Metro Board: Fare Gates, TAP But Regional Connector Postponed

(We just found out from Metro, via email and The Source, that the Regional Connector discussion is being moved until next month so “local concerns” can be addressed in the financial district. – DN)

It wouldn’t be the Metro Board of Directors without some drama.  Read the full agenda for tomorrow’s meeting of the Board by clicking here.

It appeared that, despite some grumbling about the exclusion of a station at Fifth and Flower, that the Regional Connector debate was over.  The Final Environmental Documents had completed public comment, the Little Tokyo community was mollified, and the billionaire with the napkin drawings was out of the picture.

Zev's got a pair of motions sure to cause some debate tomorrow. Photo: Deseret News

But last week, a motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky presented at committee caused a stir amongst transit watchers.  The motion overruled a staff recommendation to award another three-quarters of a million dollars for public outreach to the Robert Group, to complete outreach for the plan.  Yaroslavsky wants to see some fiscal numbers on how past monies were spent before the Board awards a new contract.

The motion caused consternation from some Regional Connector supporters.  At last Friday’s mayoral forum, I was approached by a prominent Downtown resident who asked me, “Is the Regional Conenctor in trouble?”  A second person at the same event wondered whether the Supervisor planned to delay Regional Connector in a scheme to speed up the Westside Subway.

Yaroslavsky claims that wasn’t the intent, his motion is just a matter of making sure Metro is spending its consultant dollars well.

“The Regional Connector is an important project, and I want to see it happen,” the Supervisor stated in a phone interview.  “Three quarters of a million dollars is a lot of money and I just want to make sure we’re spending it properly.  The funding is being held over until next month and the contractor still has funds from us to cover continued outreach needs in that time.”

Meanwhile, the last round of environmental documents are expected to be approved at tomorrow’s Board Meeting.  If all goes smoothly, final design (and the public outreach that goes with it) should commence this Spring.

Yaroslavsky is also at the center of another potential controversy with a motion requiring Metro to lock fare gates in the next “five to six” months.  Backing the Supervisor’s motion is a staff report on the impact of test-locking the gates in November and December of last year.  The report can be read, here and also includes information about allocating staff, sheriffs and other resources to make the gate locking customer friendly.

There’s a lot of things to say about the report and the option of locking all the fare gates, but one of the chief concerns is that the report seems to downplay the importance of solving the Inter-Agency Transfer dilemma that it is difficult for riders of multiple transit agencies to keep their costs low, unify their fare media (i.e. have a universal transit pass) and get where they need to go.  This has been such an ongoing issue, that a separate motion by Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar creates an inter-agency task force to examine just that issue.

The report finds that a statistically insignificant number of riders at Metro stations (17 of over 26,000 transactions) were “inter agency transfers.”  Considering that Metro didn’t complete checks at transit stops and stations known for these typed of commutes, such as like Wilshire/Western (Santa Monica Rapid 7),  7th/Metro Center (Santa Monica Rapid 10) or Pershing Square (Torrance Bus) or any light rail station that has bus stops for buses from another agency; these numbers should be low.

As Metro considers ways to improve the TAP system and ways of making best use of the turnstiles, the Board needs to be armed with the best data available.   Good data on how many people make regular transfers between Metro and other agencies is a good place to start.  As Metro discusses the cost of locking up the fare gates in a new camera system and additional staff, they should also know what the cost would be in ripping the gates out of the ground and mailing them back where they came from.

 (Full disclosure: the Robert Group has purchased advertising on Streetsblog for a handful of projects, including the Regional Connector.)

  • Disappointed

    Way to go, Metro. Prepare a report dealing with fare gates and transfers, and don’t have any statistics on the Union Station gates, which is where the vast majority of Metrolink transfers are.

  • Anonymous

    Is this yet again endemic of an agency where over 95% of the employees are never and have never been dependent on Metro to get to work or school, and only use their product, if ever, during lunch break?

