Gates to be latched full-time at Union Station subway entrances beginning today; here is the Source's Q&A about the turnstiles and TAP

Patrons at the Union Station Red/Purple Line station last week. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Patrons at the Union Station Red/Purple Line station last week. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

On Wednesday, the gates will be latched at all times at the two entrances of the Red/Purple Line subway at Union Station.

Gates at the 15 other Red/Purple Line subway stations will then be latched over the course of the summer. If Metro is satisfied with operations and results on the subway, gates at some Gold, Green and Blue line stations will be latched as early as this fall.

I know there is considerable interest in gate-latching and TAP among Source readers. My sense is that many readers of The Source believe it’s about time the gates are latched while others remain skeptical the program will benefit riders or the agency’s bottom line.

Click to see larger.

Click to see larger.

One thing that’s hard to argue: Metro Rail ridership has greatly increased in recent years and that hasn’t made the current way of checking fares any easier — especially at peak hours when there are a lot of people aboard trains and exiting and entering stations.

The following Q&A is intended to answer questions that many of you have about the program, as well as help new riders navigate the changes. As always, please feel free to comment and ask questions. We’ll do our best to get answers to the most salient questions.

Why does Metro say ‘latched’ instead of ‘locked?’

Locked implies that customers may be locked out, whereas latched implies customers will be able to pass through the gates. In other words, Metro feels like “latched” is a more accurate way of saying it.

What’s the goal of the gate-latching program?

Metro hopes to create a safer customer experience by reducing fare evasion. The agency also estimates that there will be an annual increase in revenue from the subway alone of $6 million to $9 million because more people riding the system will be paying fares. More on fare evasion below.

Can I ride Metro Rail without a TAP card?

No. You must have a TAP card from Metro or a TAP-enabled paper ticket from another agency.

Do I need to TAP the gates when exiting a station?

No.

That could change in the future if Metro adopts time-based ordistance-based fares.

Where do I get a TAP card? 

They can be purchased for $1 at ticket vending machines at Metro Rail stations. TAP cards can be purchased with a day pass when boarding buses for $6 — $5 for the day pass, $1 for the card.

Monthly (30 days), weekly (7 days), day passes and the regional monthly EZ Pass can be stored on TAP cards. You can also put different amounts of cash on the card (stored value) and use that money to purchase single fares or passes. The stored value is a great way for occasional riders to avoid having to deal with ticket machines every day they ride.

TAP cards are also available at 500 stores across Los Angeles County and can be ordered online at taptogo.net.

Is Metro doing anything about the taptogo.net website, which can be difficult to use?

Yes, it is being revamped and a newly designed website is expected to debut later this year. Booyah!

What if I am transferring to Metro Rail from a bus run by another agency?

When purchasing your bus fare, please ask the bus operator for a transfer to Metro Rail. Those transfers will be on paper TAP cards that you can use to pass through latched gates.

What if I want to take Metro Rail and then transfer to a bus run by another agency?

Visit a ticket vending machine and load a Metro-to-Muni transfer onto your card. If you are transferring to a bus run by an agency that doesn’t use TAP, get a paper transfer at the ticket vending machines.

How many agencies in L.A. County are using TAP cards?

Besides Metro and Metrolink, there are currently these eight: LADOT, Montebello, Santa Clarita, Antelope Valley, Culver City, Gardena, Norwalk and Foothill Transit.

Fifteen more municipal agencies are scheduled to begin using TAP in the next year or so. These include Long Beach Transit and the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.

How are Metrolink riders going to get through the gates?

Metrolink passengers get free transfers to Metro with the purchase of a Metrolink ticket. In order to get customers through the Metro gates, Metrolink has developed a paper TAP card with a TAP chip inside. The new tickets are available from Metrolink ticket machines.

Please see this recent Source post about the proper way to hold the ticket to get through the gates.

So what’s the big picture here?

Nearly every large transit carrier in Los Angeles County will soon use TAP cards. That means those who use transit across the county can store all their fares on a single reloadable fare card.

