On the other coast, fare issues abound


As the MTA prepares to raise our fares, 3000 miles away, a fare drama of a different sort is playing out. Let’s leave behind our tales of Webinars and rising fares and journey for a few paragraphs to the City of Angels where the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is coming to grips with its fare reality.

Here in New York, we hear tales of the Los Angeles County urban sprawl. It runs for miles and miles with roads – clogged roads with cars spewing smog-inducing pollutants into the air – weaving in and around whatever passes for a city out there. By any stretch, the LA freeways are a disaster.

So that would lead you to believe that LA has a vibrant public transportation system, right? Get those cars off the road and away from the headaches of congestion, right? Not quite. The LA railways consist of some light rail lines and a few subways with the oldest dating from the dark ages of 1990. With just 73 miles of track and some 62 stations, the system is hardly worth much in the eyes of the residents of LA. It’s daily ridership is some 274,344 or about 7 million less than what our subways see in a day.

What’s surprising about this low number is that the subways are, in effect, free. There are no turnstiles and riders have to show passes to conductors if those conductors happen to pass through and ask. The LA MTA wants to end this ridiculous practice, and not everyone in Los Angeles is on board. Randal Archibold writes:

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted [two weeks ago] to take the first step toward installing 275 ticket gates on the entire 17.4-mile subway and at many light-rail stations.

The move came after a study given to the board in October found that some 5 percent of people who rode the subway, light rail and a new rapid bus line on weekdays did so without paying the fare, $1.25 one way or $5 for a daily pass. As a result, the report said, the authority lost about $5.5 million in revenue annually.

Fare-collecting gates, which could cost $30 million to install and $1 million a year to maintain, would yield an extra $6.77 million in recovered fares and other savings, according to the report.

So how about that? No more free rides. What a concept.

What’s more surprising about this decision is that the MTA in LA didn’t bother to install turnstiles or other fare-capture devices from the get-go. The folks on the West Coast claim they wanted to try something else. A subway fare honor system is so California.

While most folks in Los Angeles understand the environmental need for a viable subway and know that fare capture will aid the LA MTA’s expansion plans, some MTA board members are saying the darndest things. One board member expressed his concerns that the turnstiles would hinder emergency evacuation efforts. Does that even make sense?

So as everyone in New York gears up for a fare hike and our MTA readies itself for more criticism, enjoy this laugh at the expense of Los Angeles. At least we’re not trying to figure out how to capture the fare.

15 Responses to “On the other coast, fare issues abound”

  1. mg says:

    A lot of places do it like LA… all of Germany for one, has no turnstiles and frequent ticket inspections.

  2. Marsha says:

    It’s mind boggling that any city/country does this. No turnstiles=a lot of no fares. What’s the penalty for not buying a ticket? I hope it’s hefty or no one would bother with paying the fare.

  3. Kid Twist says:

    New Jersey’s Hudson/Bergen Light Rail line, which serves Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City and North Bergen, has a similar fare system.

    There are no turnstiles or any other kind of fare barrier. You are supposed to have a vaild monthly pass or buy a single ticket and validate it in a machine before you board. If a cop asks, you must present your pass or validated ticket or you will receive a summons.

    This happened to one of my friends once. He didn’t read the signs correctly and thought you could just walk onto the next available train.

  4. Louis says:

    Actually, Ben, the honor system is used a whole heck of a lot. It is used, as mg says, in all of Germany, and it is used on basically all light rail systems in the United States. The reason that there are 5% missing in the LA MTA system is probably that inspections are not frequent enough to warrant a fine. Think about it: if someone told me that my system didn’t catch 5% of fare skippers (not that this is really true, because some of the fare evaders do end up paying hefty fines, I’ve witnessed this in LA), I would simply up my inspections! What a concept. There are obviously a lot of fines to collect, so paying for some more inspector shifts should be a real bargain.

