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Tilting at Windmills

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December 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

2007: THE YEAR THAT TRUST DIED....The Los Angeles metro works on an honor system, similar to many European transit systems. There are no turnstiles, but transit cops randomly check trains, and if you're caught without a ticket you incur a hefty fine. The MTA is now planning to switch to ticket gates, which generates this comment from LA's premier pop sociologist:

"Unfortunately, as L.A. gets to be more urban, it has these breakdowns of trust that happen in big cities," said Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles resident and author of "The City: A Global History." "It's the flip side of all the good things."

Where do people come up with this stuff? Is Kotkin seriously trying to suggest that the second largest city in the country was a friendly, trusting little community in 1993 and that all suddenly imploded over the past 14 years? That doesn't even begin to make any sense.

Anyway, it's too bad they're getting rid of the honor system. They say that turnstiles will bring in more money, but it seems like you could accomplish the same thing by increasing the number of fare monitors. So why not do that instead?

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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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.

[Which is precisely how POP is supposed to -- and DOES -- work, when implemented properly. LA MTA is making a colossally stupid and costly mistake by installing fare gates.]

Posted by: anonymous on December 4, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Cuz fare monitors are people and you'd have to pay them and might even have to give them benefits??

Posted by: Rosali on December 4, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Many European cities also have transit system that work on the "honor" system. The key is to have very high fines (at least 100 times the cost of the fare) and a lot of inspectors, so that people realize that it's just not worth the risk to try to evade the fare.

LA apparently does not have enough inspectors, nor are the fines for fare evading ($250) high enough to be an effective deterrent.

Posted by: mfw13 on December 4, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Rosali - and faregates repair themselves, and fare machines empty themselves of money magically. And turnstyles don't need to be in sight of a transit agent in a booth, because people are utterly too trustworthy to ever jump over them.

Posted by: anonymous on December 4, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

As LA gets to be more urban?!?!?!? So one small subway turns LA into NY? Such is the power of mass transit.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on December 4, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Why turnstiles instead of monitors?

Because turnstiles are probably cheaper, especially since, when you retire a turnstile, can get cash for the scrap metal as opposed to having to pay a human being a pension.

If they aren't doing so already, maybe they could make up the cash by charging a small fee from all the performance artists earning their living by singing, playing, dancing, juggling, miming, etc. in the stations.

Such a charge would be an opportunity to raise funds, and a mime is a terrible thing to waste.

Posted by: Lew Wolkoff on December 4, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

A key difference between Los Angeles and European cities is that L.A.'s metro carries and shelters a great many undocumented homeless people from whom fines can never be collected. Their numbers are enough to deter plenty of commuters from using (and having to share) the Metro.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that Metro's administrators think that they actually will boost ridership by making the system inaccessible to non-paying "vagrants."

Posted by: iws on December 4, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin you even have to ask?

1) as noted above fare monitors get paid an ok wage even with benefits.

2) no connected developer wins a nifty no bid contract for installing fare monitors.

Posted by: Eric K on December 4, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin

I don't know how this happened, but someone said he got my email address from the comment I left the other day. I felt my privacy was invaded and I don't understand how that happened. It's usual on sites that if you fill in the email, it's for ID purposes only, not for publishing.

Please respond. It seems I can't post without my email.

Thanks

Posted by: debcoop on December 4, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, as the Pacific Ocean gets to be wetter, it has more of these drowning incidents that tend to occur in large bodies of water.

Posted by: Lionel Hutz, attorney-at-law on December 4, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

@debcoop: You have two options here. Make up an email address. (Which many of us do.) And the other option is to put a URL in your comment post. That will take precedence over the Email address. This is not unusual and works this way at many other sites beyond just Political Animal. Most people assume that if someone leaves a working email address that they at the very least don't mind being contacted.

Posted by: Inaudible Nonsense on December 4, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is just Joel Kotkin up to his old tricks: he dislikes transit and cities and loves suburbs, therefore this change is blamed on L.A. becoming more "urban."

Posted by: Willy on December 4, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

San Francisco uses the honor system on surface trains, but has turnstiles in the subway stations, and has you show your pass on the bus.

I commute on those surface trains and get checked about once a month.

I believe the fine people usually pay is around $150, but muni's website says 'up to $500'.

With an unlimited pass costing $45 a month there is absolutely no way it is worth risking it for anyone who rides often enough to matter.