Are there other advantages to TAP?

Yes. If you register your card online at taptogo.net it can easily be replaced if lost or stolen.

If all these carriers will soon be on TAP, will there soon be a single regional fare system?

There is nothing imminent and that’s likely a ways off. But TAP cards make it much easier for various agencies to share similar fare structures should they ever choose to do so.

What is the rate of fare evasion on Metro?

There is no firm or definitive number to cite. There have been a variety of estimates over the years but the emphasis should be on the word “estimates.”

Gate-latching tests over the past year have provided Metro with some interesting data. Specifically, when gates were latched at three subway stations, the sale of one-way fares, stored value and passes rose significantly from ticket vending machines while free entries through the latched gates declined (free entries are people who didn’t tap). This Source post includes some charts from the testing.

The Gate Help Phone at Union Station's subway station. The phone is located on a concrete column just a few feet before the entrance to the gates. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The Gate Help Phone at Union Station’s subway station. The phone is located on a concrete column just a few feet before the entrance to the gates. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

What if I have a TAP card and the gates won’t let me pass through?

Gates can be remotely unlatched by Metro; all gates can be observed via closed-circuit television at Metro’s Rail Operations Center.

If you can’t get through a gate, there are Gate-Help Phones located near the turnstiles. Each phone is hands-free and also has a video camera and TAP pad to assist Metro in identifying the problem.

When you come close to a Gate Help Phone, watch for a red light that notifies Metro employees you are there. When the amber light comes on, the Metro employee can see and speak to you via the phone.

What if there is a fire, earthquake or other emergency?

In the event of loss of power, the gates are programmed to automatically free-spin and let everyone through without having to tap.

How will those with disabilities get through the gates?

There is a wheelchair accessible gate and elevator at every station where gates will be latched. If the gate won’t open or you can’t tap your card, please use the Gate Help Phones.

What about those with bikes or strollers?

Please use the wheelchair accessible gate, which is wider and provides more room to get through.

Why is Metro latching the gates?

The Metro system was designed to be a hybrid system with both barrier-free and latched stations. As the Metro Rail system has grown, along with ridership, there has been an increased interest by the Metro Board in latching gates.

But Metro couldn’t latch gates as long as paper tickets were still in use — the electronic gates only recognize TAP cards.

It took a long time to transition all the types of paper tickets to TAP cards. Now that it has happened, the gates can be latched.

How many stations will eventually be latched?

Forty-one of the existing 81 stations will be latched; here’s the list for the subway stations. Many of the light rail stations that won’t be latched lack sufficient room for turnstiles without taking needed space from pedestrians.

Even though not all the gates will be latched, civilian fare inspectors and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies will patrol stations where there are no gates and randomly check fares.

Why has it taken so long to get to this point?

The TAP system has the most regional partners and most fare products of smart card systems in use in the U.S., according to Metro officials. It’s a very complex system and it took time for other agencies in Los Angeles County to adopt the system. While there were definitely some bumps in the road, testing has gone well. There are also some 21 million transactions on TAP monthly, a sign that many people are using the cards.

It’s not exactly a secret that technology moves quick these days. The next challenge for Metro will be working with all of its transit partners to explore emerging technologies and select the best ones that will ensure seamless travel for all our customers.

How much have the gates cost Metro?

Metro is leasing the gates from Cubic Corporation for about $46 million for 10 years — with six years remaining on the lease. That figure includes the cost of handheld TAP card readers for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, software, computer servers for Metro, gating equipment and installation of the gates, among other items.

Since the inception of the TAP program in 2002, the Metro Board has authorized expenditures of $255.3 million with actual contract costs totaling $222.2 million. The TAP program has overall involved substantial contracts with five contractors and consultants: Cubic, ACS/Xerox, Booz Allen and Hamilton, CH2MHill and Systra.

73 replies

  1. I am disgusted by all of this talk of “freeloading.”

    In my experiences riding the bus and rail system frequently, I have seen a lot of incredibly hard-working people who have very little money. I have seen most of these people pay with passes or cash.

