Commentary: Does “Locking the Gates” and All the Associated Costs Even Make Fiscal Sense?

(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.)

Photo: ## Angeles Police Protective League##

One justification offered for the need to gate Los Angeles’ rail system is that the present “Proof-of-Payment” system is evaded by a large number of people and that gates will increase revenue collection. This presumes only gating can reduce the level of fare evasion occurring. But as shown by Tri-Met in Portland, Oregon over the past year catching scofflaws and sending the message to users that fare evasion will not be tolerated can be achieved cost effectively by increasing the number of roving fare enforcers.

Metro’s current gating plan involves dedicating 160 Sheriff Assistants (which is 60 more than we currently have for the entire Metro Rail system) to watching fare gates. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have them as part of an enhanced roving fare inspection program? Consider that unlike the gate sentinels that these enforcers will be able to provide assistance aboard vehicles as they move through the system and have flexibility in targeting the stations where evasion problems are most numerous without the draconian choke point effect on patron flow patterns imposed by gating.

Think of all the money saved by pulling out the gates and ending the payments Metro makes to Cubic for renting them. And despite claims by Metro staff it is not too late to do this. All it takes is for the Metro management and the Board to own up to the gating being a money pit fiasco and consider this better alternative.

I’m not holding my breath the foregoing will happen. But I at least wanted to share that gating is not the only solution–and that in my view it is the equivalent of using a hammer to get rid of a fly.

My thanks to bus and rail advocate Andy Novak for bringing the Tri-Met press release to my attention.

  • Zstern

    Most transit system in major cities have locked gates. This is a positive move in that it should increase revenue and clean up the stations a bit. It will also allow for a presence at a station to help those with questions.

    What metro really needs to focus on is a solution on single use trips within the constraints of the tap system.

  • Irwinc

    Most transit systems have gates because they establish sterile zone for transfers, not to prevent fare evasion. I can’t stress this point enough – the purpose of the gates in any transit system is to establish a transfer zone. If it end up improving fare recovery, it is just a happy byproduct. You should never install gates with fare recovery as the main reason because the gates will never pay for itself.

    Here in LA, we will end up with an incompatible system of gates but no free transfers. If Metro’s goal is to drive DOWN revenue, this is the best possible outcome: a gated system that still force people to exit the gates to purchase another ticket just to transfer. It is a transit planner’s worst nightmare.

  • Jarrett M

    I don’t get what locking the gates will solve. Unless you have staffed positions near every gateway, which Metro doesn’t seem to be planning for, there’s no deterrent to just hopping over them. Metro could keep the roving fare inspectors to catch the gate hoppers, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having gates in the first place. In the end, it seems like gates will just make the system more confusing and deter people from riding. Unfamiliar riders will get confused when the encounter a gated station versus a non-gated station, and it seems like Metro hasn’t thought through the sigle ride tap card issue thoroughly. In the Bay Area, we have disposable smart cards for single rides, but I wonder about the cost to provide the cards versus paper tickets. 

  • Ubrayj02

    Metro’s goal is to drive down fare box revenue, but bump up federal homeland security spending on our MTA – and that money, unlike fares, is going to be doled out to those companies and people that are friends with the MTA staff and politicians. There are too many college grads with a nice new car, spouse, and mortgage on the line with this TAP fiasco.

    Think of it this way: fare box money is politically and personally “worthless” to people working at the MTA. Federal grant money to spend on fare gates (and other crap) is money the managers at the MTA can actually gain something from: respect, friends, political advantage, campaign donations, etc.

    Whether or not the money does any good to riders is almost beside the point – the MTA is STILL transportation subsidy for the poor of Los Angeles. As soon as ridership increases, the agency acts quickly to snuff out any gains in middle class or upper class ridership. If riders don’t vote, then riders don’t matter. If riders don’t matter, then TAP and other stupid ideas can reign supreme.

    The only way to stop TAP is to ensure that it never works but that the money is used to hire hordes of people in the region to make-work. So far, it looks like that is what is going to happen. The fare gates will be removed when my kid is in college. I could practicallyt write the LA Times story now: “Metro’s TAP-ping Out”

  • i got a better idea — free public transport outside of rush hours. then use the fare inspectors only during pay periods. everybody wins, even drivers.

  • Joe B

    Dana, what can we do to help put pressure on Metro to pull out the gates?

