Turnstile Plan Delayed

Coming Soon?

A decision on whether or not to use turnstiles to collect fares at train stops was postponed by the Metro Board today not after threats of a lawsuit or the repeated strong opposition from Board Member Richard Katz; but because of a letter by former Metrolink executive director Richard Stanger questioning how much money the turnstiles would really raise. (I’m working on obtaining a copy of Stanger’s letter and will post it when I do).

The total cost of the proposed contract for installation and maintenance of the turnstiles is over $100 million dollars. Proponents of the plan claim it will recoup that money within four or five years. Despite this somewhat incredulous claim, Katz remains the only board member who wonders how catching the estimated 5% of train riders that aren’t paying for their tickets is going to offset this enormous cost.

Opposition to adding turnstiles came from both rail and bus activists. Kymberleigh Richards, director of So.C.A.T.A. argued that the amount of money spent on maintaining the rail gates (roughly $400,000 a month) would be more than enough to scale back Metro’s service cuts that are being proposed at the local board level. These cuts don’t require a vote of the Executive Board. Richards vowed to unify the local boards against the turnstile plan.

That argument seemed mild compared to the accusations made by longtime bus advocate John Walsh who threatened to bring suit against the board for conflict of interest violations, noting the connection between consultants named in the contract and board members.

However, the opposition that should most discourage board members is that of Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition. Perhaps more than anyone else, Reed makes a great effort to see things from Metro’s point of view, yet even he was overheard telling television crews that the fare gate plan is a "waste of public resources."

However, in the world of transit politics, don’t be surprised if we still see turnstiles being installed before the year is out. As Board Member Yvonne Burke noted, "every major subway in the country has a fare gate system." Despite the delay, Metro’s Board seems determined to join them.

  • Damien Newton

    Comments on Metro’s Draft Faregating Analysis Report

    Prepared by Richard Stanger

    January 15, 2008

    There are a number of misleading assumptions and incomplete cost analyses in this report that raise questions about its results. In essence, revenue loss through fare evasion has been estimated much higher than it is, and costs – both for equipment and for operations – are estimated much lower than they will be. Moreover, some basic assumptions about the benefits of gated entry/exit and the drawbacks of the proof-of-payment system are questionable.

    Overall:

    The November 15th staff report to several Metro board committees conveying the subject report starts with this phrase: “Los Angeles Metro remains the only non-barrier subway system in North America”. That statement is misleading. No other non-barrier subway system has ever existed in North America. There are reasons for this. The Los Angeles Metro is the only North American subway line designed and built after proof-of-payment fare systems were introduced into North America in the late 1970’s. The Los Angeles Metro is also the only subway line integrated with an extensive light rail and commuter rail system both of which rely on proof-of-payment fare collection. All new light rail systems in the United States and all new commuter rail systems in the United States use proof-of-payment fare collection because:
    a) it is a very cost-efficient means of enforcing fares already proven in many rail systems throughout Western Europe,
    b) it would be nearly impossible and too costly to enclose most light rail and commuter rail stations enough to have secure fare gates, and
    c) no light rail nor commuter rail system anywhere that has implemented proof-of-payment fare enforcement has found it to be unworkable or even undesirable.

    Given that all other Southern California rail systems use proof-of-payment fare enforcement, it is logical to employ it in the Red Line as well. Nevertheless, as the Board Report states, questions persist about the Red Line.

    The report implies that a barrier system is needed to collect distance-based fares. This is not true; all new commuter rail systems in North America have distance-based fares as do many subway systems in Europe. In fact, the Blue Line fare equipment was specified to handle zone-based fares, but this fare structure was ultimately not implemented.

    Cost of Fare Evasion:

    Summary: The Faregating Analysis Report estimates the loss in revenues between MTA’s existing proof-of-payment system and a barrier fare enforcement system up to 10 times higher than it should be.

    The TMD Report determined fare evasion rates for Metro’s rail lines. There is no reason to think these estimates are wrong. However, these rates are wrongly applied to revenues. On page 5, the Faregating Analysis states: “Fare evasion, currently estimated at approximately 6% of people inspected, results in revenue loss of approximately $5.6 million out of $40 million annual revenue.”

    What the analysis has done is take Metro’s annual rail ridership and correctly multiplied it by 6%, then wrongly multiplied the result by the base $1.25 fare (74.3 million annual riders x 6% x $1.25 = $5.6 million). But the average Metro fare is not $1.25, but 60¢ (from the 2005 National Transit Database), and the estimated amount of revenue loss should be $2.67 million. But even using 60¢ may be a high estimate of fare lost because many fare evaders would not otherwise be riding, and therefore very little actual fare revenue has been lost. But for sure it is incorrect to assume all fare evaders would otherwise purchase Metro’s highest fare, one-at-a-time, for all their trips.

