L.A. finally gets around to that whole turnstile thing


LACMTA_logo Would you pay the fare to ride the subways if you didn’t have to? Would you pay it if the MTA relied upon the honor system and some rare patrols by New York County sheriffs?

In Los Angeles, the LACMTA 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 install turnstiles throughout Los Angeles’ subway system. After losing over $5 million a year to delinquent fare-evaders, the board had decided that enough was enough.

Today, we learn that the LACMTA has finally started installing those turnstiles. The 21-month turnaround may seem downright speedy when we compare it to our East Coast MTA’s construction and innovation efforts, but in the meantime, LA’s MTA has lost nearly $10 million in potential revenue. In the grand tradition of transit agencies, though, this program is still just in the pilot stages.

Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reports:

For decades, the MTA has used a gate-free honor system in which passengers walk unimpeded to train platforms without verifying that they have a ticket. To catch fare cheaters, the agency has relied on random checks by civilian inspectors and sheriff’s deputies. But the fine for lacking a ticket — up to $250 — still hasn’t deterred some riders from taking their chances. Cheaters cost the system at least $5 million a year in lost revenue.

Now, eight turnstiles are in use on a trial basis at the Alameda Street portal for the Red Line stop in Union Station, and five are operating at the Wilshire-Normandie station. By the end of the month, 12 turnstiles are scheduled to be installed at the Pershing Square station and 10 at Westlake-MacArthur Park.

MTA officials want to determine whether the gates improve security and clamp down on cheaters while moving thousands of daily riders quickly to and from trains. If the system works well — a progress report is due by the end of September — the MTA will proceed with a $46-million plan to install 387 turnstiles and related security fences by early 2010 at all subway and Green Line light-rail stations and at selected stops for the Blue Line and Gold Line light-rail trains.

With that $46 million price tag, this program will take around nine years to pay for itself, but LACMTA officials claim the turnstiles are needed for more than just monetary reasons. Riders and officials alike cited terrorism and general public safety concerns as driving factors in the push to install turnstiles as well.

In the L.A. Times article, Weikel notes that the Los Angeles’ subway system handles 163,000 fares per day. New York’s system handles around 7.4 million more than that on a typical weekday. My, how the biggest cities on each coast have developed different approaches to transit.

16 Responses to “L.A. finally gets around to that whole turnstile thing”

  1. SEAN says:

    I rode the Red Line subway back in 2005. Surprising not to see turnstyles in there stations. I wonder if lightrail systems like Portland’s MAX will go the same route. From what I was told by an employee of Trimet there have been security issues on the system with out of control youths.

  2. Adam G says:

    “Terrorism”? Seriously?

  3. Andrew says:

    It’s not the honor system. It’s proof of payment (POP). It’s no more an honor system than, say, parking meters. (Nobody physically forces you to put a quarter in the meter when you park you car, but if you opt not to, you risk being fined a lot more than a quarter.)

    If fare evasion is high, presumably the penalty is too small or the risk of being caught is too low.

    I think it’s been reported that the fare evasion rate on the Bx12 SBS, which uses POP, is lower than the systemwide average. Apparently Bx12 riders pay their fares even if they don’t “have” to – because the alternative is a risk of a $100 fine. Unless a regular rider encounters a fare inspector less than once a month, it’s cheaper to pay $89 for a 30-day unlimited (which is valid on more than one bus line!) than to skip payment and be fined $100 when caught.

  4. rhywun says:

    How much to maintain the turnstiles? Will there be employees watching over them? A turnstile is little more than a psychological barrier–I don’t see them as any sort of protection against “terrorists” or “out of control youth”. I’ve long thought NYC should dismantle its fare-collection apparatus and go with the honor system. I wonder what the results have been in other cities. I imagine it probably works better in cultures with less, uh, lawlessness. Which pretty much rules out NYC and LA….

    • Alon Levy says:

      The honor system doesn’t work outside Switzerland. But proof-of-payment works very well, especially on buses. Bus service will become much faster if NYCT switches to a proof-of-payment system, allowing people to swipe after the bus starts moving; people with unlimited cards wouldn’t have to swipe at all, unless an inspector comes, in which case they should be able to produce proof their card is valid.

  5. herenthere says:

    Hmm…faregates prevent terrorism…wonder what genius thought of that line.

    • Matt says:

      Probably the same genius who observed the seemingly limitless well of cash for counter-terrorism related infrastructure projects. If only NYC Transit could link building the Second Ave Subway to counter-terrorism.

  6. Scott E says:

    The closest link between turnstiles and terrorism-prevention is that you can get a better idea of who is going where (especially if they also use swipe-to-exit turnstiles) and can track the behavior of “suspicious individuals”.

  7. The LACMTA faregate-gate is an on-going debacle, to be sure.

    For starters, there are rumours that the gates are not working and my not be installed in other than the four Red Line stations at which they are being presently beta-tested. More will be known when in September the findings of the beta-testing are reported by Metro CEO Art Leahy to the Metro Board.
    Also, the annual $5 million fare-evasion figure has been proven a VERY liberal estimate by none other than former Metrolink CEO Richard Stanger. Here is a copy of that letter (scroll down to the first comment). Unfortunately, Los Angeles Times has accepted Metro’s insistence on such figures as fact, and have made that figure gospel. Keep in mind that the same people who wrote “faregates prevent terrorism” offered the $5 million figure.

  8. Spokker says:

    It won’t pay for itself in 9 years. There are monthly maintenance costs. There are costs associated with the new fare media. There will still be some fare evasion by those who jump the turnstiles. There still has to be some fare inspectors because not all light rail stations are being outfitted with fare gates.

    Also, the $5 million figure is incorrect. Metro erroneously used the base fare of $1.25 to determine fare evasion. They should have used the average fare of 60 cents instead.

  9. Tom Rubin says:

    Even by LA MTA standards, this is a really stupid decision.
    First, the annual loses are NOT $5 million, not even half that. MTA staff did that calculation on the full adult cash fare, but the average fare per trip, with the heavy use of passes and other discount fares, is less than half the adult cash fare.
    As “Rhywun” points out, if you have fare gates, you need station attendants — which, of course, MTA did not consider. It takes about four full-time employees to have one person at each station when the system is open — and many of the MTA stations are “double-ended” and will require two attendants on duty.
    Read Richard Stanger’s outstanding analysis if you want to know what is really going on.

  10. Fallopia Simms says:

    The ridership # 163,000 or so is for the Red Line only and most likely the stub Purple Line it does not include Blue, Green nor Gold, the other 3 rail lines. And as a nascent rail system (5 HRT and LRT lines in 20 years) the bulk of the ridership is on the extensive bus system with its plethora of interagencies. The bus system marks down roughly 2 million trips per day, higher ridership than Chicago and SF and only second to NYC. It’s far too early to tell what development pattern the city will mature into it’s just all too new and seemingly everchanging. And now that it has undertaken a major transit expansion along with the coming HSR who knows what the future will hold.

  11. Ty says:

    I take the Green Line all the time. I called and asked about the turnstile since I purchase tokes at work at a discount (an insentive instead of driving to work). The operator said no problem the tokens will still work. HUH? I thought these would work like the ones they have in Paris. The paper tickes have a magnetic strip that feeds in at the turnsile and spits it out on the other side after it is read. A decision not to place a system that was not flexable with fairs is totally mornic. idiots.


  1. […] If you need to read more about the fare gates, the New York transit blog Second Avenue Sagas reviewed yesterday's article in the Times.  While their write-up doesn't go into any of the […]

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