Op/Ed: Will Metro’s Turnstile Fetishism Damage the Expo Bikeway?

Anyone who reads my tweets as well as my posts and comments on this blog and elsewhere knows I am hardly a fan of the Los Angeles Metro’s Board of Directors decision to install turnstiles at its unmanned rail stations.  Needless to say, I pay attention to any developments on the issue, and while Damien might not have noticed this report on this week’s Metro Board of Directors’ Committee Meetings, I did.  Even if you don’t care one way or the other about the turnstiles, if you are interested in complete streets, you may want to pay ongoing attention to this.

Because this fetishism may end up ruining a newly created bikeway for cyclists in Los Angeles and Culver City.

In response to a request made in July last year by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and joined City of Santa Monica Councilmember (and current Mayor) Pam O’Connor and City of Glendale Council Member Ara Najarian, all three of whom currently sit on the Metro Board of Directors, Metro staff was directed on July 25, 2013  to come up with a report describing the feasibility of installing turnstiles and fare gates at all stations including those stations on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) network (Blue, Gold and Expo Lines)* which being by definition “Light”, had not been designed to accommodate fare-collection barriers.

This was done using the presumption, quoted from the Motion by Yaroslavsky, O’Connor and Najarian, (See Page 12) that:

As we’ve seen since we implemented gate latching in late June, the system is working smoothly and without incident.  Moreover, revenues are up and we are now able to obtain true ridership numbers, where people are going, and where people are coming from, etc.

That is an interesting presumption since the initial latching of turnstiles had only happened some 34 days prior, the entire Subway or “Heavy Rail” System (Red and Purple Lines) was not latched until eleven days later on  August 5th, 2013 and no conclusive data about revenues or ridership was yet available.

But since “the Emperor has a fine set of new clothes” and apparently we must order more to “take this issue head on”, so the report discussing the work that will have to be done to add turnstiles and at least one Americans with Disabilities (ADA)-compliant faregate plus the alarmed (?) emergency exits to every station and related fencing has been produced. (Each must be 60% accessible which means if the station has two entrances, then both must have the ADA-faregate).

Cycle-users will please take note the number of times the words “Lane Takes” and “incur” or “intrude” or “encroach” plus “lane” appears in the report.   (The “Find” tool found under the “Edit” menu on Acrobat Reader can be used for this purpose).

The key sentence, found on page 7 of the report, is:

Similarly, widening entrances at the following stations would encroach on traffic lanes: Jefferson/USC, Exposition Park/USC, Exposition/Vermont, Exposition/Western, and Exposition/Crenshaw.

Recall please that the streets that parallel Metro’s Light Rail Lines are, in the City of Los Angeles, controlled by the move-more-cars-fixated  Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT).  If Metro has to “incur”, “encroach” or “intrude” on the street right-of-way to do a “Lane Take” in order to install the fare-collection equipment, then let’s take a guess who will have priority over the remaining space?

After all, we’ve seen this before when other interests found bicycle lanes to be intrusive or unacceptable. Somehow even the “all-powerful bicycle lobby” never seems to be able stop it.

Am I being alarmist?  Hardly.

Come April, will be two years since the Expo Line opened and LADOT still won’t even allow for trains on this line to have signal priority at intersections.  Any one motorist with a working automobile gets prioritized at intersections, such as Flower and Adams or Exposition and Vermont, over a train of  three light rail cars, each costing $4million (based on the current Kinki Sharyo P3010 order), potentially carrying many hundreds of passengers.  And there is seemingly nothing Metro can do to get LADOT to fix this,  even though trains run on iron/steel tracks that have been able to transmit the approximate location of each train through a technique that predates the arrival of the transcontinental railroad to California, and even with Los Angeles having a history of very advanced traffic signal control which LADOT claims can accommodate train movements!

courtesy Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority via Flickr
courtesy Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority via Flickr

So when the five above-listed surface stations need their entrances widened, like the Exposition/Crenshaw station pictured left you can be certain that it will be motorists who will be prioritized for the space that remains afterwards.  Cycle-users will be lucky if even “Sharrows” remain in areas around these stations!

