Some Metro stations are not large enough to accommodate gates. Others that can still allow riders to enter for free.
By Jon Schleuss, November 17, 2013
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Security Assistant April Ramirez checks
commuters' TAP cards to ensure their subway fare was paid at the Civic
Center/Grand Park station in downtown L.A.
Julio Maciel was headed home on the Expo light-rail line in downtown
L.A. on a recent weekday. He entered at the Pico station, sat down and
waited for a train headed south.
But when he walked inside, he didn't pay.
Maciel thought he had paid, he said, because he had bought an
unlimited day pass. He didn't know he needed to tap it against a shiny,
metal validator by the entrance.
"I didn't see any signs," Maciel said.
The Pico station is long and slender and has two entrances at either
end where the validators stand. There are no turnstiles or gates. Riders
may enter without paying.
Maciel's experience points to a problem as the light-rail system
rapidly expands. With many stations too small to gate, the county's rail
riders will largely remain on the honor system for years. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority could be out hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in lost revenue from people who don't pay to ride.
Metro officials acknowledge they don't know how many people use the
system for free. This summer, gates and turnstiles at 16 subway stations
were locked, forcing riders to tap their fare cards before the
turnstile unlocks and lets them into the station. Audits completed
before those stations were locked showed a fare-evasion rate between 5%
and 6%, officials said.
"It's kind of hard to measure something that isn't there," said Metro's Deputy Chief Executive Paul Taylor.
Turnstiles could help Metro gain more revenue, officials said, but
it's too early to point at a trend. Some stations have had turnstiles
for months, but they were unlocked and allowed people to enter without
proof of fare. By mid-January Metro plans to lock 14 stations on the
Green Line and five stations on the Blue Line. The agency locked five
Gold Line stations in September.
was another factor in the delayed locking of turnstiles. The six-county
commuter rail system gives riders free transfers to Metro's network.
Metrolink started selling paper tickets with TAP-enabled chips this
summer, at the same time the turnstiles began locking.
Metro contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
for security and fare inspection. About 400 deputies and 100 inspectors
roam the system's stations, trains and buses looking for crime and
The agency sees an average fare of 70 cents per rider, said Metro
spokesman Marc Littman. Even though the base fare is $1.50, many people
take advantage of the discounts offered to student, senior, disabled and
Forty-one of the 80 rail stations, including the 16 subway stations
locked this summer, will be locked eventually, said Metro spokesman Paul
Gonzales. The agency is looking to retrofit three stations on the first
phase of the recently opened Expo Line, he said, noting that Metro
estimates adding gates will cost $3.1 million. They expect to make up
that cost in seven years.
Metro leases the gates from San Diego-based Cubic Corp. for $300,000 a month for the entire system, Gonzales said.
Still, the majority of light-rail stations won't ever be locked
because some platforms are too small to accommodate turnstiles and
others sit too close to the tracks, Metro said. If turnstiles were at
some of the smaller stations, people would be lining up on the tracks
trying to get through the gates.
The agency is reviewing its plans for future stations not yet under construction to see which ones can be locked, Gonzales said.
"Planning for latched gates before construction begins has the
advantage of being less costly," he said. "Changing in the middle of
construction can be very expensive. Doing it after the fact can be even
When the Blue Line opened in 1990, it wasn't common to gate
light-rail stations, said Juan Matute, the associate director of the
Institute of Transit Studies at UCLA.
"There was a trend for proof-of-payment systems at the time," he
said, adding that gates might deter people from riding the system.
Many of the system's current stations were designed and built under a
policy that did not require gates, said Taylor, Metro's deputy chief
"It's not really clear what's the right way to do it," he said,
referring to gates or stand-alone validators. "Each has its pros and
cons and so we're experimenting with different ways to do it."