By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
TWO WEEKS AGO, ROGER SNOBLE, CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles, repeated a falsehood that typifies the confused move by powerful transit leaders to slap 379 restrictive gates onto the regions honor-system subway.
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In blaming L.A. residents, the MTA board has instituted the most punitive, expensive and dubious of three plans.
Spinning the massive $60 million gating project as the fault of Los Angeles residents, he strongly implied that the MTA has no choice.
We have the only open subway system in the world, Snoble said, referring to the fact that there are no turnstiles. On the regions subway and light-rail system, riders themselves decide whether or not to buy a ticket, with fare officials conducting only intermittent ticket checks along the lines.
An MTA spokesman notes that, at the same meeting, Snoble corrected his inaccuracy. Los Angeles is one among many, many honor-based subways in the world. Subways in Australia, Austria and Germany have used the honor system for decades. Snoble, the spokesman says, meant to say nation. In the U.S., about 20 above-ground light-rail systems in places including Salt Lake City, Portland, San Diego and San Jose follow the honor system.
Despite his error, repeated as fact by the Los Angeles Daily News, Snobles message was clear: The Los Angeles approach stands alone, and, naturally, it isnt working out.
What followed was the 10-1 vote two weeks ago by the MTAs politician-controlled board to dramatically refit some of the most architecturally beautiful subway entrances in the world with turnstiles.
Now, the really unique thing about Los Angeles is that its honor system is going to be dismantled the blame to be placed on Angelenos themselves.
For years, the MTA, operating from its gleaming downtown skyscraper, considered L.A.s 5 percent evasion rate costing about $5.5 million each year an acceptable loss. Ticket revenue, after all, amounts to only $341 million of the transit bureaucracys massive $3.13 billion budget the other roughly 90 percent of which comes from local, state and federal handouts.
But now the MTA has officially declared the cost of bearing Angelenos honor far too burdensome. Yet in trying to blame Los Angeles residents, the powerful board has now swung the pendulum far in the opposite direction, instituting the most punitive, expensive and dubious remedy of the three choices it considered.
The big winner is defense contractor Cubic Corporation, which lobbies large cities to erect costly ticketing gates that are installed and operated for a very steep price by one of its subsidiaries. In Los Angeles, MTAs estimated price tag for gating its system has soared in four months from $31 million to $46 million the price of the fat contract won last month by Cubics subsidiary. Ten million dollars is earmarked for the modification of dozens of subway and rail stations whose beautiful, open-air designs will be difficult to adapt to turnstiles.
The contract award encompasses 379 turnstiles, potentially covering almost every rail station in the city, and includes $12 million to pay for a decade of maintenance.
Yet Cubics lobbying doesnt pay off in every city it targets. When it recently applied pressure to transit officials in Vancouver, B.C., insisting they needed gates on their honor-system light rail which operates both below and above ground and has a 5 percent ticket-evasion rate, just like L.A.s the Greater Vancouver Transit Agency didnt buy into it like MTA board members did. Vancouver transit officials were politically pressured by British Columbias transportation minister to go with gates, but its local transit agency in 2005 conducted a study of 14 rail systems globally, and found that the numbers didnt add up.
We realized wed be spending $20 million to recover $4 million annually in maintenance and operations, says Drew Snider of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority. We decided it was more economical to have [inspectors] checking tickets and doing law enforcement.
Cubic stands to make a fortune by pressuring big cities to gate their subways and light-rail lines. In Vancouver, the firm didnt take no for an answer. It hired power broker Ken Dobell, a former deputy prime minister of British Columbia and former CEO of a Vancouver transit agency, to push for the turnstiles sought by Cubic. That effort failed and this week Dobell took a huge dive, pleading guilty on March 11 to illegally using his influence to push companies who sought contracts from government agencies he once oversaw (Cubic was not named).
THE MTA DIDNT STAND UP TO CUBIC like the transit agency in Vancouver did. The MTA board, made up of politicians like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke and others, instead dramatically sweetened the pot and handed the deal to the huge contractor. Heres how:
Last November, a $400,000 study conducted by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton suggested three options to the MTA. The most modest option would have seen 157 gates erected, only on the Red and Purple subway lines, whose designs can more easily accommodate turnstiles than other lines. At a cost of $12 million, that option would have thwarted about half of the cheaters.