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.