    The Report correctly notes that even under a barrier system there is fare evasion. It estimates barrier fare evasion in barrier systems (from anecdotal evidence) to be 1%-2%. It then uses 1% in its calculation of “net” fare evasion. (My own estimate from previous work in just this area is that barrier fare evasion is more like 2%-4%). There are two reason using 1% is too low: a) the tripod gate, recommended by the Metro staff, is given 0 points in the “resistance to fare evasion” category, and b) the stations with these gates will normally be unmanned. If one assumes a fare evasion rate of 2% for fare gates, then the net fare evasion revenue loss becomes $1.78 million ($2.67 million – $0.89 million).

    Finally, a fundamental part of any proof-of-payment system is the ability to get back lost revenue from cheaters who are caught and pay the fine. The idea is that the agency cannot check everyone, so the fine is set high enough that one person caught “pays for” many others not caught. For example, if the average fine collected is $50, then each fine “pays for” 80 fare evaders ($50/60¢) not caught. Barrier fare systems do not have this critical element. They have no fare inspectors, no fare citations, no fare evasion court enforcement, and no fine revenues. The Faregating Analysis report does not state what the annual total fine revenues are, but that amount should be counted as revenue.1 If only 1% of fare evaders (that is, 1% of the 6% of passengers who evade fares) are caught and an average fine of $30 is collected, the annual revenue from fines is $1.33 million, if 2% are caught, fine revenues equal fare evasion losses.

    Add back the $1.33 million in fine revenues collected and the net loss of revenue becomes $0.45 million ($1.78 million – $1.33 million). This loss is one-tenth the $5.6 million the Report estimates!

    Analysis of Fare Gates:

    Summary: The analysis of fare gates excludes a fair comparison with the no-barrier system. The fare gate chosen is the worst of the gated alternatives and the one with the least resistance to fare evasion. The discussion of Homeland Security issues has nothing to do with the issue of fare gates and is therefore misleading.

    The table on page 20 of the Faregating Analysis summarizes a review of fare gate options available. It is reproduced below, (chart was removed because it looked terrible after blogger.com had its way with it, if anyone wants to read it, email me at thedaymen@gmail.com)

    Adding the existing proof-of-payment (no barrier) system to the table clearly shows its overall superiority. In every attribute but “security and resistance to fare evasion” the no barrier system is far superior to any other.

    The Metro staff instructed the consultant to cost only the least expensive tripod turnstile system. One bi-parting leaf gate will have to be included in every entrance because of ADA and other requirements. Moreover, there are no add fare machines yet included in the estimate. It is not clear what a patron in the paid area is to do when he/she needs to add value to their ticket.

    Finally, the Report has a lengthy description of security features thought to be needed for Homeland Security reasons. But none of these systems have anything to do with the fare gates being discussed; they cannot be added inside the gate housing and would have to be additional equipment. They can be added whether the fare system is barrier or no barrier.

    Cost of Retrofitting Stations:

    Summary: Costs to retrofit light rail station entrances appear low compared with Red Line work. Moreover, there are large cost benefits of eliminating subway station mezzanines needed primarily for fare collection.

    The report includes an estimate of the cost of adding fare gates and rightly points out that existing Red Line stations have provisions for fare gates. It should be noted that the principle reason for the mezzanine level in these stations is for these fare gate arrays. A proof-of-payment system having no fare gates does not require a mezzanine level. If fare gates were not required, the entire station box could be raised 30-feet in future stations at a cost savings of at least 33%. This is not a trivial amount: stations account for 50% of the cost of a mile of subway all costs included (one station/mile), or $200 million each. Saving $67 million over 10 stations is almost $700 million!

    The Report estimates the cost of retrofitting stations for fare gates. As noted, the 24 entrances on the Red Line have already been designed and built with fare gates in mind, and the necessary conduits are in place. This work is estimated to cost $16.5 million, or $700,000 per entrance. The cost estimate to retrofit 40 light rail entrances, that were not designed to accommodate fare gates and have no conduits properly located is $19 million, or $475,000 per entrance. This difference does not appear logical since so much more effort will be needed at light rail stations. I expect their costs will end up much higher than indicated.

    Operating Costs:

    Summary: There are three areas whose costs may have been underestimated: station attendants (up to $15.4 million), fare media (unknown but in the many millions of dollars), and on-going, adequate fare inspection (perhaps $3.5 million).

    The biggest operating cost issue concerns the need for station attendants. The report states that “mobile station attendants are shared at the rate of one for every five stations”. It is not clear how this type of manning will work when response times could be as much as 20 minutes or more. More permanent station staffing may be necessary. Staffing of an entrance will require (at least) three shifts per week, or roughly $240,000 per year. For the 24 Red Line entrances only, the total is $5.8 million. The staffing cost for the 40 strategic light rail station entrances is an additional $9.6 million annually.

    The cost of expensive fare media has been excluded from the cost analysis (page 4). However, it is clearly crucial. For example, the report notes (page 47) that limited-use smart cards, which could be the fare medium, will cost 20¢ each with an annual estimated cost of $8 million. Another alternative fare medium described is long-life plastic smart cards estimated to cost $5 each, the cost perhaps to be bourn by each rider. No cost estimate is given for these long-life cards in the report, but to get some feel for the amount, if the 74.3 million annual riders make an average of 100 trips with each such a card, the cost of these cards (to somebody) will be $3.7 million annually.

