Another Turnstile Post

8_3_09_Union_Station.jpgPhoto: Spokker Jones

While Streetsblog has been one of the leading news sources for information concerning the installation of fare gates at a handful of Metro rail and light rail stations, it’s been one issue that we haven’t taken an editorial position on.  In truth, since most of the funds for the project come from the Federal Department of Homeland Security, thus won’t be coming from a more deserving transit project, it hasn’t seemed like more than a curiosity of a story.

However, an article in the excellent Transport Politic really looks into the issue to examine whether or not Metro’s turnstile plan is really a good or bad idea as a transit project.  While Transport Politic doesn’t take a firm stand, it does make several good points, some of which have been made here and some that are new, including:

Metro’s claim that the turnstiles will protect us from terrorists is ridiculous.

Metro’s claim that the turnstiles will reduce fare evasion conflicts with their claim that they will reduce fare checkers on the trains.  Because Metro will not be installing gates at all stations, your wily fare evader will board at another station or just jump the gates because they are less likely to have their tickets checked.

While Metro claims it can recoup their investment in just 9 years; it’s a better estimate that it could take up to 16 years.  However, that still puts them ahead of rail systems in other cities should they try to follow our example.

Despite some of its concerns, Transport Politic concludes that the turnstile plan is "on the cusp of justifiability."  If you need to read more about the fare gates, the New York transit blog Second Avenue Sagas reviewed yesterday’s article in the Times.  While their write-up doesn’t go into any of the arguments against Metro’s turnstile plan, even their commentors, unfamilar with our rail system, have a laugh at the idea that these devices will be able to do anything to help prevent terrorism.

  • patrick

    The financials are weak and these turnstiles will never pay for themselves using any accepted form of accounting. One must consider that the $45 million could be spent elsewhere for a better purpose–that is why businesses employ Return on Investment calculations. If you had no costs associated with upkeep, 100% rider retention and 100% compliance and required a modest 6% ROI, the system would return less than $2.25 million/yr. and would take over 20 years to pay for itself.

  • M

    Does anyone know if Metro loses $5 million before or after accounting for tickets issued for far evasion are paid? I can only conclude that some people that aren’t paying their fares ride the trains very infrequently such that they aren’t caught, they don’t ride during times when fare checks are done (I’ve never had anyone check my ticket on the weekend, for example) or else they are always evading the current sheriffs/never pay an issued ticket. I’m wondering which it is because in some ways, it seems like it would be to Metro’s advantage financially to give people a $250 ticket once every month or two rather than having those people pay their valid fare, especially if they would buy a $62 monthly pass ($250 fine or 4 months worth of monthly passes), assuming that the sheriffs serve no other purpose and find fare evaders frequently enough to balance out the cost. When you consider that the sheriffs serve many more purposes than checking fare, their value increases. A turnstile will never be able to do more than a couple of functions. It will not help me figure out which train I need to go on, find out why a train is late/why a station is blocked, be available to report any crimes or injuries to or generally deter certain behavior once people have entered the train.

    One thing that really bothers me about these turnstiles are the consequences of maintenance costs. Since the beginning of August I’ve experienced multiple train ride delays due to mechanical issues, one escalator at my local Red Line station was out of service for over a week (and the escalator was blocked off, effectively shutting down one of the 6 exits from the train station), another escalator was out of service for nearly a week, with the steps pulled off and sitting in the middle of the subway platform blocking foot traffic and one of the tv’s showing the train arrivals has been out of service for a week and a half. That’s just my experience in the last 3 weeks for one single station. How does that inspire confidence in me that 1)the turnstiles will not have maintenance delays and issues 2)delays will not impede foot traffic flow/the ability to get to train & bus connections on time 3)that maintenance will come in at or below estimated costs?
    It’s one thing if a single walkway is blocked, but when you are REQUIRED to go through a specific place that can be ‘out of service’, that is much more problematic. Even the escalator closures mentioned above had a very real and noticeable effect on foot traffic flow at specific points in the train station. Also, if the turnstiles are currently freespinning and brand new, how does that measure their “durability” and maintenance costs during normal usage?

  • Erik G.

    A trip through Wilshire/Normandie today shows the full set-up in in place there with (did I mention they’re from the 19th century) turnstiles and fencing and emergency door; though emergency door is not wired up yet.

    And of course, as not mentioned in the LA Times:


    Wilshire/Normandie, Your LA Metro Station of the future!!™

  • M

    It looks like they are about to install turnstiles on the other side at Union Station. I saw all of the turnstile divider things stacked up near the ticket machines.

  • David Galvan

    @patrick: So which is it? Will the turnstiles “never pay for themselves”, or would they “take over 20 years” to pay for themselves? Because, I don’t know about you, but I expect the MTA rail system to still be operating in 20 years.

  • David Galvan

    @Erik: How do you know there will never be an attendant? I’d be happy if a deputy were stationed within visual range of the turnstiles, which doesn’t seem like it would be too hard for the MTA to request. Has someone somewhere written in blood that this will never happen?

  • patrick

    It will take 20+ years using the MTA’s specious accounting and will never pay for itself using real accounting.

  • Stephen

    Not to mention these things are one of the easiest to hop over. They should have extended the sides up higher so you can’t easily grip the sides and hop over, like it is in Chicago. Or have made them like Boston’s which prove to be pretty tough to get through. Not to mention these ones look much nicer than the ones Metro is installing.

  • Erik G.

    That would be possibly a good idea, except then you would think that LA Metro would be announcing this in their turnstile propaganda.

    Also wouldn’t the LASD official need a booth and/or other CalOsha required amenities? And would LA Metro want to be turning over supervision of fare collection and station operations to LASD?


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