If you think fare evasion on Metro is a rare occurrence, it’s not.
Metro is testing new tactics to crack down on people who attempt to slip through fare gates without paying — and surveillance videos released by the agency show just how many of these fare scofflaws the transit agency has to contend with.
At most Metro entrances, there is a gate that swings freely with no locking system, and no need for a station manager to unlock the gate or press a button granting access: Push or pull in either direction, and you’ve got free entry.
The swinging gates are intended to be used by people who would have trouble traveling through a regular fare gate, for example, while pulling a large suitcase, pushing a stroller or using a wheelchair. But in a surveillance video taken at an entrance to Fort Totten station on March 8, at least 12 people are filmed in one 30-minute period entering and exiting through a swinging gates.
Of course, not all of the people captured on camera are necessarily committing acts of fare evasion. Some appear to be students flashing their student pass to the station manager, or Metro employees potentially traveling between stations for work.
But others in the video are clearly seeking to sneak in, waiting for the moment when the station manager’s back is turned before darting through the gate. Metro station managers and operators are instructed not to start confrontations with riders skipping out on their fares, leaving the primary responsibility for fare enforcement to Metro Transit Police. In the video, several riders continue onto the system unperturbed.
Metro officials didn’t say how much fare jumpers cost the system, but they’re trying to stop the practice. One new idea is audible alarms that make it more difficult for people to use the swinging gates undetected, along with “gate stops” that ensure that the gate can only swing out in the direction of people exiting the system.
The pilot program, dubbed “Fair Share” by Metro, started one month ago with the new anti-fare evasion mechanisms installed at Gallery Place and Fort Totten stations.
On May 3, Metro captured video of that same Fort Totten swinging gate — this time, with the fare evasion deterrents in use. The effects are dramatic. Riders stop at the gate, stare at the surrounding signs, and retreat. According to the surveillance footage, there was an immediate 91 percent decrease in the number of people who passed through each swing gate once the pilot program launched. Station managers also reported positive improvements.
“The general message is that it helps,” Metro Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader said at a meeting last week. “It doesn’t solve the problem totally, but it helps.”
The new devices have some limitations. The swinging gates outfitted with audible alarms feature a slew of other security measures — a SmarTrip card reader, and a push-to-release bar on the gate that can also be triggered by a controller inside the station’s entry kiosk. But those mechanisms can’t be installed everywhere, because the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that those types of entrances only be used at fare gates with a minimum of five square feet for people in wheelchairs to maneuver.
At swinging fare gates without smaller space for maneuvering, Metro must limit their efforts to the “gate stop” that prevents the gate from opening in the direction of entrance, but can still swing open for people exiting. It doesn’t take long for would-be fare evaders to realize that they can simply pull, rather than push, the swinging gate to enter the station.
Others have opted to use alternate methods to avoid the alarms and gate stops, jumping the automated turnstiles or tailgating another passenger as they entered the system.
“Some people are still finding other ways in,” Leader said. “But it’s a good start.”
Leader said he is planning to expand the pilot program to 20 more Metro stations. He’s not sure which ones will be chosen, but they will be spread across the District, Maryland and Virginia, he said.