Anyhow this Kotkin is a fool. Heh, LA was such a cozy small town a few years ago... The reason that many big cities do transit on the honor system is that enforcing the honor system is cheaper than enforcing payment before or during boarding, especially when you don't have a massive station like a subway.

The real question is why the US favors checkpoints even at higher cost and less convenience.

Posted by: jefff on December 4, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Fare monitors require insurance and days off and they get sick and cant work 24 hrs a day and call in sick and go to football games or fishing.

Dont need no stinking jobs in a turnstile state.

Posted by: Ya Know.. on December 4, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

debcoop,

Put your cursor over my signature and you'll see my email address too. The worst part is there are programs collecting the email addresses for spam lists.

I think most comment sections work this way, and most people use a throwaway email address as a solution.

Posted by: Tripp on December 4, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kotkin is one of those faux-intellectuals that the press discovers periodically. His "new suburbanism" meme is BS and discounted by most serious thinkers in his field. And yes, through his lens this is just one more piece of evidence that suburbia is the best place to live. As Bill the Cat says: Pbptht!!!

Posted by: Bush Lover on December 4, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

it seems like you could accomplish the same thing by increasing the number of fare monitors. So why not do that instead?

Because turnstiles don't need health benefits.

Posted by: Andy on December 4, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, btw has anyone ever been to a non-urban place that has a transit system that works on the honor system?

I haven't, but then I have only used two of them vs a dozen or so city transit systems.

This is likely because with low ridership this is the cheapest solution. It doesn't slow the system down significantly for the driver to check people as they get on the bus the way it does or would in a heavily used system.

So if one were to take the payment models of transit systems as evidence of trust I think one would be forced to conclude that big cities have more trust.

Posted by: jefff on December 4, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Up here in the Bay Area, you see different kinds of enforcement mechanisms on public transit:

Caltrain: Proof of payment system (similar to the "honor system" in L.A.)

SF MUNI (street cars/buses/subway): Also proof of payment (rarely enforced on buses, only sometimes on the subway), but the buses should be able to force people in through the front door to pay, but they don't, so consequently, MUNI loses boatloads of money by people jumping on the bus at the back door and not paying.

BART: Probably does it the best. You have to pre-pay for your ticket before going through the turnstile and then you have to present the ticket again to exit. If you did not have enough on your fare card, you can't leave; you have to use the add fare machine to make up the difference.

And I agree with ya know's comment above.

Posted by: Mike P on December 4, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Oh and fare monitors don't just check fares. They are transit cops. They are getting on and off the trains and walking up and down checking for tickets, speaking to each and every person on the train. They are patrolling the entire system and, I'm sure, finding other problems and discouraging other crimes by their presence.

Posted by: jefff on December 4, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I have worked at many places that have an 'honor snack bar' where people are supposed to simply put money into the box for chips, cookies and candy.

It never quite collects enough money and always slips of paper with IOU...OMG!! CIVILISATION IS AT AN END AS WE KNOW IT THE TRUST IS GONE!!

I'm now hoping some media outlet hires me for my intellectual insight on very serious, nation and office altering, matters.

Posted by: Ya Know.. on December 4, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, Hollywood has made so much cash off of the iconic scene in the movies where a ticketless rider has to dodge the conductor, hilariously staying half a step ahead. Pity to give that up.

Posted by: ferd on December 4, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

"the buses should be able to force people in through the front door to pay, but they don't"

I only ride the bus once or twice a week, but it seems to me that the bus drivers stop enforcing their system when the bus starts getting crowded so they can let people board through all three doors rather than only the front one.

It is a good example of how having the driver check proof of payment on boarding doesn't work in a heavily used system. Boarding takes much longer as everyone slowly shuffles past the driver, with occasional stops as some of them feed bills and coins into the machine.

Posted by: jefff on December 4, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Anyway, it's too bad they're getting rid of the honor system.

Is it really an honor system if they have to employ ticket inspectors?

Posted by: Jasper on December 4, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Like Jasper, it seems to me a true honor system would not have inspectors either.

I never knew LA had the system it has. The only transit systems with which I am familiar are those in Chicago and New York.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 4, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

debcoop,

This site is a bit unusual that regard. I would suggest you just make up an e-mail address like none@nowhere.com.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 4, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Not all European cities go by the honor system. There are plenty of cities where you buy a ticket (often at a vending machine) and put it into the turnstile. I've also seen this system used at a museum. The ticket is sucked in, cancelled, and returned to you. That way, if you're using an all day pass on the subway, you can use it the next time by showing it to the human ticket checker in the pass lane.