    From my experiences, I have also seen people not pay given entry to the rail system. I can not blame them in the slightest. For starters, a significant factor in people not paying for the Metro seems to be because people don’t have a lot of money to go around. I have also seen Metro be particularly unresponsive to the needs of low-income, transit-dependent communities and not actively consider its role in institutionalized racism when planning projects or service cuts. If you were from a community where people were robbed and sexually assaulted at bus stops because of long wait times, and then Metro continues to cut service to these regions, would you feel a particular allegiance to paying for Metro rail? Metro is not an innocent player here and we should not be in the business of demonizing people who elect not to pay for rail service.

  2. Ryan K.,

    Does it surprise you that there are poor people too in San Francisco, New York, London, and Tokyo and guess what, wait for it….they pay to ride on their gated systems? WHAT A SHOCKER!!

    Freeloading is not about the person’s financial struggles. You ride, you pay. It’s simple as that. You want food, you pay at for it at the supermarket. It’s simple as that.

    Just because the person is poor doesn’t mean they get a free pass to start break the law.

    Besides, there are cheaper and faster alternatives to Metro for low-income than being forever transit dependent. Has anyone living in places where Metro cut services considered just buying a moped instead? One or two years worth of monthly passes can buy a moped. A simple search on craigslist can land them a used motorcycle or scooter for less than $1,000.

    • Paul C,

      Won’t touch the poverty topic, but a scooter is not cheaper – it’s at least as expensive.

      Let’s pretend you can ride off the lot for $1,200 w/ tax & title. For a basic 50cc getting around bike. We’ll pretend a 0% interest 3yr loan – to make monthly cost. You’ll need some accessories, but let’s neglect those. Insurance is a complucated matter, especially if you have less than good standing. Let’s pick an average insurance rate of $120/yr. Next, lightweight scooters have fantastic gas mileage but they’ll still drink at about 80mpg. Assuming a standard 20mi SoCal commute, 10k mi annually, $4/gal… $500/yr in gas. Top that off w/oil at let’s say $60/yr.

      Throw that all into a calculator: $90/mo.

      That’s not including maintainance, and scooters last in average 20k mi, so you’d have to push it to do 3 years of commuting.

      So, yes, Metro can still beat a scooter. Commute time comparison would vary to wildly to make a prediction. But, if your physically and financially able to decide between a scooter and metro, commute time would be my deciding factor.

      For me, personally, the commute times are very similar, depends on the day. But, I prefer reading a book to sitting in traffic.

  3. robcolburn,

    Can you give me any statistical or empirical data that transit dependent people have an average of 20 mi commutes in LA?

    Do people working at Walgreens or McDonalds or shopping malls drive or take the bus from their homes in the suburbs to make less than $10 an hour? Or are they inclined to be living less than 5 miles away in an apartment?

    THINK!!!

    I live in West LA, I work in West LA. What’s my best option? Pay $900 a year in monthly bus passes, or buy a scooter?

    THINK!!!

    Not everyone in LA has a 20 mi commute. The most transit dependent people in the most poor areas have short commutes. They are forced to pay $1.50 per ride or $75 a month for short commutes. The better way to go is to buy a scooter.

    THINK!!!!

  4. That’s the problem with you folks. ” Assuming a standard 20mi SoCal commute, 10k mi annually…”

    That assumption is baseless. Give me solid, irrefutable proof that EVERYONE in LA has a standard of 20 mi commute, 10,000 mi annually.

    Do you assume everyone in LA lives in a home in the suburbs and commutes to Downtown LA? Do you somehow magically out of thin air, make the assumption that there are no people living in apartments in Los Angeles and have commutes and their daily needs a short radius? So do you mean to tell me there are no one living in an apartment in Koreatown, having a job in Miracle Mile? That there are no one living in Burbank, having a job in Glendale?

    Please think before you make assumptions.

