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Monday, September 20, 2010

Muni's Expensive New Fare Gates Easily Eluded: Call it 'GateGate'

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge You needn't be Houdini nor Capone to elude this fare gate - MICHAEL RHODES, SF STREETSBLOG
By now, everyone and his fare-evading Uncle Phil knows that Muni's brand-spanking-new, $30 million Metro station gates can be evaded with a wave of the hand. Please allow us to be the first to christen this "GateGate."

What really rankles isn't so much that expensive new technology is effortlessly compromised by dishonest people: These gates weren't installed, specifically, to combat fare evasion. And there have always been ways to fare evade at Muni stations, whether walking behind your buddy, hopping the turnstile, or going through the emergency exit. What's bothersome is that Muni knew full well that this problem existed, but is only now starting to ask the questions that should have been answered before money exchanged hands and Muni was stuck with these gates.

Like every other reporter in town, we talked with Muni spokesman Paul Rose. Rose, like his predecessor Judson True, is an earnest and hard-working guy -- but this wasn't his mistake, and he can only say so much when pressed with difficult questions.

For example, Rose notes that Muni is "currently exploring what our options are right now," but can't say what any of those options are (barricades keeping patrons from reaching over and triggering the sensors? A refund from Cubic, the company that made the gates? Calling in the Gambino family? It's a mystery).

When asked why this problem wasn't tested out before Muni sank $30 million into the gates  --  including $11 million in federal stimulus money -- Rose answers "that's one of the things we're looking at."

So, for the record, Muni doesn't know why it doesn't know, and doesn't know why it doesn't know why it doesn't know. Brilliant. 

A couple of other points on GateGate:

  • Keeping the old fare gates was not an option. They were into their fourth decade of service, broke down frequently, and were not fully compatable with the Clipper cards. Even still, keeping, say, turnstiles, instead of nifty sensor-based gates would have made it harder to waltz through without paying. (Turnstiles, however are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act -- so you would still need to wave disabled people through the emergency exit, which is always vunlerable to fare evasion).

  • Cubic has designed fare gates for many of the Asian systems Muni's detractors have implored it to imitate, including Shanghai's immaculate subway system. Rose notes that gates essentially identical to Muni's are now installed in several American cities. When asked why Muni didn't ask transit officials in these cities how they dealt with this problem -- guess what? That's something they're looking into now, too, after the fact.

  • Is it possible to rejigger Muni's fare gates to require users to "tag out" with their Clipper cards before the doors open? Yes. Yes it is.

  • Those buying a temporary card -- as opposed to long-term users -- are assessed a 25-cent fee by the new fare machines. Does that stick it to tourists and the indigent? You bet. But Rose says it's just a way of making up the cost of the card, and isn't padding Muni's bottom line at all. That's plausible, as the concept of Muni finding a way to make money seems far-fetched.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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