Commentary on Metro Plan to Lock Subway Gates This Year

Photo by ##ttp://'s LA Street Scenes## via LAist

(Dana Gabbard is a Board Member of the Southern California Transit Advocates and an occasional contributor to Streetsblog.  When he opines, he does so on behalf of himself as a long-standing transit watcher.  Gabbard has written about the fare gate issue several times since Metro first proposed putting up gates in 2008 after years of being one of the larger “honor system” rail systems in the world.  Advocates howled that the gates are a waste of time and money, but Metro sticks to its guns.  After several field tests, the agency is now moving to finally lock the gates.  Many, including Gabbard, are still skeptical.)

In February the Metro Board passed a motion (see item #26) made by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky:

… that staff return in March with a plan that would implement gate locking within 5-6 month, phased in on an aggressive schedule. Work to resolve fare media issues with Metrolink and the Municipal Operators and fare inspection issues with the Sheriffs Department.

Staff in March made a presentation at the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting on the steps necessary to implement gate locking.

Now Metro staff have prepared for this month’s Committee meeting a report on actions needed to lock the subway station gates by the end of this year.

One would first point out it is interesting that the original motion seems to contemplate going forward with the gating of the entire Metro rail system (to the extent that is feasible.) With nary a word of explanation staff have quietly downsized what is being attempted; locking the light rail stations has been set aside for now as Metro wrestles with the daunting task of just locking the Red and Purple Line stations.

Next, I find interesting the numerous mentions of Sheriff assistants as station agents, and that coverage may require nearly 60 more deputies than currently assigned to all the rail lines. This will not be cheap. In February 2011, Matt Raymond, the Metro executive in charge of both fare gate and TAP card implementation, estimated such agents would cost $20 million dollars a year. Despite the assertion by agency staff that the recent fare gate locking tests proved gate closing results in revenue generation, I have to question any claims the gating makes fiscal sense given the enormous cost for agents. Plus relying on the results of gate tests that were done in a very limited manner (and with a platoon of folks to oversee it) as being a realistic basis for going forward with the locking seems foolhardy.

There’s another onerous detail being overlooked.  Many Metro customers still don’t use TAP cards that will be required in a locked gate system.  TAP cards can be obtained at city offices and Metro Customer Centers and an extra ticket machine will be placed at the East Portal of Union Station. That is fine and well IF PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT. Buried in the report is the admission “nearly 40% of Red and Purple Line cash customers are not currently on TAP.” Also, such key constituencies as students, seniors and disabled will now need TAP cards to use the Subway.  Metro still has work to do reaching out to these groups. That seems to foretell that there will be confusion and difficulties when there is an “initial spike in demand for TAP cards.”

Metro is trying to evade responsibility for what could be any impending period of confusion and inconvenience by using innocuous sugar-coating phrases like “definite customer impacts” for  the result of requiring TAP cards at fare gates. Outreach from the beginning has been poorly handled and now it appears the solution to this failure is draconian measures forcing folks to get TAP cards by locking the gates. How customer friendly!

And incredible they are rushing forward despite still lacking a plan for dealing with Metrolink pass holders beyond vague talk of a “TAP alternative”. This is appalling!

At least the staff wisely dropped their hinted intention to deal with the problem of paper transfers issued by municipal carriers by no longer honoring them for accessing the rail system. Instead “Sheriff assistants (SAs) will monitor fare gates to ensure patrons with valid fare media may pass through gates”. What a high tech solution!

It is telling that their schedule of implementation puts the downtown gates last. I suspect they know issues relating to Metrolink and transfers will be most important for those venues and this will give them a chance to get the bugs out of the process of implementation by starting at the outer edge stations before undertaking the difficult task of dealing with 7th/Metro and Union Station.

And how about the new wrinkle that the gating may violate the California’s Transportation Development Act and therefore “additional legal clarification” is needed.  Sort of late in the process to stumble over this potential high hurdle, don’t you think?

From the start I have been convinced this was a bad idea. And the unfolding of the gating has only reinforced that perception. Yet doggedly the agency keeps pushing forward, seemingly unwilling to concede that it should admit gating just doesn’t pencil out and it is about time to tell Cubic to pull the damned turnstiles out of our rail stations and end this debacle. But I guess that is too much to hope for. S*I*G*H*

  • ubrayj02

    Hey guys, what’s this? A ridership increase?

    Quick, lock the gates!

    Our fare increases aren’t working. The middle and upper classes are trying to move away from our car only system. Our highway building departments are going to get screwed unless we clamp down on this, now!

    Take a gander through the annual financial reports for the MTA. They have been shaving a nice chunk of money off for highway building projects since the agencies inception. When Prop A & C mention “cleaner air” somehow that just floats away into the atmosphere. When they say “reduce congestion” that comes down like the hammer of Thor, and freeways spring up from the crater.

    These TAP gates are an insult to the dignity of every transit rider. Their implementation, the contractor, the crypto-corpratist creepiness of the whole thing, just stinks.

    Has anyone taken note about how the awful Rosa Parks transfer from the Blue to Green Line is because of these gates? They are an annoyance, a hazard, and should be done away with.

    If the MTA stopped funneling hundreds of millions in transit dollars into “RSTI” highway building funds, stopped manipulating the public’s desire to have quality transit to wring out dead-end investments in highway construction, we might have some grounds to talk abotu installing fare gates. As it stands now, the gates belong at the freeway and parking lot entrances, not the train stations.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, if the TVMs break or run out of TAP cards…

    But that’ll never happen…nah.

