"There is definitely a vocal element out there who say, 'No one is paying and that's why you're broke,'" Metro's chief operating officer Ray Friem conceded yesterday in an interview with the Daily RFT. "It's an emotional issue for a lot of people."
Let's look at the facts:
Nationally, most public transportation experts agree, the fare evasion rate is 6 percent. In St. Louis, according to Metro, 4 percent of MetroLink riders are scofflaws.
All of which raises the question that has hounded Metro almost since the first line was built in 1993: Why not install a so-called "barrier" system with turnstiles and station attendants, like the ones you see in the subways of New York or San Francisco's BART?
Said Friem: "There is a place for turnstiles in this world, but we are wrestling with the question as to whether it is a good investment."
According to Friem, it would cost Metro an estimated $25 million to convert MetroLink's 37 stations to a barrier system. Further, a transit study by the Transport Politic, a respected industry publication, shows that it would take Metro 45 years to recoup that capital outlay, which Friem said sounded about right to him.
"So, as you can see, the answer is not simply a case of throwing up a few barriers," he noted.
The proof-of-payment, largely an honor system, is the current industry standard among all light-rail projects constructed over the past 20 years. That includes San Diego, Denver, Sacramento, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Portland, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles.
Friem said Metro, as well as light-rail agencies across the country, will be curious to see the results of a cost-benefit analysis presently underway of Los Angeles's light-rail system, where turnstiles have been installed at the entrance ways of 4 of its 62 stations. L.A.'s rail line, with 305,000 daily riders, loses roughly $5 million a year in tickets not purchased.
Friem added that Metro has taken steps to prevent freebies by ramping up the number of police patrols and the hiring last summer of 10 additional train-riding guards to check for tickets and issue $80 fines to those without one.
"We're continuing to explore other possibilities, too," concluded Friem. "I certainly don't want to lose $700,000 a year."