  • TAPpist Monk

    Is there any other transit system anywhere that uses locked gates at unmanned stations?   This seems to me to be the worst case scenario: you get fewer “roving” sheriffs on trains to do fare checks and keep trains safe because they are deployed instead at gates, but not every set of gates will get sheriffs to staff them.  So what are people with valid fare but no TAP card (tourists and passengers with paper tickets, and commuters with Metrolink or IATs) supposed to do at the TAP-only faregates?  Expecting everyone to have a TAP card is unrealistic and unwelcoming to occasional users and tourists.  All in all, the faregate system was very poorly thought out.  It would be much better to forget about the small amount of fraud (less than 5%), scrap the gates, and return to the honor system with roving sheriffs and random fare checks.

  • Anonymous

    PATCO Speedline, the single-line electric rapid rail service from Philadelphia to Camden, NJ and on to Lindenwold, NJ (not to be confused with SEPTA) has turnstiles and no attendants.  It has always had this arrangement, using TVM-sold magnetic stripe tickets from opening day in 1969:

    It has transitioned to a RFID card (also from Cubic) like “TAP” which it markets as “Freedom”

    New York City, with all of its staffed stations and fortress like turnstiles still has a fare-evasion rate of 1.5-2%; I don’t see how Los Angeles will ever attain the 100% it thinks it will.

  • I’m glad they voted for this. A deadline offers focus.

    It tells all the other agencies that Metro is serious about TAP cards, so stop dragging your feet. It says to Metro staff that they have to get these issues solved. It tells transit riders to get a TAP card or get left behind at the station.

    Maybe Metrolink won’t be ready in six months, but locking the gates tells them that they better get serious, too.

    I don’t think it should be the job of the Sheriff to man the gates. I law officers should be providing security, and Metro employees can man the gates and provide assistance.

  • Anonymous

    I’d love to be listening in on the phone calls that must be going on between SCRRA and Zev’s office right now.

  • Anonymous

    This is going to be such the Cluster-f***

  • you mean the phone call where the SCRRA bureaucrat explains that smart cards are against Metrolink’s religion? Yeah, I’d like to hear that conversation, too.

  • Anonymous

    Well James, the SCRRA has TVMs made by a company that is not Cubic.  And there are a bunch of them. And they stretch from Santa Barbara (yes there’s one there) to San Diego (one there too) to Lancaster and San Bernardino.  Each station has at least 2 machines.  That’s a lot of TVMs which will have to either be replaced or modified to handle RFID cards.  And then there is the validation equipment both on board and at stations.  Now I know Cubic would love the contract, but where is SCRRA going to find the money?  And where does Metro get off telling Ventura County, who have a RFID card already, they must adopt Los Angeles’ card?

  • Did you know that Tokyo’s SUICA can be used on commuter trains as far away as Sendai?  Yet somehow, there’s some invisible barrier keeping TAP out of Anaheim, Oxnard or Cucamonga.
    That’s a ridiculous, horrible triumph of transit provincialism over common sense:  “I’d like to convert my Los Angeles dollars to Ventura currency.”

    Ventura doesn’t have to adopt TAP, but there is no logical reason why Metrolink can’t. 

    This is an important issue, we need to find the funds.

  • calwatch

    I’ve seen a few concepts in past Metrolink board agendas where they “sideload” a transfer for each one way ticket purchased, or some number of trips per monthly or weekly pass (remember the 10 trip ticket goes away some time this year). It sounds like a recipe for confusion. Caltrain actually uses the Clipper system with the side validators similar to Metro light rail, and they correctly calculate transfer privileges automatically. Meanwhile, you have to manually pre-purchase a load a transfer on TAP. Blame Cubic and the convoluted fare rules.