    This amounts to some hardware provider being paid big bucks to install a lot of machines. Further, I read a few years ago that “Honor Systems” have a better fare recovery rate than Turnstile systems. Why? Once you jump a turnstile in NYC, you’re good to go. Actually, it’s really easy to do that, all you do is make sure there’s no cop. It’s much harder to evade the inspectors waiting around the corner or at the top of an escalator (as they do in LA) to check your ticket and offer you a nice $100 fine (which I believe is the HBLR penalty.

    Honor system is extremely effective. Actually LAMTA are fools if they don’t keep the inspectors after the turnstile installations. That is what several European countries (including Paris) do. Twice as effective. Great for buses, too.

  5. Matthew says:

    One of the problems in the LA system is they only use Sheriff’s for fare inspections, not conductors, Metro employees, or other people, just Sheriff’s, which makes it quite expensive (and a waste of trained Sheriffs). That is what a lot of the savings is from, taking most of those Sheriff’s off the system.

    Also, from what I’ve read, they aren’t planning on staffing all stations. Right now in LA, if you are handicapped, carrying a bicycle or other larger loads, etc, it is easy, no turnstiles to worry about, or special handicapped entries (other than elevators), etc. So basically in a bunch of stations we will likely have easily bypassed systems, or a lot of problems for people in these categories.

    In addition, the whole system won’t be gated. Much of the Blue Line and Gold Line can’t be gated without dramatic re-designs of the stations (due to their being ground level stations). The Green Line will be difficult as well, with anywhere from 2-6 ground level entrances, plus 1-2 elevators.

    One other problem is that LA Metro charges fare on a per segment basis (Blue Line is one fare, transfer to the Red it’s another fare, etc), or you need a day pass. So this will potentially significantly slow down transfers between trains (whereas in New York once you enter the system you are in and don’t have anything slowing down transfers).

    To top all this off, knowing the LA Metro, their cost estimates to install are low, and their saving are too high (especially if they assumed capturing all 5% of riders who don’t pay). I would much prefer increased non-Sheriffs based fare checks, with the higher number of tickets to go with it for fare evaders (at $250 a pop).

  6. mg says:

    Yep, Paris has basically two turnstiles to go through and they still check your ticket on the other side.

  7. Larry V says:

    Once you jump a turnstile in NYC, you’re good to go. Actually, it’s really easy to do that, all you do is make sure there’s no cop.

    It’s actually getting a lot harder nowadays, with the proliferation of high entrance/exit turnstiles.

  8. The fine for not having a ticket on the LA Metro is $250, so you’d think they wouldn’t have to catch too many offenders to make up the difference. Just sixty a day on average; you could catch many more than that with a full-time staff of twenty-five.

    In Paris, the controleur system gives the transport authorities tremendous flexibility in ticketing, and in boarding buses and trolleys. They’ve got a very simple zone system, and as long as you’ve got a ticket for that zone you’re fine. Imagine if you could use one ticket to get from Ridgewood, NJ to Uniondale, NY, using any combination of publicly owned trains and buses you wanted. Imagine how much faster buses would move if people could get in the back doors as well, legally.

  9. Louis says:

    Exactly my point, Cap’n. And an excellent point my Matthew above that all fare collection is done by cops in LA. This is of course a waste of money, and quite unfortunate public policy, considering the profits to be had from people simply walking around collecting 1000’s in fines every day.

  10. long time rider says:

    I’m not sure when the above news article was first published or when this discussion started but here is my comment dated 3/16/2008. I will turn 61 years old in June and have riden public transportation in L. A since I was 12. Back in those days the system had a name similar to the current name. The initials were MTA (like it is now). In the late 60’s the name was changed to Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD). It got it’s current name about 10 or 12 years ago. The first rail lines were 2 underground routes opened about 15 years ago with one going from the Amtrack station downtown to the San Fernando Valley and a second below Wilshire blvd. The valley route also travels under Wilshire Blvd. almost as far as the second route and then the 2 routes spiit off. Both were called the “Red Line” with the 2nd being recently renamed to the “Purple Line”. Express buses were recently add to the surface service on Wilshire Blvd. and they use extra-long buses that fold in the middle when turning a corner. The express busses go from downtown to the beach in Santa Monica. The surface busses can’t use double deckers because of a bridge near Beaverly Hills. The subway under Wilshire Blvd. is only a few miles long because of oil or methane pockets in the Fairfax district which is along the originally propossed route to the west side and Santa Monica. There was a fire just below the surface some years ago caused by one of these pockets . Note: this comment is long and I will break it up into a few pieces.