  • I don’t know that anything will stop the gates. Board members seem to have fallen for the dubious gate tests and mis-leading impression that the gates will produce a huge amount of new revenue. Plus they seem only vaguely aware what a money pit this thing is. Since the Board started this whole thing staff are duitifully implementing and evading the stark dimensions of why this is a sow’s ear masquerading as a silk purse. They seem hellbent on plunging headlong forward heedless to any warnings or signs that many promises made when they decided to go forward with the gates have turned out not to be accurate.

    Zev Yaroslavsky seems sold on the idea — if you live in his district e-mail him what you think of the gates:

  • Anonymous

    The putrid smell of security theater is all over the fare gates. 

    And Metro is a bureaucracy, and the only goal of bureaucracy is to entrench itself  and grow. It doesn’t grow by pleasing users. It grows by pleasing other bureaucracies. 

  • Ubrayj02

    Metro staff have a long, bright, history of polishing financial turds. They have been distributing bus system improvement funds for highway widening projects that have destroyed millions in real estate values for decades. The contractors feeding off this specialized trade have done well, a legion of bureaucrats have been kept employed, and the various agencies getting “free” roads have “grown”.

    The Board knows the score: keep the relatively unrestricted “security” grants coming and their ability to buy votes for themselves increases.

    This isn’t some top secret conspiracy, this is how things are done in LA. The thing that doesn’t matter (as with the bus system money mis-spent to improve private automobile throughput) is the effects on the non-involved parties in this financial-electoral machine: the users of transit, and the man on the street.

  • Ubrayj02

    That would increase ridership, and possibly make the Metro a rolling hotel for the homeless. 

    However, bringing fees down to nearly-free levels during rush hour would be a great idea for ridership, reducing pollution, improving the system-wide throughput of people, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce congestion, and basically hit nearly every stated goal in Propositions A & C (and Measure R?).I’ll translate that for you into MTA-speak: “Not gonna happen.”

    With that out of the way, I would be very happy to join in whatever action is taken to further this goal.

  • Anonymous

    To what extent can fare gates increase farebox recovery? The $250 fine is designed to make up for those not caught is it not?

    So, it would be interesting to see what is more effective in recovering revenue, fare gates or fines. In any given year, Metro collected $X amount of fines (minus administrative and court fees) that should cover X number of instances of fare evasion. The fare gates would have to prevent more than X number of instances of fare evasion, but that isn’t the end of the story. All of those people deterred by fare gates have to go and buy a ticket. Revenue is not recovered if the would-be fare evader simply chooses not to take the trip, or walks, or bikes, or does something else. Of course, it goes without saying that fare evasion under fare gates will not be zero. 

    Do the fines go to Metro though? I don’t see anything in the financial reports about fines collected or anything like that. If some portion of the fine does not go to Metro, there is something wrong with that. 

  • Anonymous


    It simply isn’t true that “Most transit system in major cities have locked gates.”

    It won’t increase revenue because not very many people were cheating the system.  And there will not be any presence at most stations because the staff is not budgeted.

  • Anonymous

    Riding Metro is already near-free for those who qualify. And it isn’t that expensive for those that do not qualify for discounts.

  • Dennis Hindman

    If having half a dozen locked gates creates choke points at a rail station, then imagine the inconvenience and the feeling of being treated like cattle at a meat packing plant when passengers must form a single line to go past a fare inspector called a bus driver. Let’s bring the speed of boardings for all transit closer to equality by having tap card readers on the second and third doors of buses used on the street, which will make bus boardings more like the honor system that now exists on trains. Why should the way passengers board a bus be handled any differently than train passengers? If the argument against doing that is that it will require many more Sheriff deputies to do spot inspections; that is exactly what is being advocated for rail stations in this article. Most of the advantages that people site for trains compared to buses are simply the way the systems are set up  and very little to do with the technology differences between them.

  • Anonymous

    TAP was a bad idea to begin with. Closing the gates is just another bad idea.  Stop concentrating on the few that evade the system.  Most people do pay. Honor system is still the best way to go.

  • M

     My sister lives in Austin, which is a city that from time to time, has some air quality issues.When the ozone levels get too high, they have “ozone action days”, which among other things, means public transportation is free to everyone in an effort to reduce personal car usage and get people in vehicles vs. exposing them to the poor air quality while walking or biking.

