Eyes on the Street: Meters in Union Station? What the…

7_31_09_turnstiles.jpgPhoto: Joe Linton

Our friend Joe Linton sends the above picture from his cell phone from Union Station this morning. My first thought was that this couldn’t be for Metro Rail. Just last week Streetsblog exclusively reported that the turnstile program had been suspended. Turns out they are Metro turnstiles, and Metro’s Rick Jaeger explains:

No, they are for our system. In light of our CEO’s concerns, it was decided last week to do a pilot test of the gating system at four stations. So gates will be installed at Union Station, Wilshire/Normadie, Westlake and Pershing Square stations on the Red/Purple lines. This will give staff an opportunity to test the gates and see how they are working. During the testing period, the gates will be "free-spinning". It is my understanding that Art Leahy will then make a report back to the Board on the gating program at the September Board meeting.

Looks like I got the part about the suspension correct, but had the time frame a little long. We initially reported that Leahy’s report was due in December.

  • I tried to take a picture of these yesterday but I couldn’t find them; I was alerted to them by Metrolink’s twitter so I was confused and looking at Metrolink platforms for them. Unfortunately I only had 10 minutes since the last train is at 6:30 to Orange County (grr!) so I never did find them.

  • M

    Weird… if there were there yesterday, they were only on one side. I didn’t see any this morning.

    I wonder if you can just tap your card and walk around unless they are adding them across the entire width of the walkway. Why on earth would I want to walk through a turnstile and barrier for no reason? What exactly are they testing? That you can tap your card? That they spin? That the lights blink?

    Argh, LA MTA! You constantly make it more difficult for me to encourage others to use your services because I don’t even want to use them anymore.

  • James Fujita

    Well, that’s interesting. I’ve been looking for pictures of the new gates to see what they looked like and how they actually worked.

    I always liked the little magic automatic doors that they had on the Tokyo Metro. Just swipe your SUICA card and the doors swing right open, like they were welcoming a guest.

    Are these going to be more like the gates they have at Dodger Stadium or at Universal Studios? I can’t really tell that well from the picture…

  • M

    Another thing, does the MTA realize how confusing this will be for people that don’t ride the trains regularly? As it is I see tons of people confused by the TAP stations, trying to tap their paper pass on them and then eventually walking away or after someone tells them they don’t need to. Other people that have their TAP cards will also TAP them on the stations on the way out (oops! Someone messed up your data collection — although admittedly, some of the officers checking passes will have you tap your card on the station as you EXIT, therefore encouraging this confusion). For people that do eventually see that you can just walk through, who knows what sorts of ideas will be planted in their heads.

    Anyway, I am very interested to hear what the MTA is “testing” with these stations. Is it foot traffic throughput with barriers in place? Is it sensitivity levels? Is it something related to the durability of the turnstiles? Is it so they can carefully position cameras someplace to take a picture of you as you enter the station? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • I came from the purple line, apparently there are two subway stops in Union Station? I have no clue why this is or why it would be necessary but as asserted before I AM pretty new to this transit thing. :) Regardless, I didn’t see them coming in to Union Station from the purple line.

    I, too, have no idea what they are trying to accomplish. This whole thing is the best example of both cargo culting and shady contracting practices I have ever experienced.

  • M

    There is only one subway stop at Union Station, but you can walk either left or right when you get off the Red/Purple line and get up to the second level.

    Coming from the Metrolink, you could either walk past the Gold Line tunnel and continue down the hall towards all the Amtrak stuff and keep on turning Right and get to the subway or you could exit the Metrolink and walk the opposite direction, past all the Metrolink stuff and turn right and end up at a different set of stairs leading to the subway.

    I didn’t realize that for a while either until the giant Dos Equis ads in the hallway outside of the Metrolink annoyed me enough that I figured out there was another way to get to/from the Gold and Red lines.

  • Joe

    fyi – The picture is taken on the Union Station side of the subway station – not sure if these are also on the Gateway Plaza side.

  • I’m still wondering how you will get a bike through. Many of the stations have very narrow passageways as it is (where the TAP stands are now – like at Universal or Hollywood/Highland). Even right now you can get squeezed when people are exiting the station and heading to the platform all at once. So you mean to tell me that there’s room for all these turnstiles and handicapped and bike entry along with an exit to accommodate everyone at once? I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • I looked at the gates at Wilshire and Normandie and they have a wide fare gate without the turnstile, but with those little boards that plop out of the sides, like BART.