At aerial stations bikes will also lose, because more of the Metro-owned-and-controlled footprint under the platforms that may presently hold bike racks or bike lockers and could be used without local veto for a Metro-operated bikeshare will be taken for the new additional fare collection machinery (turnstiles, ADA-gates, emergency exits, “gate-help-phones” and fencing).

Streetsblog L.A. will continue to monitor this potential conversion of this hard-won bicycling corridor into a “Black-Diamond Trail” by the turnstile-industrial-complex, but we need regular users of the bikeway to be our eyes on the street for any indications of lane reconfigurations, takings and removals. Let us know if you see something via Twitter (@streetsblogla) or e-mail (tips@la.streetsblog.org).

*The Green Line, while using Siemens-built P2000 cars from Metro’s LRT fleet, is outfitted to run automatically (and could operate driverless) , is presently an entirely grade-separated line and is thus more correctly defined as “Light Rapid Transit Metro“ or “Pre-Metro

  • Lorenzo Mutia

    If not turnstiles, then roving fare attendants who aren’t LASD officers. I honestly believe that the honor system just cannot work in this large city of ours.

  • ChrisLoos

    Turnstile “fetishism”? Please.

    Glad sanity prevailed and we’re finally using the 100-year old technology that works in every other metro system.

  • cha

    I am an avid reader of LA Streetsblog for the content, but in all honesty the writing often needs a lot of work. Erik, no offense, but PLEASE TAKE A WRITING CLASS to brush up on some of your writing skills. Streetsblog editors should really be working with the writers to help make articles more readable and clear. Extremely long run-on sentences where the point is lost should be broken up into shorter sentences. We readers would appreciate clarity over quantity. Many thanks for all that you do.

  • John Montgomery

    I’m glad turnstiles are being used here as well. I was shocked that they thought it was a good idea. I’ve read a lot about the issue, but come to the conclusion I just simply don’t agree that they’re wrong. I don’t think it would work here in the states. We stand in stark contrast to Japan, where the turnstiles are open until you do something wrong.

    Love Streetsblog and have total respect, but on this issue they’ve jumped the shark. Give it up.

  • Lorenzo Mutia

    Hire young people, train them to check fares, pay them a little over minimum; probably too simplistic but it could work as a simple part time job.

  • You do realize MOST rail systems in the US do NOT use them? Neither in Europe?

  • Blake

    We all knew Metro’s was gonna get smart to locking up the gates sooner or later. You didn’t think Metro was gonna keep running under this honor system bullshit forever did you?

    We should all just remember the good old days when there were free rides. Everyone did it, some for the thrill of doing it one time to see if they get caught, others did it all the time. I must’ve took a chance 10 times and all 10 times I never got caught. LOL.

  • Blake

    Of course not. America sucks at public transit. We’re fucking newbies compared to Japan. They have all the cool shit over there, they’re so far advanced they have virtual 3-D hologram idol singers. :D

  • Oscar

    Young people are too lazy. They can’t even get my orders right at Burger King. All they care is getting paid and waste their time buying that stupid video game. I don’t expect customer service from them, I’m not going to expect them to do their job right to be checking fares for everyone riding Metro.

    It’s not like turnstiles aren’t new. Everybody is using them for a long time except stupid LA as usual. We’re so behind the rest of the world.

  • Oscar

    Turnstile fetish? WTF?

    Who cares man. I see no problem with the turnstiles. The only people against the idea are the cheaters anyway. The less cheaters there are using the system, the less crowded the trains are, so it’s better for the rest of us.

  • Lorenzo Mutia

    Well I tried, but I do have to say you’re generalizing.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    You didn’t read the article. Turnstiles take up space that could be used for people to get around. They also make it harder for people with mobility impairments of various sorts.

    But the biggest thing is that turnstiles themselves cost money, and there’s no evidence that the increase in fares they generate will offset the cost of installation and maintenance.