  • Anonymous

     James.  We are not in Japan.  We are in a stove-pipe-, separate pot-, funded me, me, me rugged-individualist society where the City, the County, the State and the Nation are four very separate entities.  Suica is run by JR East.  JR East is very much connected still to its former JNR siblings via Japan Railways.  JR East is the regional railway operator for Tokyo, much as SCRRA is for greater Los Angeles.  But then of course we have LOSSAN, CalTrans and Amtrak in the mix but let’s ignore that for now.

    Remember too that Japan and the Japanese public are far more aware and supportive of public transportation than is the case in Southern California.  This will change, especially as the Middle Class finds themselves priced out of car-ownership, but for now, the elite and the decision-makers do not use and are not dependent upon anything apart from their private automobiles.

    The ideal candidate to have rolled out this system would have been either a stand-alone entity as was done in greater Seattle (ORCA)  or the regional railway operator, such as SCRRA.  SCRRA, of which Metro is only one of six participants would have created a ticketing system that could interact with all six participants plus any of the “Munis” that operate within the region.  Instead we have “the big dog” telling everyone else how it is going to be.  All LA Metro had to do was buy a turnstile that could read existing fare media…just as your beloved Suica and JR East do in this picture with faregates accepting Suica and *other tickets* shows:

    But no, in its selfishness, they did not. But that’s fine. I’ll enjoy using my non-LACMTA issued TAP knowing that according to reports, Metro will not get any money from the agency I bought the card from.

  • calwatch

    ORCA is not administered by a separate entity. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit), aka another operator, is the regional program administrator for ORCA. They compete for funds with the county operators (King County Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit). It’s not much different.

  • TAPman. Building a Japan-sized rail transit network may be impossible. But building a Japan-sized smart card for our rail transit network should not be.

    I don’t accept “we’re all a bunch of John Wayne cowboys” as a valid argument. That’s the sort of defeatist argument that people use against rail transit in general. As in, “why would rugged individualists agree to riding all together on mass transit?”

    Arguing over which bureaucrats should have authority to do this makes no sense either.
    Why does it even matter if its Metrolink or Metro?  If people don’t have the right attitude, transit advocacy is supposed to be about changing people’s attitudes. 

    Why are we swallowing the bureaucratic baloney about Metro “pushing” Metrolink into TAP, instead of pushing Metrolink to accept TAP?

  • Anonymous

    @calwatch:disqus   Sorry, Orca is operated by something called “Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination Project” which is jointly staffed by ST and KCMetro.  There is much more transparent input from the stakeholders too.
    As well, ST is the regional transit operator.  So they can coordinate with all entities in the region.  If KCMetro ran ORCA solely then the situation would be closer to that which exists in Southern Californa.  Note also that the Puget Sound region got a coordinated pass system in place well before moving to RFID.  And they have no delusions about turnstiles or faregates yet.

  • Anonymous

    @yahoo-JP6A5RCCQH37ZFXO3MJT752N5E:disqus  Re-read your post and I think you’ll find the exact cause of the problem.  And then ask one of the Munis how the clearing house is functioning and how transparent and open the operation of TAP is.

  • Anonymous

    Switching a one-line Caltrain, who had just started using TVMs and Proof of Payment over to Translink/Clipper Card was a might bit easier than doing the same for a six-line Metrolink.  Also of note is that like ORCA, Translink/Clipper Card was originally an ERG product and not Cubic. (ORCA still is).

    Also, like ORCA, no one transit agency is managing what is now Clipper Card.  It is being done by the MTC.

    MTC is both the RPTA and the MPO for the Bay Area, but MTC is not also an operator.  
    Down here, LA Metro is the RPTA while SCAG is the MPO.
    Maybe because LA Metro has a conflict of interest, SCAG should have been given the task to implement an RFID card?

    Of course, EVERY turnstiled/gated rail transit station in the San Francisco Bay Area has an attendant and had them long before any RFID card was proposed.  So those stations can still accept other ticket media.

    That’s the big “unknown” with the turnstile-debacle.