  • Also, I saw a couple of tourists TAP their paper day pass on the fare gates and I told them it wasn’t operational. Funny.

  • Stephen

    Boy, this will make for a testy morning commute for Metrolink to subway riders if both portals are gated by Monday.

  • Sean

    One thing I’ve never understood about the turnstiles is how this is going to work with paper tickets. Will the paper tickets be redesigned to be compatible with the faregates, or will they just completely do away with paper tickets altogether? If so that’s an absolutely terrible idea IMO. They can market it all they want, but forcing every rider to purchase a TAP card will not be good for Metro. Sure, frequent users will purchase them, but occasional riders and tourists will probably just skip riding Metro (and drive instead of course!). Other systems with similar smart cards still allow people to purchase paper tickets because they recognize that not every rider uses the system frequently enough to justify spending the extra money on a plastic card.

  • James Fujita

    That’s interesting. If what I’ve been reading is correct, some of the gates are turnstile-style, but some of the gates are BART-style.

    I suppose that’s one reason why they want to do testing. They probably want to see which style works best.

    Personally, I prefer automatic doors (or BART boards) to turnstiles, but that’s just a personal preference based more upon looks than anything. Also, based upon not having to “push” automatic doors open :)

  • Erik G.

    I like how the arrow on the TAP logo points away from the turnstile it is connected to. That’ll be fun when/if the gates are in full use.

    Also, why isn’t there a Prop 65 notice posted when the construction is underway? The drilling and cutting into the stone floor tile is putting strange odors (particulates?) into the atmosphere of the (obviously) enclosed stations.

    And I think CalOSHA needs to look into both the particulates and the noise levels/frequencies of the construction. This should be taking place in an enclosed area, not exposed to passing patrons who may be inhaling dangerous substances and damaging their hearing.

    All to “protect us from terrorists”??

  • Erik G.

    @James Fujita

    The gates are all turnstiles (cheapest option from the evil Cubic)?, except for one gate which will be ADA and luggage friendly and will look like the same class of gate on BART.

    LA Union Station will be a joy weekday mornings during the Metrolink arrival rush when/if these things are put into service. Who will we sue when the antique turnstile locks up and whacks us in the groin?

    Thanks Yvonne “Brentwood” Burke!!

  • I will be commuting into LA on Metrolink on Monday and Tuesday mornings and I’ll let you know what the scene is like.

  • Erik G.


    The turnstiles are at the Alameda Street side, not the Pasatouras (sp?) plaza side. Unless they have worked over the weekend on them.

  • James Fujita

    Wow. You know, I think I’m officially switching my stance from ambivalent about fare gates to FULLY ROOTING FOR THEM. Hooray, fare gates!

    Maybe it’s because I’m both a fan of rail transit and a fan of anime. But I’ve noticed that both fandoms contain more than their fair share of people who scream bloody murder at minor little changes.

    You can tell people are getting desperate because they keep pulling the “Cubic is evil” card, the lawsuit card (see Erik G.’s post above), the terrorist card and NIMBY-esque tricks such as Prop. 65 and CalOSHA. (seriously, CalOSHA?) And all this for a minor little change.

    That’s what this is. Seriously. A minor little change that will irritate the fanboys (yes, I said fanboys) for a few months, and will be forgotten about when Metro comes up with the next idea to rub us the wrong way.

    I’ve taken the subway in Tokyo, London, San Francisco and Washington; most recently in Tokyo, and the fare gates weren’t such a big deal.

    They had guys there to answer questions. They allowed for paper tickets and for plastic cards. They had special gates to let bicycles, wheelchairs, etc. in. These were busy systems and yet somehow, the fare gates were able to keep up with the traffic. Even if one gate encountered a problem, there were enough other gates that people were able to get through.

    I can tell you that SUICA was the most awesome thing that I have experienced. SUICA is what TAP should aspire to be when it grows up.

    At the same time, I’ve ridden the Red Line plenty of times. I’ve had my ticket checked a few times, and I have gone from Universal City to Long Beach without having anybody ask me if I had a ticket. And that got me wondering: why did I even bother to buy a ticket?

    Yeah, people can jump turnstiles. That just makes the fare evaders easier to find. Should the police randomly check tickets should they try racial profiling, or should they chase after the guy who was caught on tape jumping over a barrier?