Posted by: Bob G on December 4, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not familiar with the guy's previous work, but is there a chance that by "more urban" he means "more non-white"?

If I were you, I'd just be happy to live in a city with a functioning and usable public transportation system. Kansas City has the bus and ... well, the bus, which is useless since the routes were apparently drawn up by a blind man suffering an epileptic seizure.

Seriously. I can't get from my house to my work using the bus. Not even within two miles.

Posted by: Mark D on December 4, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ooh, this is fun! I actually did my dissertation on this problem. (In game theory, it's called the Compliance Game.)

Discounting the side-benefits of each approach discussed upthread (inspectors are also security officers, but gates keep out people who couldn't pay regardless of whether they were caught), the answer comes down to the relative costs of the two approaches: equipment purchase & maintenance vs. enough inspectors to put enough fear into riders that they'll comply.

The basic theoretic answer is that there is one single equilibrium point -- a precise balance of the chance someone will cheat and the chance an inspector will inspect -- to which, under certain conditions, an adaptive system will eventually converge.

A consequence is that this balance point (which ultimately determines the cost of running the system, since it mandates how often you inspect and therefore how many inspectors there are ) is affected by the size of the penalty, which gave rise to the (somewhat) famous solution by Gary Becker, "hang jaywalkers with probability zero." The implication is that, if the penalty is high enough, everyone will comply, so your enforcement costs can be minimized.

There are a lot of problems with this solution, including its requirements for calculation by all the parties and its single-point, potentially unstable, equilibrium.

It turns out, though, that if you assume actors "satisfice" -- i.e., go with "good enough" -- rather than optimizing -- i.e., demanding the best -- then there are regions of equilibrium rather than a single point, and even more interestingly, they correspond to "Theory X" and "Theory Y" management concepts, i.e., high-enforcement-forced-compliance and low-enforcement-with-cooperation.

In practice, of course, the "Theory Y" equilibria are cheaper, and everybody's happy. So those are the ones to use in a cost comparison. And it turns out you don't have to hang any jaywalkers.

Posted by: bleh on December 4, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

bleh,

The hangings should be reserved for the ones who stick gum on the seats.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 4, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to being economically illiterate, Joel Kotkin is a shameless shill for suburban greenfield developers. It's telling that the only urban studies program that would offer him a fellowship is Chapman University, which isn't even among the ten best universities in the five-county Los Angeles region. You ought to hear the faculty in USC's School of Policy, Planning, and Development--a notoriously libertarian bunch that might otherwise be sympathetic to his arguments--rip on his work.

Posted by: Pete on December 4, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

A key difference between Los Angeles and European cities is that L.A.'s metro carries and shelters a great many undocumented homeless people from whom fines can never be collected. Their numbers are enough to deter plenty of commuters from using (and having to share) the Metro.

Really, New York and Chicago have no homeless people who ride the subway or el train? Are you sure about that?

The key difference between LA's metro system and Europe is that it's totally fucking useless unless you already live and work within a 5-mile radius. I used to live in Glendale and work in Westwood and my only options were either to drive to work (1 hour in the morning, 90 minutes to drive home) or to take three buses (a good two hours, at least, each way). The metro didn't even enter into the calculation, unless I wanted to take the commuter train (an entirely different system) into Union Station and then take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, which would take -- you guessed it -- a minimum of two hours each way, if not more.

Hell, right now I live and work within a 3-mile radius with a pretty good local bus system, and I still drive.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 4, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

The math doesn't make too much sense. According to the LA Times, the system will cost $30m to install and $1m a year to run. Cheating costs estimated at $5.5m (they estimate 5% freeriders), so net $4.5 savings per year after up front $30m investment. So approx 8 year payback, ignoring interest rates. (about the time the equip will need to be replaced?)

If inspectors write 8 tickets a day at $150 each, and actually patrol 200 days a year (random guess), they would generate $240k. That should cover a lot of health insurance. Plus other benefits of having real people patrol a transit system (give directions, safety, etc.).

So the investment seems marginal at best, with greater uncertainty from implementing a new system.

Am I missing something?