  • What difference does it make if Metro, Metrolink or SCAG is the lead agency on TAP?  

    The technology is going to be the same either way.  People want a RFID which can be used all over Los Angeles County and even all other Southern California, just like the Bay Area has one single, unified card. Go to the Source and read the comments there:

    Other areas have solved the technological problems and the bureaucratic red tape.

     The fact that Bureaucracy #1 is in charge vs. Bureaucracy #2 is a horribly misguided reason to oppose TAP. 

    The biggest obstacle to TAP is between people’s ears.

  • Anonymous

    @yahoo-JP6A5RCCQH37ZFXO3MJT752N5E:disqus James,  It makes a difference because SCAG or Metrolink would have realized that you can’t install TAP-only turnstiles on a system (the regional public transport network, not LA Metro) that isn’t fully converted to TAP as of today or as of six months from now.  
    The issue is not the TAP card; the issue is the TAP-only turnstiles , which as I pointed out, even Suica has not implemented.

    And, correct me if I am wrong, stations using Suica faregates are all staffed, right?  You do understand that once the turnstiles are locked, there is no staff budgeted to “man” the stations, yes?  

    James, for example, can you tell me how someone who is a quadriplegic is going to place their TAP card on the reader to be admitted at an unstaffed station with locked turnstiles and a locked ADA gate?  Please?  

    Or are you just like Zev who has never actually used the system (without a VIP-escort) and never either witnessed or experienced situations like this?

  • Actually, there are SUICA/ PASMO only gates.  I looked it up:

    It looks to me like the ADA gates are designed to let wheelchairs through. Hence, “ADA gate.” Wheelchair user:

    I’ll admit that there currently is no budget for station attendants. Which, in the TAPman universe means that there never will be.  Also, technical problems will never be solved.  We better rip out the Expo Line tracks and start over, I hear they’ve been having problems during testing.

  • So only one transfer? Is the golden age of unlimited transfers going to end?

    Can’t see why they can’t just “sideload” day passes onto them. Every one-way, round-trip and validated 10-trip ticket is already a day pass. Hell, even the weekend pass is a day pass, and it’s only $10. 

    For the monthly Metrolink passes you sideload a monthly pass as well. But wait, Metro sells 30-day passes now (I think) and Metrolink still sells monthly passes for specific months. Whoops.

    Who knew that an RFID card system could make things worse? 

  • Fare evasion is greatly exaggerated. Years ago they were crowing about low fare evasion on the system, but once TAP and turnstiles enter the picture suddenly the agency is bleeding money at the hands of evil scofflaws who don’t pay their fares. 

    Meanwhile, unstaffed gates can’t help you if you’re injured. They can’t patrol the system. You will still need security on the subway to tell photographers that they are helping the terrorists when they take pictures of all the stupid multi-cultural diversity-friendly art stuck to the ceiling of stations. 

    Even if everybody paid their fare, even if everybody evaded their fare, Metro would not live or die based on this fact alone. The vast majority of your trip is subsidized anyway. Installing gates in such a way is like using an orbiting ICBM to kill a retarded fly. 

    I think the TAP people gave a good presentation to the old bosses, and the new bosses are stuck with cleaning up the mess. 

  • “Now I know Cubic would love the contract, but where is SCRRA going to find the money?”

    Even if the had the money, it would be a giant waste of resources. Metro doesn’t need fare gates and TAP, and Metrolink *really* doesn’t need fare gates and TAP. Their proof-of-payment system is low cost and low maintenance and works well for a system of that size and frequency. They don’t have people to go and fix fare gates when something goes wrong. They barely have people to fix their TVMs. 

    But the paper proof-of-payment system is so much better. Fare checkers act as extra eyes. Cubic has simply succeeded in extracting money from a system that used to work well in the past, and this will drive up costs while adding very few benefits. Metro is going to become a more isolated system because of this. 