  • i think the Spare The Air stuff happens in SF, too — or, I thought it did. I don’t see anything about discounts, tho, on the site: 

  • ah, so the wiki page has some more: 

    that’s interesting because that means that we have a model for what transit is like when it’s free. 

    i do remember buses/trains being a bit more crowded, but it’s been a while and i prob wasn’t paying attention. 

  •  Why is TAP a bad idea? Plenty of agencies across the country are implementing smart-card-based fare payment systems, and in places where they haven’t made a mess of the implementation, it’s actually really nice. It’s a HUGE improvement in the Bay Area, for example.

    TAP is a good idea that Metro couldn’t figure out how to properly implement.

  • Anonymous

    Spare the Air was a marketing campaign, not an air pollution reduction program. 

  • Anonymous
  • be nice if we could get polluters to pay the cost of Spare the Air and pollution reduction campaigns.

    and i’m curious to know if the Spare the Air free transit days really worked. no long-term mode shifts, it seems, but on the day, did it work? keep any kids out of the hospital?

    wonder if bike sharing has helped in any cities where it’s very popular. maybe Wuhan y Hangzhou? though, bikers get to suck up more air pollution. they don’t create it, but get to suck up more of it. ironic. @#@#ing cars.

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone else think what Cubic did is rent-seeking? Here’s the definition of it.

    “In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth, for example, spending money on political lobbying in order to be given a share of wealth that has already been created.”

    Because TAP doesn’t offer much more utility over paper tickets and passes (and in fact creates new problems and limitations), and fare gates will cost more than they will “save” preventing fare evasion, I wonder what Cubic really has to offer other than an extra $1-$2 charge for those useless cards and a bill for taxpayers for the fare gates. 

  • Anonymous

    By the way, does law enforcement need a warrant to pull your TAP trip history? Is the question even answered?

  • Anonymous

    Gas prices, traffic and changing economic conditions probably have more to do with modal shifts and changing transportation patterns than an annual program that allows you to ride the transit system for free for a day. And Spare the Air isn’t even done anymore due to funding problems from what I can tell.

    I’m not a Bay Area guy, but here’s what I could find about it’s impact.

    It was not very efficient at pollution reduction:

    Crime and overcrowding is said to have increased on BART due to the free rides: There was also overcrowding on the ferries. 

    I don’t think the Bay Area needs Spare the Air either as a pollution reduction tool or a marketing campaign. People in the Bay Area already ride transit, and you need to charge a price to prevent overcrowding and the consequences from overcrowding. 

  • Anonymous

    RFID Cards like TAP are also a cinch to hack or at least clone:

  • calwatch

    No, law enforcement never needs a warrant to pull your data. All they have to do is ask, which is what “required by law” means. They also have to comply with subpoenas and requests for production.

    “All information and data relating to the Cardholder collected by the TAP UFS shall be used by the Service Providers for the purposes of the operation and management of the UFS and shall serve as a source of information and data for transit and/or related services in general but shall otherwise be dealt with in a confidential manner by the Service Providers and the TAP Service Center unless: (a)  the Cardholder expresses written consent; and/or, (b)  the Cardholder indicates at the point of Card registration that he/she would  like to receive Participant transit-related information from the TAP Service Center or the Service Providers; and/or, (c)  as required by law or ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

  • calwatch

    Spare the Air Day was a pollution reduction program, Spokker, but not a great one in that it exacerbated congestion on BART. However, in more suburban areas with more capacity it is more effective. Remember that for areas which do not violate the Clean Air Act, crossing over that threshold into noncompliance becomes very expensive. But once an area is non compliant, there is not a significant difference with the feds from 50 days out of compliance to 51 days. 

    Heck, you’ve noticed that the AQMD has stopped publicizing the air pollution maps. Back when I grew up here the air pollution report was just a part of the weather report. Now LA County Public Health is issuing air warnings, when it should be the AQMD.

  • calwatch

    In case you haven’t noticed there is a giant hole in the system from the Blue and Expo lines. Unless they are going to check every riders in the three minutes between Pico and Metro Center, at the most crowded point of the train, anyone can enter the gated areas without fare payment by just riding a train. 

    Interestingly, the fare inspectors are swarming the Expo Line from what I’ve read on The Source. Someone posted that they have been checked more in the last month there than in years on riding on the rest of the system. 

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting that Compton was retrofitted with turnstiles, while La Cienega and Chinatown do not have them.  Does Expo/La Brea have them?