Joseph Rose‘s Friday Hard Drive column hit the nail on the head: MAX beating was ugly, but the reaction by some has been just as bad.
And it also disseminates some telling statistics:
The assault of Karley Buckland was one of just 36 reported on a light-rail system with 41 million boardings last year. By comparison, the Bay Area’s BART system – with turnstile access and its own police force — had 19 last month alone. In 2011, there were about 20 carjackings in Portland and 319 Oregonians died on the road. Does that mean we should discourage our 16-year-olds from learning to drive? Frankly, I worry more about my 17-year-old daughter – who isn’t in a rush to get her license — getting hit in a crosswalk than her being a TriMet crime victim.
Your odds of being assaulted on MAX are about one in a million. About the same as your odds of drowning in your bathtub, or being struck by lightning (no, really).
The crime rate has been declining on TriMet for years (though there was an uptick in 2010 when the Green Line opened), and the rate of violent crime nationwide is at a nearly 40 year low.
Your odds, in any given year, of dying in a workplace accident are 1 in 48,000, so your transit commute may actually be the safest hour(s) of your work day. Transit is also far safer than driving – in 2008 the passenger death rate on buses was .08 per 100 million passenger-miles (as opposed to .55 for automobile passengers).
Humans are bad at risk assessment, so it would be natural if a report in the news triggers a fearful reaction. That doesn’t make you an idiot, it makes you human. But you ARE an idiot if, upon learning how rare the risk is, you still cling to your irrational fear, or perpetuate the myth that riding the MAX is “dangerous.”
Note: Please review the Dave Knows Portland Comments Policy before commenting. Thanks!
I’m not a regular transit rider (bike commuter) but I appreciate this post. Thanks!
Worried about security on MAX? Go to Indonesia!
I deem the only thing which makes ”you an idiot” is being attracted to such a headline—I thought you were going to tell me something at least believable AND something I couldn’t have known. Keep on bein’ Portland, Oregon
Along that line, one who’s already settled on the fact of ‘Statistics’.
@localerlou – Your comment is confusing.
@zigpdx A novel solution to a novel problem!
Thanks Becky. It’s something that has long irritated me. I wish reporters would supply context more often, like Joseph Rose did in his article.
I commute every day on MAX…at least 2 times a month, I am confronted with people high on drugs, drunk, or screaming and yelling threats at someone…it is very disturbing. I can’t say the last time I saw security on my evening commute (which is the scary one).
Michael, Portland Afoot says
Hey, belatedly, Dave, great post. I think I’m quoting it in PA’s news roundup for the month.
You and I got into this a while back on Twitter, but I still don’t think it’s quite right to compare the odds of something happening per year to the odds of something happening per boarding. Better to assume, say, 20 boardings per week, which would put the odds of being a victim in a given year at 1/1000.
I think that seems high to those of us who
(a) do a lot of those boardings on the bus, which is safer than MAX
(b) do a lot of those boardings during commute hours, which are maybe the safest way to get around in the history of the world
(c) don’t ride so much in rougher parts of town.
Michael, Portland Afoot says
Oh, and I should probably add that I totally agree with you that even in the least safe transit situation, riding MAX at night, you’re probably quite a bit safer than driving a car at night. This rings true — I know lots of people who’ve been in auto accidents but I don’t think I know anybody who’s been a victim of assault on public transit.
@Michael – I remember you had broken down the odds in a more realistic manner somewhere – either on the Portland Afoot website or in one of the issues, but I couldn’t find it when I was writing this. I’ll take 1/1000 odds. But even with the raw odds, there are some “street smarts” things one can do to avoid problems, and very very seldom is an assault or other transit altercation 100% random.
Anecdotally, like you, I also have known plenty of people involved in car accidents, but not a single person assaulted or otherwise injured on transit. Personally I’ve been riding transit in Portland since the 80s, thousands and thousands of rides – at all hours of the day and night, and I’ve never been assaulted or even felt I was at risk of an assault.
My beef is with the “riding transit is so dangerous” crowd. “Would you let your teenagers ride transit?” radio personalities, and bloggers stating we’ve entered a “new phase” of dangerous transit “here in Portland.” My rebuttal is that A) no it isn’t dangerous, in the grand scheme of things – in fact transit is remarkably safe, and B) The extremely rare incidents we hear about in the news are only in the news *because they are so exceedingly rare.*
What are the alternatives for these fear-mongers/idiots? Sequestering themselves, terrified, in their suburban homes or . . . driving cars? We know cars are much less safe than transit. Car accidents are so exceedingly common that they garner nary a mention on the news unless they’re extraordinarily gruesome (or screw up the commute).