    Right now the MTA is building new rail lines and planning even more rail lines. When the Expo Line is finished and the Purple Line begins its slow march to the sea, when the Gold Line to Azusa is in the planning stages, when the Crenshaw line comes into play, will the MTA have another fare checkers to keep up with demand?

  • Erik G.


    You do know that not all of the stations can and/or will have gates, right?

    So there will still have to be fare checkers.

    And the new turnstiles can only read TAP cards, not paper tickets like their Cubic-cousins in London, so in the near future paper tickets will be completely phased out. No TAP card? You cannot ride.

    Finally, you do know that the stations will remain un-staffed, right?

    Stuck with a non-functioning TAP card? Trying to get your baby carriage out of the station, but the fare gate won’t open? Tough!

    You’ll have to wait 15 minutes for a human to arrive.

    Perhaps we should call it the TrAP card?

    God help LA Metro if there’s a stampede.

  • And those concerns Erik brought up are things Art Leahy realizes. If we are to have fare gates, they can do a hell of a lot better than TAP and the setup they are planning for now.

    James mentioned Suica. Their fare gates accommodate Suica *and* paper tickets. I had a Suica card, but I used paper tickets when I left my card in the hotel room one day. It saved me from backtracking.

  • James Fujita

    @ Spokker: You make some excellent points. See below for my response.

    @ Erik G.: You make some interesting points. I’m not sure I totally agree with you, but that’s the point of a blog, right? :)

    The paper ticket question/ SUICA question is one that I myself have wondered about. It seems to me that it ought to be relatively easy for the MTA to solve this problem. Of course, there are a lot of things they do in Tokyo that I think to myself “why can’t we do it like that?”

    But, the point is, this is not an unsolvable problem. You get paper tickets with magnetic strips and you make sure that the fare gates can accept them. Maybe it takes time to make the fix, but it is doable.

    A lot of the turnstile/ fare gate “problems” ARE SOLVABLE. Tricky, perhaps, but we are at the beginning of what is ultimately going to be a long process. We shouldn’t be losing our heads about any of this. We shouldn’t be freaking out about it.

    We still have time to make fixes. If the stations need staffers, the MTA needs to get people in there. If the turnstiles don’t work, find out why and fix them.

    Look at where Metro Rail was in 1989, or even in 1999 and compare that to where we are now. Or, look at where we are now and compare that with where we expect to be in 10-20-30 years. We have gotten larger. We are getting larger. It’s been a long process, but we are getting to the point where we are no longer the runty system we once were.

    Our future is on rail, and that future will include fare gates of some sort of another.

  • JimS

    Why not just do what MARTA does? Have the ticket machines sell paper RFID cards that work just like the plastic cards but are less durable. You pay up front for one and it’s very cheap because it’s not as tough, and the machine spits it out.

    You can then reuse it or not reuse it depending on how long you need it. It works really well.

  • M

    @James Fujita – “And that got me wondering: why did I even bother to buy a ticket?” – Why? Because you don’t know *when* someone is going to ask you for your ticket. If you like to hope that someone won’t ask you and you won’t have to pay $250 (the equivalent of 50 day passes) and do mandated community service, don’t pay! Why do people speed on the freeways? Why do people drive through red lights? Why do people drive through stop signs? Why do people park illegally?

    Something I think you are missing is that the LA MTA is adding a decent amount of complexity to a system that was working pretty well and the benefit is not obvious to us, the riders and taxpayers. It seems to come along with a huge monetary cost, the details aren’t being explained, the gates don’t seem to offer the solutions that are being claimed, the ticket systems in place will be required to change in multiple ways (Metrolink, paper passes, etc.), there are questions about personal privacy that come up with some of the new proposed systems, this system will remove a human presence from the stations and there are legitimate concerns about flow of people with new obstacles in place. Don’t you think people might be very curious about what was going on if there were checkpoints added at random places throughout the freeway? Don’t people get backed up at border control sites? That’s what’s running through my head. It’s also one thing to deal with those things once a month or however often infrequent riders go on the train, but for people that use these trains every single day, it makes you wonder. When I tried talking to one of the officers one day about the ticket checks, one said “well you have to go through this sort of thing at the airport”. What? Sorry, but if I had to deal with airport security and whatnot every single day, multiple times a day on my commute, I can tell you I would get a new job and STOP the daily hassle of that commute as fast as possible.

