 1: A look at Union Station from the nearest MAX station, which is at the south side of the Greyhound Bus station (just south of Union Station). Some bus services stop at both Union Station and the Greyhound station.
Photo 2: The waiting room, looking west. The ticket desks are along the far wall. The entrance to the street is to the right and towards the ticket counters. The quicktrak machines are to the right, and beside them the entrance to the large hallway that leads to Amtrak connecting buses and the checked baggage area. Note that the benches are fairly hard wood, and will get uncomfortable after a while. However, the fact is that most of the time, there is no need to show up hugely early for trains here. If I were to turn 90 degrees to the left from where I took this photo, you would see directly into the side hallway.
Photo 3: This is the second waiting room / side hallway. 90 degree to the left are the restrooms. The snack shop / book store / news stand / memorabilia shop is right there in the middle of the back of the photo. Also notice the various photographs of Oregon that have been painted on the wall of this room. In the distance is the main waiting room.
Photo 4: Typical platform and boarding at Portland Union Station. Boarding is slow and somewhat hazardous compared to most other stations on the Cascades Corridor due to the station platform being much lower than is considered standard, or even desirable, today. Each door must have a step box (yellow box) placed at it to provide an extra step, and this adds to the detraining and boarding time required.
Photo 5: Looking towards the platforms in the main waiting room. The door on the right is where boarding for coach passengers happens. The middle door is boarding for 1st class / business class passengers. The door on the left is where arriving passengers enter the station. Due to crowding and station logistics, seat assignments happen on many Amtrak trains to and from Portland. Assignments happen at the desk between the middle doors and right side doors. To the far right, beyond the photograph, is the Metropolitan Lounge, which is open to sleeping car passengers and business class passengers.
Radio Cab: sells gasoline to the public and taxis
In northwest Portland, just off of Interstate 405, there is a little unadvertised place where you can sometimes get fairly cheap gasoline.
The facility is operated by Portland radio cab,primarily as a benefit for the taxi drivers. However, the facility is open to the public, though it is almost completely unadvertised.
The official address is 1613 NW Kearny, but the entrance to the gas station is off of 16th avenue (see photo 1), right by the sign that advertises gas prices (see photo 2). The nearest I-405 freeway exit/entrances are 2A and 2B, which are only several blocks away. Lovejoy street (1 block north) is a major east-west road due to its connection with Cornell Road, which goes over the hill to Beaverton.
The prices charged are not necessarily better than the rest of Portland, but sometimes they may be. You will certainly find that it isn't worthwhile to drive a vast distance out of your way.
However, if you are passing through Northwest Portland and need to get gas, then it might be worthwhile driving past to see what the prices are and how they compare to the rest of Portland (especially downtown Portland, which tends to be high anyway).
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