  11. long time rider says:

    Part 2. I forgot to mention that I started riding alone at age 12, I rode with my Mother before that. I lived in the south side of L. A. from 1948 (age 1) thru 1966. (yes, I lived in “the hood” before it was called “the hood” and before the Crips and Bloods were formed). Back in 1920’s (or maybe even before that ) Mr Huntington started the Pacific Electric Railway. They were known as the “Red Cars” because of their mostly red color (with yellow trim). A few cars on the 10-year old “Blue Line”, which runs from L. A. to Long Beach (mostly above ground), are painted to resemble the old “Red Cars”. The Pacific Electric had routes that went all over the county in 30 minutes or less along right-of-way rails. It went to Long Beach, Santa Monica, Glendale, Huntington Park (the town was probably named for Mr. Huntington), Pasadena, and there even a line that went up to Mount Wilson (where Southern California’s brodcast TV and radio antennas are located). The old MTA also had trolly cars with overhead power lines (similar to the current above ground light rail Blue, Green, and Gold lines). Both the Red Cars and the trollys ran until the mid or late 1950’s (depending on the route). My father-in-law once told me that he used to ride the old trolly from the east side of L. A. to downtown. The current bus route almost exactly follows the same route. In the late 1940’s the first freeway (then called the “Arroyo Seco” Freeway, now the Pasadena, route 710) was built from downtown to Pasadena. The automobile manufacturers and the oil companies pushed the idea of private autos travelling on the new freeways all over town whenever the driver wanted. Because of Southern California’s growing love of the automobile and everyone moving to the suburbs or moving from other areas to L. A. for the weather people abandoned public transportation for private vehicles. Also, gasoline was around 30 cents a gallon up until the early ’70s. I had riden on a trolly with my grandfather to Grand Central Marke in downtown around 1956. The northern portion of the long main street I lived near still had a trolly up until the late ’50s but the portion where I lived was changed to buses as far back as i can remember. The street was divided with the rails in the center portion. The rails remainedd for a few years afterwards untill they were paved over and additional traffice lanes were added. There is a restaurant I go to that has old photos of traffic in downtown along side the trolly cars. The Pacific Electric and the trolly systems were no longer maintained or modernized. By 1960 the “Red Cars” were eliminated and the trollys were all replaced by buses. (To be Continued)

  12. long time rider says:

    I’m back. Part 3. As far as fare cheating goes, I’m even sometimes tempted to cheat but even if nobody checks your fare before you board the sherriff may get on board at another and ask for your ticket. I have seen some people in their last teens or early twenties be stop and questioned at the “Gold” line station where my wife meets me and they were arrested when the could not (or would not) show ID when being given a cition for not having valid proff of paying their fare. I think the fine is $250 which is tghe same as it is for smoking, eating or drinking on a bus or at a station. Getting back to the MTA history lesson – Back when I was a kid we had various concentric circles of transit zones around a central zone near downtown. The more zone borders you crossed (which usually depended on the distance you travelled) the higher the fare. You would get a little card that you would show the driver and return when reaching the last zone border. The color of the card indicated how many zones you paid for. There is still a zone system on buses that use the car pool and special busway lanes on the freeway and you pay a higher fare depending on the number of zones. The subway and light rail routes don’t have zones. Even today many people have excuses for not using public transportation. The bus doesn’t go close enough to where I’m going. It dosen’t run at night or on the weekend. Too much transfering. These are valid reasons. Other less valid reasons are personal feelings such as: The buses are too crowded and I have to stand up. I don’t want to sit next to strangers. There are too many rowdy teenagers. There are sick people sneezing. There are crying young children. Some white people who are somewhat prejudiced (unlike myself) say there are too many minority or low income people riding the bus (but hey, they can’t afford a car). Over the years people have gotten away from public transportation. Some people are starting to use public transportation again now that some service is improving (although other service is being cut back) and also because of the high gasoline prices in the past few years. There have been some cutbacks made due to the budget proplems. Routes such as the one that used to pass through my residential area have been eliminated due to low ridership. Others routes run less frequently or have been modified or combined with other routes. Transfers which used to cost around 25 or 30 cents were eliminated a couple of years ago and you now need to pay a seperate fare on each route or if you are making a round trip that includes changing buses it may be worth getting an all day pass. The cost of a day pass went up to $5 last July. I’m fortunate that as incentive to work at the downtown headquarters of the community college district (instead of at one of the campuses) and as an incentive to use public transportation instead of driving downtown we are given vouchers for monthly passes. The MTA recently started using a credit type card called a Transit Access Card (TAP) . You pay whatever amount you wish and the amount is credited to the card. You scan the card each time you board a bus or at the rail line station. You can also load a monthy pass (or in my case, a voucher) onto the card. You can use the same card each month until it wears out (in a few years) reloading it when ithe money runs out or load the new monthly pass which is good from the first day to last day of that month. In areas where there is heavy ridership buses are now running more often and “Metro Rapid” express lines have been added. An extention of the “Gold” rail line that runs from the east end of Pasadena to the Amtrack station in downtown L. A. is being built from downtown to East L. A. (scheduled to open some time in 2009) and there are plans to extend the other end to go from Pasadena east to Azusa and Clairmont in the eastern San Gabriel valley foothills. The “Green” rail line was built about 5 to 7 years ago and it goes between Norwalk in the the southeast part of the county and LAX airport in the southewest area. The “Red” line goes to the beginning (east end) of the San Fernando Valley (North Hollywood station, one stop past Universal Studios). You can now transfer from the “Red” line to the “Orange” line which is a bus on a private MTA owned right-of-way and you can travel to the west end of the valley. Construction will begin soon on another light rail line. It will start downdown and turn west onto old freight train tracks that pass down Exposition Blvd. This is the street between USC and the Memorial Colusium (site of 1984 Summer Olympics and former home of the NFL Rams and also the NFL Raiders for a short time – would you belive it , the Dodgers also played baseball there from 1958 to 1961 before their current statiium was built). That rail line will continue past USC and the re-gentifying West Adams area and then to the west side of L. A. A large portion of the light rail routes use existing (although maybe no longer used) freight train or old “Red Car” tracks (such as the “Green” and “Gold” lines). The future looks interesting but the present would have been a lot better if the “Red Cars” and trollys had been used all during the past 50 years. Who knows how things would have been if that had happened.

  13. Madeleine says:

    I ride the system in Los Angeles. I thought not putting in a turnstyle at first was also absurd. I still do. I notice that the MTA police and Sheriffs stop a profiled sort of rider. They ask young people, disheveled looking people, and some people of color, regardless of age. Seriously! I think you could wear a suit and carry a briefcase and ride every darn day for free. Yes that doesn’t seem fair. I like how BART does it in the NO CAL bay area. I am sure it may be similar to New Yorks. In LA we need more of the rail lines, and we need them quickly. All they do here is talk about it. Then they will add a bus line. You have to change buses and it can take you double the time to get to work. otw I sit close to 3 hours a day on the freeway. I travel from no. LA county to a town called Commerce. I can put in well over 60 miles one way. The public transit in LA is a joke. If the gov’t keeps subsidizing parking lots, we will never get the transit we need. The whole system keeps encouraging you to get in your car and drive. Most people who ride, most mind you, ride public transit because they have to. Most who have a choice, get in their cars, one to a car mind you and drive.

  14. MrB says:

    LA is changing over to turnstiles and electronic cards. The cheat rate was always listed at about 5% of ridership. At that listed rate, it really wasn’t worth going after it. One of the real unstated reasons for this is DHS. They prefer (read: damn close to demand) that rail systems use cards for ID purposes.


  1. […] has grappled with just this very question since its founding. Nearly two years ago, I reported on plans in Los Angeles to end this practice. In late 2007, Los Angeles’ own Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board voted to […]

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