  • David Galvan

    Those paper / light cardstock cards with RFID’s in them do work well. and MTA apparently already has them! They’re called “Temporary TAP”. My wife just served jury duty in downtown L.A. last week, and they gave her one of those temporary TAP cards so she could take the subway. It was valid for a week. I had no idea those existed, and I don’t know if it’s even possible for regular users to get them without being handed them for a specific program (like jury duty).

    Hopefully, in the future MTA will be able to produce those for week-long passes for tourists and such. TAP won’t be too bad afterall, after it settles in for a couple years.

  • James Fujita

    M wrote: If you like to hope that someone won’t ask you and you won’t have to pay $250 (the equivalent of 50 day passes) and do mandated community service, don’t pay! Why do people speed on the freeways? Why do people drive through red lights? Why do people drive through stop signs? Why do people park illegally?

    @ M: To me, this is the big gaping hole in the “people will jump the turnstiles, so why bother?” theory.
    We have these laws in place DESPITE the fact that people will always do these sorts of things. We spend money on motorcycle cops, radar guns, education programs, etc. despite the fact that we know that people still speed. So, rhetorically, why bother having the laws at all? Why not scrap it all?
    Because ultimately we all know it’s better to try to do something than it is to do nothing.

    Getting back to your original point, I think the whole “it will slow traffic down” thing is being completely overblown. People are acting like a bunch of Chicken Littles here.

    I hate to keep referencing Japan, but seriously. Little old ladies know how to make it through the gates without stumbling all over themselves. Baby strollers don’t get trapped. When I visit, I’ll admit that I’m a tad slower than the average commuter going through the gates, but at the same time, I’m amazed at the speed of those who know what they’re doing.

    I think the thing that bugs me the most about this debate is that it reminds me of the Expo Line crossing gate debate. People will not randomly wander across the railroad tracks when the Expo Line opens and they won’t act like imbeciles just because turnstiles have been added.

  • The gates are a bad idea. Were sold on the basis of bogus numbers. Will just add confusion. Poorly thought out. And while being installed are the subject of a reappraisal? What is left from being an utter debacle? The existing system worked fine and is being replaced by one that will do little except waste money and line Cubic’s pockets.

  • Erik G.

    I do really want to know why Yvonne Burke left us with cheapo turnstiles when they could have had proper faregates like they have in London and on BART and in Boston

    (although Boston is not a Cubic installation, despite Cubic’s suing to keep their monopoly in the US market)

    And did anyone see the line at the Metro windows at LAUS today at 1pm?? They stretched all the way back to the “LAX Flyaway” sign on the ramp up to Patsaouras/Gateway Bus Plaza.

    Could it be because it is the first Monday in August (the FIFTH MONTH since the TAP card was expanded to include Passes) and TAPTOGO.NET still is not in any language except English???

  • Erik G.

    From March 12th, 2009:

    Q: Could the taptogo.net website be any more confusing?

    A: The website currently doesn’t permit a day pass to be loaded, it’s hard to figure out how much money is already on a card and it’s only in English. Also, as far as I can tell, the website will only allow riders to purchase weekly or monthly passes whereas occasional riders (such as yours truly) may want to put $20 on the card for occasional single rides here and there.

    A new and more user-friendly website will be debuting within a month, says Jane Matsumoto, the MTA’s deputy executive officer for TAP operations. The new version is currently being edited and tested, she said.

    Q: Will the new website be in English only?

    A: Matsumoto says that the new website will also be in Spanish when it debuts. When I suggested that was perhaps very shortsighted given the diversity of people that can be found on an MTA bus, Matsumoto agreed. “You’re not getting any argument here,” she said, adding that the decision over language was controlled by the MTA’s marketing department.

    MTA Spokesman Dave Sotero quizzed the marketing folks about the language issue and was told that the agency focuses on English- and Spanish-language materials because demand for other languages is not nearly as high.



    WHERE’S THE SPANISH???!!!???

  • M

    @James Fujita – I guess what we’re arguing about are morals. I’d pay and I do pay regardless if someone is going to check my ticket. Why? Because I don’t want to risk getting hit with a large ticket unnecessarily (because even if they caught me once a month or once every 2 months, monetarily it still wouldn’t be worthwhile considering I ride nearly every day) and because I actually wanted the LAMTA related transit to get better, so I need to pay my fair share. Seems reasonable, no? But I know others don’t look at it from such a perspective.

