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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Muni's Fare Gate Problems are Unique to San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Muni's new gates didn't cause problems elsewhere - MICHAEL RHODES
Michael Rhodes
Muni's new gates didn't cause problems elsewhere
Other American transit systems using fare gates essentially identical to Muni's have not been besieged by fare-hoppers able to outsmart the high-tech system with a wave of the hand, SF Weekly has learned.

Muni has become the unwelcome center of attention of late when miscreants quickly discovered that its $30 million fare gates could be made to open gratis by anyone who reached around the gate and placed his or her hand over the sensor. According to Muni, three other American transit systems have bought largely identical fare gates from San Diego-based Cubic Transportation: Miami-Dade County Transit, MARTA of Atlanta, and PATCO, a commuter railway run by the Maryland Transportation Authority. But officials at all three transit agencies told SF Weekly none of them have ever suffered a fare-hopping problem akin to Muni's -- and there's a good reason for that.   

On all three transit system, users must "tag out" before leaving the gates. That is, riders must hold their equivalent of a Clipper card over a sensor before the door will open. With Muni's new gates, any man, woman, child, or animal who wanders into the way of the laser sensor will open the gate. So will a fare-evader's strategically waved hand.

Muni officials have not been able to answer media queries about why they paid good money for these gates before testing out such an obvious flaw. One Cubic employee SF Weekly spoke with bristled at the notion Cubic had created faulty machinery. "This is not a question of having done anything wrong," said the employee. "It was more that we were trying to help the customer." In other words, they built the gates to spec -- don't blame them.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose confirmed to SF Weekly that Muni has gone back to Cubic to query about what fixes are possible. Rose sent us three potential solutions:

  • Developing firmware to have the entry side sensors override anyone attempting to reach over and break the sensor beams on exit side;
  • Physical barriers to prevent people from reaching over;
  • Having customers tap out to exit (hmmmmm...).

Multiple Cubic employees are now working on alleviating Muni's problem. Hopefully this time the transit agency gets what it wants -- and fare evaders don't.

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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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