Posted by: John on December 4, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

(groans at Lew Wolkoff)

Posted by: Matt on December 4, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

>the investment seems marginal at best, with greater uncertainty from implementing a new system.
>Am I missing something?

Vancouver is going through exactly the same arguments right now about the Skytrain system. Apparently they see it as a way to deter crime on the system and near its stations, as many less-desirable characters free-ride and ignore fines. Break in rates are much higher within 1-2 blocks of stations, for example, and there have been a few random assaults.

They also claim european transit systems have seen increased ridership after installing turnstiles. But the european transit I've seen is so fantastic, so another-planet level of service compared to north america (50% travel share!), it may be hard to pick out the important differences.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on December 4, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

$4.5M/year on a $30M investment doesn't sound like a bad return -- maybe 10% or so?

I wonder if part of the calculation should also be the inherent difficulty, even danger, in confronting lawbreakers. Relying upon that enforcement method has got to have certain downsides versus one that is effectively self-enforcing.

Posted by: Glenn on December 4, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kansas City has the bus and ... well, the bus, which is useless since the routes were apparently drawn up by a blind man suffering an epileptic seizure....Seriously. I can't get from my house to my work using the bus. Not even within two miles.

Trust me when I tell you this...The public transit system in Kansas City was, apparently, designed for the people who live in my building.

But I'm no where near the 'burbs - I'm in Midtown, between Broadway and Main in an area that is all brick walkups and lofts. Works for me; but I only have one kid to corral, and that's part time. I never go north of the River Market, or south of Waldo - so the Max/57 lines suit me fine. Unless I'm going to Ward Parkway, and then I take the 51. My hybrid will be two years old next month, and it has less than 6K on it. Oh - and Redemptorist is a stones throw away, and there are no income guidelines, just residency, so I buy fares for half price.

Basically, a lot more people would be willing to use public transit if it was this convenient. Of course, not only am I sick of driving after raising three kids, a lot of that time functioning as a single parent and eating up miles like a psychotic pac-man - nobody in this damned town knows how to drive. I swear - every last one of the people on the road around here have cobwebs on their turn signals. The streets have been know to eat midsized sedans, and the solution to potholes is to throw down these gawd-awful metal plates and call it a day.

Mark D, I'm utilizing the service for both of us - we'll call it an unofficial carbon-offset.:)

The hangings should be reserved for the ones who stick gum on the seats.

Comment of the thread! (And evidence of why you are my favorite conservative, Yancy.:)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 4, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

"...you could accomplish the same thing by increasing the number of fare monitors. So why not do that instead?"

Because that would mean hiring people instead of building machines. And where would that lead us?

Posted by: Kenji on December 4, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

The honor system strikes me as freaking insane. What's to keep me from just buying one pass and using it over and over and over until the transit cop asks me for it?

I lived in Germany, and never saw an "honor system" in Europe -- the long-distance trains do have monitors instead of turnstiles, but you have to be some kind of action hero to get past those guys, so that's hardly an honor system.

Finally, does LA not have a mass transit "rush hour"? Here in DC, I know plenty of mild-mannered civil servants who would deck anyone, uniformed or not, who had the nerve to stop them as they run to catch their train and ask to see their ticket. The automatic booths, on the other hand, barely require you to break your stride, and handle a dozen people a minute.

Posted by: Tom Veil on December 4, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Geez Louise, you guys really have trouble with this past/future thing, huh?

The key sentence in the NYT piece is about the FUTURE: "But after 14 years of trust, Los Angeles is preparing to join those cities where slipping past, under and over transit turnstiles and gates is an art form."

Kevin's IMMEDIATE take on it is about the PAST, quoting Joel Kotkin: "Is Kotkin seriously trying to suggest that the second largest city in the country was a friendly, trusting little community in 1993 and that all suddenly imploded over the past 14 years?"

This revelation that the MTA is planning to install turnstiles is about the FUTURE, folks.

About which, I note rather alarmingly, none of y'all seem to have much to say. What's gonna happen in the future? Subways or personal rocket-powered jetpacks? Maybe pneumatic tube people movers? Well hell, pardner, seems like you might want to have some kind of say about that in a discussion about transit systems, don't it? Mmm-kay?

But that's NOT what y'all are gonn do, cuz' y'll are still driving with the subway wheel to the rail, looking at where we've been.

