For hundreds of thousands of riders, the public transportation system operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a safe, inexpensive and reliable way to get to work, school or stores on a daily basis.
However, Metro is not exactly a model of efficiency. Fixing its more recent example of lack of planning will end up costing the agency and taxpayers millions of dollars.
When Metro inaugurated the Blue Line in 1990, it established an honor system for payments and designed stations without gates or turnstiles. The same system, which requires riders to always carry proof that they have paid the fare but essentially depends on them being honest, was also used in all the rail lines built ever since.
It took the agency more than two decades to determine that the system promoted fare evasion and that this represented a serious loss of revenue. Then, it installed gates and turnstiles at the entrance of its stations. This in turn required MTA to implement a system known as TAP card to pay fares and unlock turnstiles. This year, Metro began locking turnstiles in some of its subway stations. But it still depends on hundreds of Sheriff’s employees to verify that riders used their TAP cards.
However, a large majority of light-rail stations were not designed for gates and will never have turnstiles, since these would be too close to the tracks.
Metro admits to having no idea how much it has lost in revenue because of unavoidable fare evasion in the past 20 years. But the costs of addressing this issue have been and will continue to be substantial. Retrofitting only three stations in the new Expo Line will cost the system $3.1 million.
This expense could have been avoided with a bit of planning and some common sense.