  • In principle, I can’t support TAP in any way, shape or form. I have never purchased a TAP card, and I never, ever will. Their policies are immoral. The TAP card expires for no reason. There are fees for keeping money on an inactive card (doesn’t that violate CA’s gift certificate law?). There’s a “card acquisition” fee of $5, which is the main scam. For $5 I’d rather buy another day pass! 

    I can’t support this. I will never support this. I currently use Metro with a Metrolink pass, and if they make me pay for a card, I’m done. It’s not that I can’t afford it, it’s the principle. At the very least, they must change these policies. 

  • They say you don’t need turnstiles for TAP, but I actually think TAP is much, much worse.   They add zero value. They have even less concern over the region’s transportation network than the agency’s that are supposed to oversee them. Their policies are insane. Their product is inferior to other solutions across the world. 
    And James, while Japan has Suica, you can still buy paper tickets and feed them through the gates. And they have actual gates, not turnstiles. 

  • I have a Suica card on my desk. The card becomes invalid if not used for ten years, not three years no matter what like TAP. My Suica card will still work until 2017!

  • Anonymous

    Yes James, thanks for the picture.  Suica/Pasmo/Whatever gates RIGHT NEXT TO GATES THAT ACCEPT OTHER TICKET MEDIA.  Please find me a picture of an UNSTAFFED station in Japan with only Suica/Pasmo-ONLY faregates.

    This was supposed to be a $30 million project:

    And now already it is $150 million?

    “I’ll admit that I don’t know what the budget is for station attendants, but I’m guessing that’s one of the issues they’ll have to solve. ”  

    Yup, they will have to because there is no budget for station attendants so that $150 million figure will have to climb higher and higher.  4.5 full-time employees minimum at 40 stations equals 180 new staff by my rough calculation; easily $10 million in pay and benefits.  All to collect $4 million per year on the only line* that can ever be fully turnstiled.  And remember, the never-fully turnstileable light rail lines (see the Dec 2007 LA Times article above) will still need fare checkers.

    *(The Subway, a.k.a. Red Line, “Purple” is just a marketing/wayfinding term; it does not exist in Metro’s record-keeping)

    Of course it can be “solved”, like anything can by throwing tanker-loads of money at the problem.  But what was the point if the actual “loss in revenue” was so tiny?  And how much of the rest of the system will have to be destroyed to pay for this?

    P.S. I’m still looking forward to seeing how transfers at 7th/Metro Center will be handled.

  •  You’re right, I won’t find a picture of an unstaffed, Suica/ Pasmo only station in Japan.  That’s because they found the money to pay for dozens of train lines, both public and private, an army of helpful (yes, HELPFUL) transit employees, high speed rail and their bus system isn’t bad either. 

    Part of it is gas taxes, part of it is private investment. Train stations are shopping malls, the trains themselves have print and TV advertising.   They got creative, they found the money and before you say “yes, but they’re all transit savvy and we’re not,” they have a car culture there, complete with traffic jams, custom car clubs and drift racing. All of those Hondas and Toyotas don’t get shipped out to America.

    We are supposed to be transit advocates, so I’m doing some advocacy.   Let’s add TAP to Measure R+.  I can wait for the Gold Line to Ontario or Metrolink to Perris Valley or even the Green Line to the South Bay (to mention a line which will help me personally) if it will mean fixing problems with the existing system.

    I fully believe in distance-based fares.  Instead of transfer, transfer, transfer, let’s TAP when we enter at Long Beach and TAP when we exit at Little Tokyo, Universal City or whatever.  That’s just for rail. Probably just one TAP for buses, one TAP for the Big Blue or Gardena. 

    Distance-based fares are a pain when you’re using paper tickets, they make perfect sense with RFID. 

  • They’ve invented paper RFID cards.  Even magnetized paper tickets would be a step up from the tickets Metro currently uses.

    If we treated the Expo Line the same way we are reacting to TAP, we should be demanding that they pull up the tracks and tear up the concrete because problems have been found.