    Out of curiosity, do you ride the trains during rush hour? Do you travel through Union Station during those times? I only ask because as it is, things get backed up without any turnstiles in place. The way that some of the stations are designed, the foot traffic doesn’t really flow well. Even when I am walking to the Gold Line from the Red Line in the morning at Union Station, it’s not uncommon for me to have to *wait* not only to try to get to the Gold Line ticket/TAP area, but to also use the TAP stations. At Universal Studios, the current area with the TAP stations is the most narrow part of the station and I think they only have 5 “walkways” formed by the TAP stations. Universal City can get crazy when some of the buses let off there and crowds of people are going to/from Universal City. I’ve even seen the ticket machine lines at Universal City backed up to the end of the escalators/staircases.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but I think you might also be overestimating some people here. If there is only one handicapped entrance and there are multiple people with strollers, bikes, handicaps or other cumbersome luggage, I can guarantee there will be people trying to get through the turnstiles with their “stuff” in hand, thereby backing things up. The turnstiles as they are setup at Union Station are also rather narrow, which is to say I can see people because of their body size or because of their body combined with purses, totes bags or whatever else is being carried, having issues wakling through the turnstiles — I don’t know if that issue is a little more prevalent here in the U.S. than Japan.

    There are people that sit on the staircases in the train stations and look at you like you’re from another plant when you ask if they can move when you try to walk on the stairs. To me it’s pretty obvious that sitting on the stairs when there is a flood of people exiting the train isn’t a smart move. How exactly should people get up/down the stairs when you are blocking them? Should they leap over you? Should they just ignore you and stomp on you? Should everyone exiting the train just use a single staircase or escalator? Can you not sit on a chair someplace in the station? Are you going to get pissed off if someone accidentally hurts your, runs into you or otherwise doesn’t realize there is a person there? But obviously not everyone has the same thought process about such things.

  • Bruce

    Folks, we’re not inventing the wheel here. In reading some of the concerns above about fare gates/turnstiles you’d think MTA is the first city on earth with this alien, experimental, untested, unfamiliar system. Fare gates/turnstiles are NORMAL. The honor system is UNUSUAL. In most large transit systems – particularly those with high ridership, relatively complex route system and large stations, gates are NORMAL.

    Maybe MTA’s way of getting the word out, signage, or hodge-podge installation practices isn’t quite normal but the basic workings of fare gates has been around for a hundred years.

  • Erik G.


    Actually, the Honor system is the norm worldwide. It allows seemless transfers and gives an agency the chance to partner with the carriers they connect with.

    Since we are, as Mayor of Los Angeles recently declared, a “World-Class City”, then perhaps we should be joining the likes of:


    And in North America:

    Portland, OR
    Vancouver, BC
    San Francisco (POP on Muni is being implemented)
    Boston (POP being implemented on surface Green Line)

    In Berlin, visitors who are attending conferences are issued tickets which they can print at home and use upon arrival (i.e. before registration) to get to the convention venue.

    In Copenhagen, a train ticket to or from Copenhagen, regardless of where issued, is valid for unlimited S-train, Metro or Bus connections to/from the final destination.

    Wouldn’t it be tremendous if the Los Angeles Convention Center or the Pacific Surfliner could offer something like this? But not anymore thanks to Yvonne and her fanciful “terraists”!

  • David Galvan

    Oh for gosh sakes.

    This is really not that big of a deal.

  • brianguy


    who has ’em? a short list I was able to quickly conjure up.

    New York

    I didn’t read the previous line of every previous comment, but I wonder what the CEO’s concern was about. I can only think of two possible issues: the user-friendliness OR the efficiency possibly a combination of both (since user-friendliness could easily impact efficiency).

    a bike/handicapped lane also makes perfect sense. I don’t know enough about the TAP program to comment on that aspect of it.

    and yeah the last train back to Orange County being 6:30 is an absolute joke.

    p.s. seamless

  • BART doesn’t have turnstiles. Muni does.

  • richard sedillo

    I can’t believe that the MTA is charging bus drivers with felony embezzlement. Based solely on a TAP system computer print out. The MTA is wasting tax payer dollars as well as the time of the state to build a case all because of the TAP system. Jan 25th 2010 is a trial for one of the bus drivers in downtown. The public is invited go to the court on Temple and Broadway. Room number will be posted later.


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