Los Angeles decides that charging subway riders could be a good idea


The Los Angeles subway circa January 2011. (via Flickr)

The cliche is that everybody in Los Angeles drives. But quite a few people in the city do use public transportation, and officials are tired of the fact that some of the subway system’s riders opt not to pay.

See, the Los Angeles subway system has operated on an honor system for years. (Let’s pause and appreciate the fact that a major American city had a public transit system operating on an honor system.) That could change when nearly 200 turnstiles at dozens of stations are activated by the summer, as Adam Nagourney of the New York Times reports:

Some stations on the system have gates, some do not. Some of the gates are locked, some slip open with a simple push. The whole process has been ensnared in years of delay, reflecting the complex web of underground trains, light-rail trains and buses that form the public transit system here. Its opponents continue to question whether the supposed recovery of lost revenue would cover the $46 million installation cost, plus $103,000 a month in maintenance.

Transit officials have said scofflaws have cost the system millions of dollars in annual revenue. There were nearly 360,000 riders entering the system on an average weekday in March, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Of course, adding faregates isn’t a new plan. In 2006, for instance, officials considered the possibility of adding turnstiles to the system. Transit advocates were not thrilled:

 “It’s a draconian idea that people need to be treated like animals, going through barrier gates,” said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, an advocacy group based in Sylmar. “People in wheelchairs can get stranded. It’s anti-consumer and can drive ridership down.”

In 2008, the agency received a $16.1 million grant to help install a system, and locking turnstiles were eventually installed at some stations by 2009. But in 2010, the L.A. Daily News reported that the the turnstiles couldn’t be locked because the system hadn’t converted to an electronic pass system.

Last year, the transportation authority again made a push for locking turnstiles, arguing that it was costing at least $4 million a year on just one of the system’s lines.

Now, it appears to be finally happening.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

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Mark Berman · May 7, 2013