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Metro gearing up to lock down turnstiles, transition to TAP card system

By Rachel Garcia
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 02:59PM
Metro Turnstiles Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Passengers travel through turnstiles at the 7th / Metro subway stations.

Abraham Maldonado takes some form of L.A.'s public transportation- the Purple Line, Red Line, or a Metro bus- almost every day. He usually pays the fare to board. But sometimes, he hops on the bus or train without shelling out any cash, saving himself about $20 each month.

"Sometimes I don't have the money," Maldonado admitted. "I pay them almost every day so I spend a lot of money on the Metro."

To avoid getting caught, he usually takes the elevator out of the station because it's easier to see if the police are checking for tickets, Maldonado explained.

"I've always got to be one step ahead of the cops," he said, laughing. He explained that if he does see the police at the exit, he takes the elevator back down and gets on another train.

Fare evasion can be easy for some at most train and light rail stations since turnstiles situated at the entrances to the tracks are typically wide open and there is little security enforcing payment.

However, the free ride will soon come to an end.

Metro will begin the process of locking turnstiles to all subway and most light rail entrances in the fall. In addition, Metro, Metrolink, and municipal bus operators are in the process of switching their pay scheme from paper tickets to TAP cards (a plastic, reloadable form of payment that, when tapped against the turnstiles, would unlock them), said Metro spokesman Marc Littman.

Currently, the only deterrent to fare evasion is the possibility of being caught by a security or police officer stationed at the exit, checking for patrons' tickets as they leave. Despite the possibility of being fined up to $250 if busted, many people continue to ride without paying.

Metro conducted demonstrations last year, temporarily locking turnstiles to test patrons' reactions to the system. During the trial run, activity at ticket vending machines increased by 18-22 percent compared to when people could enter the platform without paying.

The process of locking turnstiles and changing tickets from paper to TAP cards is a complicated one, requiring several months for Metro, Metrolink and the buses to become compatible with the new system. With different fare structures, the transportation companies need to be integrated in order for the TAP cards to be fully implemented and for the turnstiles to be locked, Littman explained.

Although the transition is a complicated one, Littman says the TAP card's benefits are worth it.

Besides saving Metro money, TAP cards will become a streamlined pass for regional transportation. Also, because they are registered cards, they are easily replaceable when lost, as opposed to their paper counterpart, he explained.

Places like New York and Chicago already lock their turnstiles, Littman said, adding that Los Angeles is "lagging behind."

Once the changeover happens and all of the turnstiles are locked, Maldonado said he will probably end up buying a monthly pass to save money.

"I wouldn't hop the turnstiles unless I'm desperate, Maldonado said. "I'm sure there's cameras out there watching."

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