Jake Varghese bought his $5 day pass yesterday even though he knows many of his fellow passengers take advantage of the honor code on Los Angeles' subway system and ride illegally for free.
"I see it all the time. My thinking is they'll eventually get caught," said Varghese, 32, who commutes on the Red Line from his downtown home to his job in Hollywood several times a week.
Varghese may soon have more company at the ticketing booth. Metropolitan Transportation Authority board members voted 11-1 Thursday to take the first step toward installing 275 gates on the Red and Green lines and at strategic light rail stations.
The move would be a major cultural shift for L.A.'s rail system, which was designed to have a more open feel than those in eastern cities, with their gates, turnstiles and barriers.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, December 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Subway riders: A Nov. 30 article in the California section about a plan to install turnstiles in MTA rail stations said the city of Los Angeles bears the loss when passengers on subways, light rail lines and buses ride without paying. The loss is to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the transit system.
But the freedom has come at a price for MTA's coffers. About 5% of weekday passengers on city subways, light rail lines and Orange Line buses ride without paying, costing the city about $5.5 million annually, according to a recent MTA report.
The proposed plan could bring an extra $6.77 million annually in recovered fares and savings, according to a study.
Richard Katz was the only board member who voted against the measure. He questioned the study's findings and worried that the cost of implementing the program could outweigh the benefits.
"This is a great boondoggle waiting to cost us a ton of money down the road," he said.
Los Angeles is one of the only cities in the nation to run an honor system for transit fares. While they are not required to pass through turnstiles, riders must show a valid ticket if they are approached by a sheriff's deputy.
But that doesn't often happen.
"You see people do it all the time," said Vincent Ravel, a 30-year-old courier who uses the Red Line every day. Ravel admits he took the subway without paying several times, until he got caught several months ago and had to pay a $250 fine.
"I pay every time now," he said.
Planners did not originally install turnstiles because they wanted to encourage ridership and reduce operating costs.
But as ridership has climbed -- about 7.5 million people used the Metro rail system or Orange Line busway last month -- financial losses have mounted.
Passengers buy one-way passes, daylong tickets or monthly passes. Using the latter two, riders can travel as far as they want. MTA officials also want to explore charging distance-based rates, which is nearly impossible to do without a turnstile system.
Turnstiles could also cut down on the number of sheriff's deputies needed to patrol the stations and lines, officials said.
The system would cost up to $30 million to install and about $1 million a year to maintain. The gates would be installed at the stations requiring minimum renovations, and would be based on smart-card technology that would check 84% of passengers, according to the report.
The plan approved Thursday calls on transit officials to develop a plan for installing gates, which the board would consider in January.
"While it was conceivable that an 'honor system' was effective to control crowds, ensure public safety and security plus successfully enforce fare payment 20 years ago, such a system is simply inapplicable in Los Angeles County today," wrote directors Yvonne B. Burke and John Fasana in their motion.
The Green Line, which runs between Norwalk and Redondo Beach, has the highest percentage of scofflaws, nearly 6% on weekdays and 8% on Sundays, according to an October MTA study. Nearly 4.5% of riders on the Red Line, which runs between Union Station downtown and North Hollywood, did not pay or paid the incorrect amount on weekdays; between 6% and 7% did so on weekends.
Passengers seem to agree that fees need to be enforced, especially since prices rose in May. Passengers pay $5 for a day pass and $1.25 for a one-way ticket.
Some passengers said they enjoy the honor system and don't want to negotiate turnstiles, but see no other alternative.
"I think it would be a pain to get to work, but if that's what it takes to have the system work, it's unfortunate" but necessary, Varghese said.
Some riders said they didn't see a need for more enforcement.
"It's never been a problem, I always see people paying" for their tickets, said Jennifer Yang as she took the Gold Line to downtown Thursday from her Pasadena home.
The Gold Line has the lowest rate of fare evasion with only 3% during the week, according to the study.