    I’m not as opposed to the turnstiles as Erik Griswold is, and I am open to the possibility that the turnstiles may on the whole turn out to be a net improvement, but you’re absolutely wrong if you say there is “no problem” with the turnstiles.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    The transit systems in Berlin and Vienna have been doing that for decades with no indication of stopping. San Francisco just switched their buses to the proof of purchase system rather than the old driver-validation system. If those cities can do it forever, why can’t Los Angeles?

  • Oscar

    Of course turnstiles cost money. So does maintaining a police force. Nothing is free in this world. Turnstiles or cops, their both intent is not to recover money or offset the prices, the main intent is to make it harder for the cheaters to beat the system.

    I take it you’ve never been to New York or the East Coast? They all use turnstiles over there. There’s a reason why they do what they do, otherwise they won’t be using them. If their intent were to recover the cost and they don’t why are they still using it?

  • Oscar

    Nothing lasts forever Kenny. If the way things are done lasts forever, we’d still be talking to each other carving letters on stone.

    Besides, your just being selective. When you say Berlin and Vienna, I can just as easily say there’s New York and Washington DC which operates fine forever under turnstiles. So what’s your point and if they can do it, why can’t Los Angeles?

  • Oscar

    And people like you who cheated the system are the main reasons why Metro should’ve installed and locked the turnstiles sooner.

    Metro had those turnstiles installed many years ago but they were just free spinning until last year. What was the point of installing something and waiting years later to lock them?

  • Oscar

    You and me both my man. I never been to Japan, but I’d like to go there one day and ride their bullet trains. I have to see for myself how they do turnstiles over there and how they remain open until you do something wrong. Wow, they’re light years ahead of us if true.

  • Oscar

    New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Chicago just to name a few! If Metro was going to build their rail system from scratch, they could’ve visited these cities and studied them instead of going gung-ho. What was Metro smoking?

  • Republican_Angeleno

    You voted Democrat, that’s what you get. Stupidity and no fiscal responsibility. You only have yourself to blame, LA voters. Next time, maybe you should start listening to us instead of voting for the Democrats just because “it feels good.”

  • Republican_Angeleno

    I was opposed to all these public transit projects in the first place. Yet, you guys went ahead with it because “it felt good.” Now you’re paying the price of it all with these wasteful spending. I told you over and over again that no public transit never makes any money and is doomed to fail and bankrupt us all. But you liberals never listened. You want to blame someone, blame yourself for voting Democrat. Hopefully you all take this as a hard lesson learned and vote the right way in the next election to retake back California to the great Republican State that brought us Reagan, the greatest President ever in recent history.

  • “Metro” systems yes.

    But can you please list all the light rail systems that use turnstiles?

    Apart from the “Muni Metro” which then only does so in the tunnel from West Portal to Embarcadero.

  • Point taken and I’ll try to do better next time. As for classes, I’ll enroll when you (or Damien) start paying me for my work.

  • “A fetish is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the emic attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.”

    As for less cheaters, is that what you are seeing? Because I don’t.

  • None of the east coast *Light Rail* systems use turnstiles, except where those lines operate in tunnel such as the Green Line in Boston.

  • P.

    Point of Order on the Green line in Boston. I grew up in Eastern Ma Went to college in Boston and My sister lived right next to the green line on Beacon Street in Brookline where it was at grade. The Light rails outside of the tunnels were always loaded via the front door and the driver would control access similar to a bus. It was not a proof of payment system which LA has

  • True. And why shouldn’t Metro consider front-door-only boarding? It would be more cost-effective.

  • “A fetish…is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the emic attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.”

  • Alex Brideau III

    Assuming you’re not joking, I can think of a number of problems with front-door-only boarding. Firstly, how many “front doors” does a 3-car-long train have? And who collects payment / checks TAPs on each railcar?

  • Alex Brideau III

    I believe there already are fare checkers who do only that: check fares. In my experience, they’ve checked my fare about 30%-40% of the time, maybe more.

