POSTED: 2:49 p.m. HST, Jun 19, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 2:50 p.m. HST, Jun 19, 2013
LOS ANGELES >> As the whir of the subway echoed throughout Union Station and crowds of passengers trickled in for their morning commute, Los Angeles' transit officials unveiled a new development to deter riders from evading fares: locked turnstiles that can only be accessed using a TAP card.
Since the first tracks opened in the 1990s, LA's subway transportation used what amounted to an honor system, allowing many passengers to ride the subway without paying the $1.50 fare. Los Angeles sheriff's deputies would occasionally sweep subway stations for those breezing through the gates without paying. As of Wednesday morning, that system is over.
To Damani Atiba, the move places LA among the ranks of cities — like New York and Chicago — that set the standard for public transportation. Atiba, who rides the subway every morning from Hollywood, expected the fees to be enforced years ago. He said he hopes the extra funds generated by the change will help authorities maintain the quality of transportation — a sentiment fueled by his LA pride.
"I don't want to see New York and Boston as the only places that have premiere public transportation," Atiba, 40, said. "Why shouldn't we have it? With this, I think we have finally arrived."
Union Station's turnstiles are the first to be locked by Metro. The 15 other Red and Purple line stations are expected to follow by the end of the summer. The MTA estimates it will generate an extra $7 billion in revenue by cracking down on riders who evade paying. According to transit officials, Metro staff tested locking gates at 10 stations throughout the city and reported as much as a 22 percent increase in revenue at the 7th Street/Metro Center and North Hollywood stations.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the transit authority can now begin to recuperate and reinvest funds into better bus transportation and rail service.
"We don't use voluntary systems here," he said. "You don't go to Starbucks and say, 'Trust me, I'll pay you,' then walk away with your coffee without paying."
But despite the increase in funds, locked gates are cause for concern for some riders, including those who have never skipped a payment.
Wilmer Rivas, who works with people with disabilities, said accessibility may become an issue.
"It's a safety concern. Sometimes we wait for a disaster to happen to be prepared," Rivas, 29, said. "If this were to lock down, how will (a wheelchair user) get through?"
Under the new locked system, officials said, riders who use a wheelchair can use a hands-free intercom. A sensor detects the person, which prompts an attendant to either come out and help, or turn on the green light for the wheelchair-accessible gate.
The reusable TAP — Transit Access Pass — cards can be purchased from Metro vending machines for $1 and can be loaded with funds at Metro Customer Centers and online. The fine for riding without paying the fare is $250.