Posted by: the Amerikaner on December 4, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Did I fall into an alternate universe where people using computers are bitching about mechanization? Why not complain that companies buy computers to reduce manpower needs? If it wasn't for the washing machine, people would do it themselves or support the nice family that does laundry for the village. Not to mention the fact that trains and automobiles put all of those stagecoach drivers out of business.

You guys are like a rightie's parody of lefties.

Posted by: Mo on December 4, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Tom,
Cologne's public transportation system (intercity) was honor system. London's is very much not. Your points about time savings are dead on as well.

So far the best anti-turnstile argument is John's.

Posted by: Mo on December 4, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Wow Blue Girl ... gotchya goin', didn't I?

:-)

The bus system is designed just for what you said -- trips within a specific 20 square miles. Which is a good thing for folks who live and work in the area.

But for the 90% of people who don't live in that narrow region -- or who live in midtown but work in the burbs -- it's all but impossible to get anywhere.

Cities like L.A. may not have a great public transport system when compared with, say, N.Y., D.C. (which has the best I've seen), or parts of Europe.

But there are so many cities like K.C. here in America -- mid-sized and set up PERFECTLY for public transportation geographically speaking, but without any real system -- that hearing L.A. folks whine just makes me shake my head.

This country has too many KC's: places where civic leaders a few decades back decided more roads they can't keep up (thus roads that look like they've been used for mortar practice) were better than public systems that **gasp** dared to connect suburban folks to the inner city folks.

It's a shame because it's hurting us in so many ways, from climate change, to fuel costs, to reliance on foreign oil ... all can be traced back to short-sighted local leaders like those in KC who refused to embrace public transportation back when it would have been more feasible.

Oh well ... at least I like my car. Which is good since I'm in the damn thing two hours a day.

Posted by: Mark D on December 4, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

To TOm VEil:

I am living in Germany, and it is an honor system in the subway and local trains.
It doesn´t slow you at the entrance: people mostly have a weekly or a monthly ticket, and if not like me you just stamp at the entrance (in a stamping machine, much cheaper than a turnpike). You are mostly controlled on board.

There are Turnpike systems in Europe, for instance Paris. But they still have to have some fare controller too. Parisian can jump...
And they are implementing contactless chip-cards for solving the problems at rush hour...
Not cheap.

Posted by: german sense on December 4, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot: my experience is in Munich and Nürnberg, and it is th same in BErlin if my memory does not fail me.

Posted by: german sense on December 4, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand what Kotkin means by L.A. becoming "more urban."

If he means that L.A. will become "more dense," then he's just plain wrong. When you have high population, higher density creates greater safety and trust (don't believe me? Where would you rather be at 1AM - 42nd and Broadway, or the middle of Central Park? When you have large populations, you want more people on the street, not less).

Posted by: Peter Bautista on December 4, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK
Is Kotkin seriously trying to suggest that the second largest city in the country was a friendly, trusting little community in 1993 and that all suddenly imploded over the past 14 years?

L.A. may be the second largest (by population) city, but its also geographically enormous. So its not really unrealistic that it might have less of a big city feel than lots of cities that are smaller by population but also much smaller geographically, since many "big city" issues are, really, high population density issues -- and LA, while it has something upward of 5 times as many people within its city limits as San Francisco, has less than half the population density.

LA is nowhere near the peak of "urban" in the U.S., its more like the peak of "sprawl". So its not at all surprising that L.A. is encountering urbanization issues behind other cities that are smaller but more intensely urban.

(Anyway, you'd produce more revenue and clean up the air if you'd make public transit free and charge tolls on the freeway on and off ramps in L.A.)

Posted by: cmdicely on December 4, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK
Oh and fare monitors don't just check fares. They are transit cops. They are getting on and off the trains and walking up and down checking for tickets, speaking to each and every person on the train. They are patrolling the entire system and, I'm sure, finding other problems and discouraging other crimes by their presence.

And even if they aren't their checking for tickets, you still need transit cops, so you don't save all of their costs by going to a turnstile system.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 4, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK
And it turns out you don't have to hang any jaywalkers.

Yeah, but see, some people like harsh, arbitrary, inconsistently applied punishments, particularly when they control the application and the distribution is not random by highly selective.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 4, 2007 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

You always have to pay when you ride the tube in London and people seem to be a whole lot easier to get along with there as opposed to L A. No tickey no ridey.