  5. robcolburn,

    And since I don’t want you to come back and say where’s my proof, here’s my proof, via simple Google search:

    Read and weep:

    “But what about the city that everyone immediately associates with traffic jams and car culture: Los Angeles. Incredibly, the city of angels is among the top gas misers. That’s because residents of centrally located areas of L.A. don’t have that far to drive to get to work or the beach. As a result, the L.A.-Long Beach area ranks second among the cities that use the least gasoline, just 630 gallons a year per household. As for the No. 1 least driving-est city? That honor goes to New York, where even in the unlikelihood that a household owns a car, they probably still get to work on the subway. The average New York household uses just 481 gallons a year to go 9,800 miles–that’s half the gas guzzling of the North Carolinian Triangle.”

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2011/05/10/americas-biggest-and-least-gas-guzzling-cities/

    Oh, shocked? Surprised? Yeah, that’s right, we’re only outflanked by NYC by being the 2nd least gas guzzling city in the nation! REBUTTALED!!!

  6. London and IIRC, Tokyo, have outlying stations that do not use Turnstiles. Plus all their stations are staffed with humans.

    Berlin is not a big city? Hmmm. OK, how about Hamburg and Frankfurt and Zurich? Because they use Proof-of Payment too.

    En

  7. All those cities that are mentioned as having successful transit systems don’t have them because they faregates. They are successful because their national governments understand the political clout of the users of those transit systems.

    Ask the folks in Brazil this week.

    Plus they don’t have decision makers who say ignorant things like “A lot of people — if not the *majority* of people — are not paying their fare,” which anyone who has used Metro during a fare inspection knows simply is not true and is an insult to those of us who actually do fork over our hard-earned money to ride Metro every day
    (and don’t have tax-exempted cars given to us).

  8. Ryan K.,

    You ride, you pay. Simple. End of story.

    I may not be the richest person on the planet, but I am honest, civil, and proud. I pay whenever I ride. Most likely, people like you who complain about why there are no more free rides, aren’t.

  9. Erik,

    Los Angeles County has a metropolitan area population of approx 10 million over 4000 square miles.

    Compare that with:

    Berlin: 3.3 million @ 350 sq mi
    Frankfurt: 5.6 million @ 96 sq mi
    Hamburg: 5 million @ 300 sq mi
    Zurich: 1.8 million @ 40 sq mi

    Yes, from LA standards, none of the German and Swiss cities you listed come close to the population size and area size of Los Angeles Metro. Yes, by LA standards, even those cities which would be viewed as relatively big, are still way to small to compare with LA.

    Compare that with the cities of London and Tokyo:

    London: 15 million @ 3,200 sq mi
    Tokyo: 35 million @ 5,200 sq mi

    Relative to population and area size, we have a lot more in common with London and Tokyo than Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Zurich. Furthermore, LA’s population is continuing to grow and land space is continuing to become scarce as we have over-extended our suburban boundaries.

    Looking to the future, it makes sense to follow London and Tokyo methods than smaller cities which LA has surpassed in population and metropolitan area size long, long ago.

  10. I think the Metro Board should just decide who we are going to model ourselves after. There’s just so many cities that do transit different ways we need to settle this on whom to follow. This would solve the mess on arguments amongst each other about how so-and-so US city does it this way or some Central or South American city runs it this way or whatever European city doesn’t do it that way or how some Asian city does it just fine by doing something like this way.

    So who’s our model city for public transit gonna be? New York? London? Berlin? Tokyo? Singapore? Mexico City? Caracas?

  11. The amount of money spent on TAP2TOGO and the turnstiles is appalling. I find it hard to believe that there will be any net financial gain from this project whatsoever.
    Another example of poor Metro implementation are the crappy TAP validators on buses. The validation beep is too quiet for a noisy bus in a noisy city. The small monochrome screen is hard to read. The bus drivers don’t seem to know nor does the Metro web site explain how you can choose between a single trip fare and a day pass upon boarding! So far TAP card = automatic day pass in my experience. Grrrr.