  • Anonymous

    Good eye, Calwatch.  Still, it is possible to buy one of these tickets without having to go through the convulsions one must do to get a discount TAP card.  In theory they can be issued on the spot at the locations listed or at any station by the already in place attendants, assuming they can handle cash.  Roaming Assistant Sheriffs won’t be able to do this on a reliable basis.

  • Pulitzer for Comments goes to Josef el Ubrayj!!

  • Dana seems to have figured this out. Yet the MTA can’t. Why
    the gates in the first place? Wasn’t the reason to avoid fair evaders, reduce
    cost and to improve security which it does none? Every system that has gates
    there is at least one attendant to take cash fairs deal with handicapped riders
    large parcels or broken gates etc. For the MTA’s gated system to work there
    needs to be an attendant at each set of gates. For security once a bad guy
    enters the system there is little security aboard trains or at stations especially
    on the LRT lines to prevent problems. There is still the paper Vs. TAP cards
    and other carriers being able to issue a transfer that can get them through the
    gates especially with no attendant.


    Wouldn’t simply having fair inspectors riding the trains and
    at stations in numbers that there is a good chance of encountering a inspector
    at least once in five trips would work to deter fair evasion? The only time I
    see Sherriff inspectors are at Union Station or at the 7th Metro
    Station in groups and not checking tickets. Inspectors on trains would also
    help with security and perceived security of train riders. I ride the Blue Line
    regularly and have not seen a fair inspector on a train in my last ten plus trips
    and I do see venders, unruly teens etc. Fair inspectors would more than pay for
    themselves in fines and would cost a whole lot less than the billions spent on
    the Cubic gates and the required people to keep the system working and station attendants.


  • Well, at least the politicos are nervous.

    Poor Mayor AV and his “working group”. We already have a TAP group spinning its wheels. So let’s pile-on with another symbol of progress while the gating continues to grow into a fiasco…

  • Anonymous

    Hey, look what BART posted today:

    The Green ticket is still available at 35 locations, and golly, the Senior Clipper Card is “Permanent”.  Hey LA Metro, ya hear that?

    And P.S. the TDA funding is $314 million for next year, but losing that will more than be offset by the $1 million in fares Metro will now collect on the Red/Purple Line.

  • calwatch

    The non permanence of the TAP card appears to be an issue with the Cubic technology. San Diego’s compass cards have just hit their expiration date as well, as you can see by looking at

  • Ugh…thanks for the info, @danagabbard:disqus 

  • calwatch

    If the MTA stopped funneling sales tax money that everyone pays, including drivers, into RSTI, then John and Ken, in concert with highway builders, construction unions, and developers, would gather signatures to repeal Propositions A, C, and Measure R, and replace it with an initiative that would only build roads (and eliminate carpool lanes to boot, the reason they got famous in NJ). 

    Prop C clearly funded highways as part of the “transitways” portion, and voters at that time knew that “transitways” included such roads like the El Monte Busway, which accepted carpools after 1978. Measure R ads spent at least a third, and sometimes half, of the time on freeway and street improvements (like signal synchronization/TSSP). 

    Remember, 60% of LA County does not live in the City of LA. 60% of LA County does not work in the City of LA. You have to have a plan that accounts for not just the City, but also the South Bay, Gateway Cities, San Gabriel Valley, and the North County.

  • calwatch

    Incidentally they pulled the ACS contract from the MTA board yesterday (it was not carried over like many of the other items). Hopefully this is a sign to improve ACS staffing in the wake of the massive expansion of TAP, to include Spanish language services, greater hours, and walk in customer service.

  • calwatch

    Well, I was just listening to the board meeting… intermittent gate locking June 27th, completion August 9, locked by December 1. All of the machines have to be converted in June to TAP only machines, with the card fee dropped to $1.

  • Nathanael

    People will not adopt TAP unless you can buy a TAP card at every single station.  Period.

  • Nathanael

    So Metro is planning to make it *impossible* for a tourist to get on the train at Wilshire and Western, because you have to go buy a TAP card first?

    That’s insane.  Faced with that, I’d jump the turnstile and sue if I got caught.

  • Nathanael

    The TAP implementation has been completely, grossly incompetent.  The *first principle* of fare media is that you should be able to get your farecard at *any station*.  Of course, LA completely ignored this, because the people in charge of TAP were brain-damaged morons who belong in an asylum.  Well, it seems the people in charge of Seattle’s ORCA card are just as brain-damaged.

  • Nathanael

    So far, LA Metro hasn’t even managed to have ubiquitous ticket machines for the TAP Card, which means they aren’t taking deployment seriously.

  • @Nathanael: Not impossible, as the TVMs at the station will dispense TAP cards. I agree it’s still extremely user-unfriendly to make tourists and occasional riders pay an additional charge for a TAP card on top of their fare, as they won’t be using it repeatedly and thus won’t realize as much value in terms of time savings and convenience.

  • calwatch

    Which you can do. Blame the incompetent people at MTA Marketing who can’t seem to update their web site, even after being told this repeatedly, but operationally it is possible to purchase a TAP card and a single ride fare for $3.50 at all stations – I tried this at Woodley, which is probably the lowest ridership station with ticket vending machines in the Metro system. That becomes the new base fare. It’s no different that Washington Metro charging a $1 surcharge for every trip which uses the paper tickets, in order to force adoption of the smart card.

  • Missy Kelly

    Rode the subway today.   TAP access only to ride the redline to downtown.  so it was $2.50 to ride one-way downtown ($1.50 fare + $1.00 to purchase TAP card) on the way home, had to add $5.00 to the card to not have to deal with the coins the machine will give as change.  They do not give paper money back – Missy Kelly


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