  • Alex Brideau III

    As a daily rider, I’ve observed it’s sure easier to see the fare evaders now than before the gates were installed. That said, the gates have problems. Low heights make them easy to jump; long-interval ADA gates (that don’t fully close anyway) all but beg fare evaders to piggyback; and unenforced emergency exit gates become de facto supplemental entrances/exits.

    But to me the bigger problem is not the presence of the gates, it’s the lack of systemwide uniformity. The non-gated TAP stations are slow, hard to read, and when in normal use seem to create more of a bottleneck than the gates do as some folks stop to tap and others push through. Since it’s highly unlikely that Metro will backtrack now and remove the gates, I’d rather see them implemented across the system than only at certain stations. S**t or get off the pot, as they say.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Hey everyone! Don’t you remember that Republican_Angeleno told us over and over that public transit was a bad idea? Guess we should have listened, huh? OMG! What were we thinking? The horror!

  • P.

    All the cars would have to be redesigned to accommodate from door boarding. This would add a fare box to the front door area and open up the cab to have the operator interact with passengers. Stations would have to be redesigned to be either all center platform or outside platform to accommodate the car design. An operator would have to be added to every car. Since you could not open all doors, boarding would take much longer.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I understand that cops cost money, and they are there to prevent harmful behavior. But what harmful behavior to turnstiles prevent? The only goal of turnstiles is to collect money, so the only way to justify them is by showing that they collect more money than they cost, and also that the difference is greater than the value of the harm they cause to free flow of people in a crowded space.

    It’s very possible that this is all true. But “preventing cheaters from beating the system” just isn’t a useful goal, unless you think you are actually harmed by someone getting a benefit they didn’t pay for.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    That’s completely right – multiple different systems work just fine. What I was pointing out is just that when a transit system is constructed to work one way, there’s no obvious reason why it should be retrofitted to make it work a different way. (In case that’s not clear enough, the reason that Los Angeles can’t operate well with turnstiles is that so much of our infrastructure was built in a way that defeats turnstiles – surface light rail stations by their very nature allow an easy way for people to do something only slightly risky to go around the turnstiles.)

  • Kenny Easwaran

    That’s surprising if you’ve been checked that often. I think I was checked a few times on the Expo Line when I’ve ridden all the way to the end, and I’ve been checked a couple times at Union Station, but I’ve probably been checked fewer than 10 times in my five years of using Metro. And that’s probably the right frequency – checking too often requires hiring large amounts of people, which is a really big expense for not much return.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I just want to say that I don’t actually see a problem here. I’ve seen some posts on Streetsblog and other places where clarity was lost, but this one seems perfectly fine to me. There’s probably a few sentences that could be shortened, but I didn’t have any trouble understanding anything.

  • Oscar

    Cops aren’t supermen. They can’t do fare checking millions of riders on the Metro system and fight/prevent crime at the same time. How do you suggest we do it? Hire thousands and thousands of cops at a huge cost to taxpayers? Or just let the machines handle it so that we don’t have to hire more cops, and cops can keep their eyes focused onto things that are more important, like making sure the trains and stations are safe?

    Kenny, think of it this way. Your local supermarket does not operate under the honor system. The supermarket is gonna go bankrupt easily if it did. It invests a lot of money in cashiers, private security, surveillance cameras, automated check out stands, and anti-theft devices (you know those things near doors where the alarm is tripped for shoplifters?). All of it works in conjunction to prevent shoplifting. Nothing works alone. They work together as a system. You can’t have security officers all over the supermarket, you can’t have cashiers acting like shoplifting police, you can’t just install surveillance cameras everywhere, and you can’t have just anti-theft devices either. They all work together as a system. And these are the costs that the supermarket has to invest in to protect their revenue and ensure that people pay for their groceries.