    We can whine about the problems, or we can demand that they fix them. Or we can even offer solutions. That worked with the Regional Connector.

  • When it comes to rail transit, we all understand that construction costs will go up. We understand that problems will occur in testing (Expo Line).  We understand that sometimes, different jurisdictions won’t cooperate (Beverly Hills). Certain people declare that it won’t work, that the old way is better, or it would be cheaper to do nothing.

    We come up with solutions.  We fix problems. We negotiate and we compromise. 

    With the TAP project, costs have gone up.  Problems have occurred in testing. Certain jurisdictions haven’t cooperated. People have said that it won’t work, that the old way is better, or it would be cheaper to do nothing.

    My fellow transit advocates, do we give up or do we come up with solutions?

  • Anonymous

    Well, it turns out we agree on more than you think.

    Distance based fares are the way to go, but I see no move to do so, and that should have been a step taking long before even installing turnstiles (or faregates) let alone locking them.  You and I agree that the day when one can TAP in at Redlands and TAP-out at Reseda cannot come soon enough.  It would make today’s convoluted “loading a transfer on TAP” process go away.

    And BTW, as for paper tickets, the Dutch did just that for over 30 years with the OV-strippenkaart before converting to RFID card, so it can be done (think zone maps that look like a honeycomb or a Checker-board):
    (Scroll down to the “Strippenkaart” section)

    James, you re correct that Japan has a car culture, but the attitude toward collective services and common goods like public transit is altogether different here.  Los Angeles is notorious for its disdain of anything having to do with moving people by anything other than the car.  Even with $4/gal gasoline and the improvements to the network, transit and the people who use it are viewed with derision.  And sadly none of our decision-makers have ever used it regularly.

    That attitude is changing and much of the credit must be given to Damien and this blog.

    P.S.  How much you want to bet that the presence of all these people:
    made the prospect of entering the station and then leaving would have been looked upon as being suspicious.  Enough to cause those 18-22% to go over and buy a ticket?  I think most trained statisticians would agree.

  • We give up, James. If something is not working, you chuck it and write it off as a failure, a sunk cost, whatever. At the very least, if we want this functionality, we should go with a different company.

  • Anonymous

    Suica is not a Cubic product.  Nuff said.

  • calwatch

    Jane Matsumoto, who spearheaded this operation, still has a job. It doesn’t hurt that she is married to the CFO.

  • calwatch

    The card acquisition fee is really $2 ($1 with a day pass on the bus) – and I have written my assemblywoman and state senator, with no response. Maybe you can do the same.

  • Anonymous

    Notice that part of the “problem” Matt Raymond refers to is people who have valid passes (I.E. THEY PAID)…
    ….But they didn’t tap the RFID card on the round blue thingy. (I.E. “WE CAN’T COLLECT THEIR TRAVEL DATA AND TRACK THEM, WAAHHH!)

  • Anonymous

    Why couldn’t I take my Metrolink ticket with Bar code over to a Metro TVM and exchange it for a Day Pass loaded onto a paper TAP card/ticket?  Or better yet, modify the ADA faregate (it alone actually is a faregate) and one of the remaining turnstiles at each station entrance to be able to read the Metrolink ticket barcode. It kills any future of allowing, for example, AmtrakCalifornia Surfliner and San Joaquin riders from using their tickets to get where they are actually going or deparing from, as is the practice in many “world-class” cities, but someday they might have Bar Codes or convert to RFID or NFC.

  • There are definitely privacy concerns with TAP. It’s another reason why I’m not embracing the system.

  • Maybe I will, Millhouse. Maybe I will.

  • Anonymous

    What this is really about:

  • BOB2

    What are these morons doing?  What is going to happen to the Day Pass users?

    Are these idiots really proposing to give away millions in revenue from the 20% or more part time users?

    Anything to make this costly TAP fiasco work, even telling day pass users and customers to f off, right?


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