You don’t need a car while in Portland because the city is well served by public transportation (light-rail, streetcar, buses). However, if you want to take day trips to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, the wine country, or Mount Hood, or explore the Oregon coast, a car is necessary.
Major rental-car companies with offices in or near Portland International Airport or in downtown Portland include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty.
One of the most important benefits of belonging to the American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com; tel. 800/222-4357) is that it supplies members with free maps and emergency road service. In Portland, AAA is located at 600 SW Market St. (www.oregon.aaa.com; tel. 800/452-1643 or 503/222-6767). Members of AAA also can get detailed road maps of Oregon by calling their local AAA office.
In Oregon, you may turn right on a red light after a full stop, and if you are in the far-left lane of a one-way street, you may turn left into the adjacent left lane of a one-way street at a red light after a full stop. Everyone in a moving vehicle is required to wear a seat belt.
Oregon is one of only two states in the U.S. with no self-service gas stations. So when you pull into a gas station, an attendant will fill your tank.By Public Transportation
Even if you have a car, I would encourage you to use public transportation while you’re in Portland. Why hassle with the sometimes-awful traffic and search for a scarce parking space, when you can travel around the city via bus, MAX light rail, or the Portland streetcar? They are all operated by TriMet (www.trimet.org; [tel] 503/238-7433). Buy your 2 1/2-hour tickets and day passes on the bus (exact change required), at vending machines at bus and light rail stops, at vending machines on board the streetcar, or at the TriMet Ticket Office (701 SW Sixth Ave.), located in Pioneer Courthouse Square behind the waterfall fountain. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Bus and MAX passes and schedules are also available at most Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Albertsons grocery stores throughout the metro area.
The following fares are valid and interchangeable on all forms of TriMet transportation for 2 1/2 hours: adults 18–64 $2.50, seniors (“Honored Citizens”) 65+ and youth 7–17 $1.25. There is a lower “streetcar-only” fare described below.
Save Money with TriMet Transportation Passes
A 1-day transportation pass, which includes all forms of public transportation, costs only $5 for adults, $2 for seniors, and $3.30 for ages 7–17. Use it for only two trips and you’ve paid for the pass, use it for additional trips during the day and you’re saving a lot. You can buy a 7-day pass for $26 adults, $7 seniors, and $8 ages 7–17.
By Bus: TriMet buses operate daily over an extensive network. Adult fares are $2.50, $1 for seniors (“Honored Citizens”) 65 and older, and $1.65 for children up to age 17. You can make free transfers between the bus and both the MAX light rail system and the Portland streetcar. Tickets are good for 2.5 hours.
By Light Rail: The Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) is Portland’s aboveground light rail system, connecting downtown Portland with the airport (Red Line), the eastern suburb of Gresham (Blue Line), the western suburbs of Beaverton (Red and Blue lines) and Hillsboro (Blue Line), North Portland (Yellow Line), and Clackamas (Green Line). The new Milwaukie extension (Orange Line) runs from Union Station through downtown, crosses the new Tillicum Crossing bridge to Eastmoreland/Westmoreland, and continues on to Milwaukie. Fares on MAX are the same as on TriMet buses. Be sure to validate your ticket on the platform before you board MAX. There are ticket inspectors who randomly check to make sure passengers have stamped tickets and issue fines to those who don’t.
By Streetcar: Portland streetcar (www.portlandstreetcar.org; tel. 503/238-7433) runs on three lines, traversing both sides of the Willamette River. The NS Line travels from NW Lovejoy and Northrup, through the Pearl District, downtown, and Portland State University to the South Waterfront District. The A Loop and B Loop run in opposite directions on the same route connecting SW Market (downtown) to the Pearl District, across the Broadway Bridge to the Rose Quarter, Convention Center (Central Eastside), and OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). The streetcar lines are a great way for visitors to get from downtown to the eastside neighborhoods. Streetcar fares are $2 for adults 18-64 and $1 for seniors 65+ and youth 7–17, but that’s for the streetcar only; you cannot use a streetcar-only ticket to transfer to buses or MAX.
Car Rentals: Portland is a compact city, and public transit will get you to most attractions within its limits. However, if you’re planning to explore outside the city—and the Portland area’s greatest attractions, such as Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, lie in the countryside within an hour’s drive—you’ll definitely need a car or a tour company to take you there.