    So, going back to the turnstiles, cops can’t be everywhere all the time. They can’t be focusing all of their attention in making sure millions of people are paying their fares correctly. You can’t just rely on surveillance cameras too. They have other stuff to do that’s more important and video is just a recording, people have to view that and it’s impossible to go after fare cheaters just with surveillance cameras too. So just leave the fare checking to something that is more efficient – turnstiles, so that cops can focus their job on providing better security. Then they can all work together as a system. Surveillance cameras record. Cops provide security. Turnstiles do the remedial task of checking fares. That’s the system.

  • Oscar

    Define “work just fine.” Is it “there are massive no fare evasion problems in Berlin and Vienna?” I have that hard to believe. On what basis do you say that? Is it based upon hearsay and conjecture?

    Do you have any solid proof to say that “it works just fine” in Berlin and Vienna?

    Is your statement then in turn, “if Berlin and Vienna goes to installing and locking up the gates, then LA should do the same too?”

    Basically that’s saying “LA shouldn’t do it until Berlin and Vienna does it, because we’re too stupid to think for ourselves and take action ourselves independently.”

  • Oscar

    So by this selective statement, you state that there should be no turnstiles for the light rail system. How about the subway system, the Red and Purple Lines?

  • Oscar

    So this is just about the light rail lines then. You’re fine with the turnstiles on the subway system, the Red and Purple Lines?

  • Oscar

    Los Angeles had a world class public transit system called the Pacific Electric Lines back when the Republicans were in power. So I guess you’re playing the selective statement game too?

  • Oscar

    And you mention the same thing as the article writer. You said light rail lines. Are you fine with turnstiles on the subway system, the Red and Purple Lines?

  • Oscar

    And America is the only dumb backward in the nation in the world that still uses the imperial measurement system and the outdated magnetic stripe on our credit and debit cards that caused the Target breach for hundreds of millions of customers. Your point being?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    “Work just fine” means that the difference between the revenues and costs of the system are considered adequate for the service that the system provides. There may or may not be large amounts of fare evasion, but that’s not really relevant (again, unless you are just opposed to the idea of anyone anywhere getting anything for free) – what’s relevant is how much money is actually collected in fares, and how expensive the system is to operate, as well as how many people are able to use the system to get where they’re going, or otherwise make use of the existence of the system.

    I’m not saying we should base our decision on the decisions of Berlin and Vienna (or New York, or San Francisco, or Washington, or any of the other cities that use a variety of different systems that place a different balance between increased revenue, decreased operation costs, and increased convenience for users). We should base the decision on our own particular circumstances, and I was just pointing to other cities (which are considered to have successful transit systems) to show that we don’t have to go to the model of New York just because New York has a famous public transit system.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Again, I don’t have a fully formed opinion on the overall value of the turnstiles. One point that I think is relevant though is the fact that surface light rail stations just can’t keep people out even with turnstiles, because it’s easy for people to walk on the tracks around the turnstiles. (Aerial and underground stations might have greater separation between the platform and the tracks that would prevent people from jumping.) Thus, it could easily turn out that turnstiles are overall justified for the subway system but not the light rail system (though it could also just as well turn out that they are justified for both, or for neither.)

  • Shawn

    So ur just like the GOP. Dislike change, say no to everything, ‘Murica fuck yeah we do things our way because we’re the best in the world and our way is the only way right!

    That sums is it up, do exactly the opposite of the conservatives says and it will be the right way forward.

    The gates stay.

  • John Montgomery

    I feel it’s reasonable to compare Metro rail with subway/rail systems in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore etc. And even outside the states Sydney, Singapore, Paris, London, Montreal, Prague, etc. And yes, Tokyo and Sapporo. Seems to work for them..

  • Jules and Vincent

    DA FUQ?

    This article writer ain’t serious, right?

  • gobluth

    You do realize your parents and grandparents were saying the *exact same things* about your generation when you were a young lazy person?

  • Ilyasviel

    Abridged version of article: mommiieeee the evil gub’mint and the turnstile industrial complex is in a conspiracy in which they have a fetish for turnstiles and they’re taking away the bike lanes!

    Some one watched too many reruns of the X-Files. ROFL

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