    Finally, the Report states that the contract for “civilian” fare inspectors will be cancelled at an annual savings of $7.03 million. Instead, there will be fare inspectors on light rail lines and Metro’s mobile Security Force at gated stations. Somehow, the cost of inspecting all the light rail (and Orange) lines and adding mobile attendants on Red Line stations (Option 1) will drop to $1.4 million. This is 20% of the $7 million cost of inspecting all lines now. The report does not explain how this can be possible since the entire light rail network will still need fare inspection. If the same level of fare inspection continues on the light rail network, one could assume a $3.5 million cost because ridership on the Red Line approximately equals ridership on the light rail lines.

  • Kymberleigh Richards

    For the record, Damien:

    I was not speaking yesterday in my capacity of Public & Legislative Affairs Director of Southern California Transit Advocates (although So.CA.TA does, indeed, has taken a position of opposition to the gating proposal).

    I was speaking as a member — and past chair — of the Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council; I am one of the 45 people across the five Metro service sectors who vote on bus service changes, and it is in that context that I said I would refuse to further cut service to pay the annual maintenance and operating costs of the gates. It is also in that context that I said I would urge the other 44 governance councilmembers to likewise take a stand.

    Even more so than Bart Reed, I have to see Metro’s side as well as the side of the public, because I wear two hats, one Metro, one public transportation advocate.

    The Stanger letter, which Richard Katz shared with me before the Board meeting, is, in my opinion, a much more factual analysis — with the numbers crunched more accurately than the staff report — of the actual situation.

    Despite Yvonne Burke wanting a legacy (since she is retiring), the numbers “don’t pencil out at all”, as Richard Katz says. This is a huge waste of money, with a lot of potential unintended consequences, and it will never pay for itself.

  • 295bus

    It would be good to get actual cost figures from a system that uses faregates.

    My impression is that BART, for example, blows an awful lot of money on theirs. Just replacing old faregates with new ones in existing stations runs many millions of $$$, and the machines seem to require a *lot* of TLC to keep them running. And there seem to be agents at most stations.

    Another technical issue–a faregate system requires 100% compatible ticket machines. Think about what this means long term. You will be stuck ordering custom machines adhering to some spec you come up with now *forever*. With POP, you can purchase generic machines off the shelf, and if the tickets they print are physically different, it doesn’t matter at all.

    Also, as a transit user, I can attest that–

    – Connecting between gated and non-gated systems is a pain. BARTs faregates are major obstacle to better integrating Bay Area transit.

    The LA MTA staff ought to pay us a visit, and try connecting between BART and CalTrain, and then see if that’s an experience they want to impose of 1000’s of SoCal commuters who connect from Metrolink to the red line every day.

    – Discount tickets for Seniors/Youth/Disabled are tricky. How can a ticket machine or faregate tell if a rider is qualified to get a discount? BART’s solution is to sell discount tickets through supermarkets. This is inconvenient, only works for high $$ tickets, and half the time the store is sold out. I always end up paying full fare for my kid. Grrr!

    – Jumping faregates is *easy*. Trust me–I grew up in SF, and have experience in this area! The only way to make it more difficult would be to gates that physically obstruct passage (dangerous in an emergency) or to hire more people to watch out for jumpers–way more than it takes just to check for tickets on trains!

    POP is one thing LA really got right when the subway was built. Please don’t mess this up!

  • 295bus

    It would be useful to look at how faregates are working out for systems that use them.

    My experience as an observer/rider of BART:

    – I really doubt they are saving any money. The machines seem to need a lot of TLC, and cost many millions per station. Plus, the system seems to require agents in most stations.

    – The faregates are *easy* to get around. I group up in SF, and can attest to this personally :)

    – Faregates make connecting to other transit systems inconvenient. the MTA board ought to pay a visit, try riding SF->SJ via BART+CalTrain, and see if this is something they want to inflict on 1000’s of riders who connect from Metrolink.

    – Discount tickets for seniors/kids are tricky. A TVM can’t tell if you’re qualified to buy one, so BART sells them through supermarkets (not in stations!), but only high value tickets, and often they’re sold out. I usually have to pay full fare for my kid.

    POP is one thing LA really got right about its subway. Please don’t mess it up!

  • Scott

    Can’t we just use Occam’s Razor here?

    The simpler, the better.

    No gates, no maintenance required. No “token clerks” required. No “token booths” required.

    And, we don’t have the HUGE captial costs for retrofitting the stations. There’s a huge savings right there, and hey, we get by just NOT DOING ANYTHING. Something MTA is really good at.

    If there’s a problem with fare evasion (like 2% is a problem…) why can’t we just put more fare inspectors on the line?

    I see them about once a week at most, and I take the red line almost daily.

    This would mean more tickets written, more fines, more money in the bank, AND, a feeling of greater security, or at least the perception of it, if the public sees additional officers roaming the trains and stations.

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