The major car rental companies all have desks at Portland International Airport on the lower level: Avis (www.avis.com; tel. 800/331-1212 or 503/249-4950), Dollar (www.dollar.com; tel. 800/800-3665 or 503/249-4792), Enterprise (www.enterprise.com; tel. 800/261-7331 or 503/252-1500), Hertz (www.hertz.com; tel. 800/654-3131 or 503/528-7900) and National (www.nationalcar.com; tel. 877/222-9058 or 503/249-4900). Outside the airport, but with desks adjacent to the other car rental desks are Alamo (www.goalamo.com; tel. 877/222-9075 or 503/249-4900), Budget (www.budget.com; tel. 800/527-0700 or 503/249-6331), and Thrifty (www.thrifty.com; tel. 800/847-4389 or 877/283-0898). Zipcar (www.zipcar.com) and Car2go (www.car2go.com) let you rent a small two-seater car or larger cars (including Mercedes) from spots all over Portland, drive it as long as you need to, and return it to a convenient drop-off spot—not necessarily where you picked it up—for a standard rate of 35-49¢ per minute. You don’t have to pay for gas when you use the car. You do need to become a member before you begin using the service, but after the initial charge there is no annual fee. The same basic rules apply for ReachNow Car Sharing Portland (www.reachnow.com/portland), but this service provides various BMW and Mini cars and offers a flat-rate pricing system ($20 for 1 hour, $50 for 3 hours).
Parking: Electronic parking meters take coins, credit cards, and debit cards and issue receipts that must be placed on the curbside window of your car. The receipt remains valid elsewhere if you move your car, as long as there is time remaining on it. In most parts of town, you don’t have to feed the meters after 7pm, but you do pay for parking on Sundays from 1 to 7pm in some parts of the city. The hourly rate is $2.00.
The city operates Smart Park garages at First Avenue and Jefferson Street, Fourth Avenue and Yamhill Street, 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street, Third Avenue and Alder Street, O’Bryant Square, and Naito Parkway and Davis Street. Many downtown merchants and restaurants validate Smart Park tickets for 2 hours if you spend at least $25.
You can forego credit card and cash payments for parking by using the city’s new Parking Kitty mobile parking app (www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/73554). Every parking meter has an identifying Zone number posted on the side that you type in along with the amount of time you want to park. Some people find it easy to use, others say that it’s neither faster nor more efficient. If you’re tech-savvy and app-friendly, you may find it useful, but it also requires that you sign up with a password to create an account.
Special Driving Rules: Oregon state law prohibits texting and talking on a handheld device while driving; stiff fines may result if you are caught doing so. You may turn right on a red light after a full stop and left into the adjacent left lane of a one-way street. If a pedestrian is crossing at a white-striped pedestrian crossing, motorists must come to a complete stop until the pedestrian has reached the sidewalk. There are now green bike-only lanes throughout the city; bicyclists have the right-of-way in the bike lanes.By Taxi
You won’t find cabs cruising the streets—you or your hotel concierge will have to phone for one. Broadway Cab (www.broadwaycab.com; tel. 503/227-1234) and Radio Cab (www.radiocab.net; tel. 503/227-1212) charge $2.50 for the first passenger, $1 for each additional passenger, and $2.90 per mile.By Bike: With traffic a growing problem in Portland, getting around by bike is an increasingly popular mode of transportation—and now it’s easier than ever for you to hop on a bike and pedal to your destination. BIKETOWN, launched in 2016, is Portland’s bikeshare program, designed for taking quick trips around downtown and the close-in east side. The bright orange bike stations are located in busy areas throughout the Portland core. BIKETOWN (www.biketownpdx.com) offers three payment options: a single 30 minute ride for $2.50, a day pass including 180 minutes of ride time for $12, and an annual pass with 90 minutes of ride time per day for $12/month. The plans are available for purchase through the website, mobile app, or at a station kiosk. At the station, you enter the personal identification number (PIN) you received with sign-up or hold your member card above the touch pad, remove the lock, ride the bike, and return it to an open space at any other bike station. It’s fun and simple.
City blocks in Portland are about half the size of most city blocks elsewhere, and the entire downtown area covers only about 13 blocks by 26 blocks. This makes downtown Portland a very easy place to explore on foot. From downtown you can easily walk to the Pearl District, NW 23rd, and Washington Park. (There are also public transportation options to all those destinations.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.