Posted by: Gandalf on December 4, 2007 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely is perpetuating the myth that LA is a low density city. It is not. Read the stats below or just go there.

http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-125.html

Posted by: Bush Lover on December 4, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK
What's to keep me from just buying one pass and using it over and over and over until the transit cop asks me for it?

The one-way tickets have the station where you bought it printed on the ticket. So unless you are traveling away from that station one a line that goes through that station, you're in violation. If you are making many trips a day, that might work. Otherwise, not so much.

Tickets and day passes are date stamped. Tomorrow they're no good. And tickets expire after two or three hours.

Posted by: treetop on December 4, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Tom,

The way our honor system works in Portland is the ticket has a time stamped on it when you buy it and it is good for 2 hours, so if an inspector comes by you can't show them an old one.

It is always funny to watch on the street car when an inspector gets on the front and all of sudden about 10 people stand up and move to the ticket machines.

Posted by: Eric K on December 4, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely is perpetuating the myth that LA is a low density city.

No, I'm not.

Its a high-density city, its just not high-density among big cities, so referring to its status as the second largest (in population) city in the country can be misleading in terms of where the degree to which it is super-urban compared to other big cities.

http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-125.html

That doesn't actually rate cities, it rates cities plus the surrounding metropolitan areas, which makes a pretty big difference. Los Angeles' area rates high in that because it has a large area of moderately-high-density sprawl, though it lacks the ultra-high-density core of New York City, Chicago, or even dinky little San Francisco, which is why when you look at the population density of the cities proper, LA is not very high among US major cities, while its metropolitan area is pretty dense compared to the metropolitan area of other big cities in the US, which, unlike LA don't have as much undifferentiated sprawl (largely because other big cities are often in places with more constrained physical geography.)

Posted by: cmdicely on December 4, 2007 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

It seems I can't post without my email.

Posted by: debcoop on December 4, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that to comment on most websites you have to give an email address to comment. Unlike most, Political Animal doesn't conceal them. But i you float your cursor over the names, you'll notice that a number of commenters here give fake email addresses. I don't really have an address at Troy, for example. Back in the bronze age, we only had dial-up and Achilles was always on the damn phone.

Posted by: thersites on December 4, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

From what I understand, LA in good part instituted the honor system because they needed to coax people out of their cars, and they were concerned that turnstiles would be one more barrier to prevent people from riding. The MTA wanted to make getting on a train as hassle free as possible.

Now there is a critical mass of people who take public transportation regularly, and even under performing lines like the Gold Line to Pasadena are seeing ridership increases large enough to require increased service. One problem that MTA understands but cannot publicly comment on is the large numbers of homeless people that take the subway and the light rail lines, and fines don't deter the homeless (because the fines are noncollectable) and that large numbers of homeless riders keeps even more people from riding the trains. The MTA is very sensitive to this because they just ended a decade long battle with the Bus Riders Union, who reflectively screamed racism everytime the MTA proposed any transit alternative that served any neighborhood with a per capita income greater than the poverty line. So when the MTA says 5% of riders don't pay fares, they are really saying that a good percentage of those who don't pay fares are homeless people and we'd like to grow our ridership even more so we need to crack down on the homeless riding the trains.

BTW: In L.A. planning circles, Joel Kotkin is considered a joke and is only taken seriously by lazy LA times editors and reporters because he available quick and ready with a quote.

Posted by: Desmo on December 4, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think I may be the only person who's glad this is happening. Of course, I have a personal bias. A few years back I was starting a job in downtown L.A., commuting in from Pasadena on the Gold Line. On my first day, I merrily traipsed onto the train, thinking of what was ahead of me, how I was going to impress my boss, etc... and not about the fact that I needed to pay money to ride the train, which I neglected to do. Of course, I picked the day there was a cop waiting at the gate in Union Station. At that moment, I really, really wished that either they had kept me off the train without buying a ticket, or at least had allowed me to buy one on the train or at the terminal station, a la Philly's SEPTA. My own fault, of course, but it's why I prefer idiot-proof design.

Posted by: Ripzaw on December 4, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Desmo, I gather from your comments that the key to improving/expanding bus service is to greatly reduce the probability of obtaining ***crotch-**crickets** through the use of the system. I say that because I know of at least one person who has contracted **CC** from the use of public transit. Maybe it is some mum, don't talk about it thing that needs to get discussed.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 4, 2007 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

(largely because other big cities are often in places with more constrained physical geography.)

Not at all true. New York and SF, maybe, but the rest of the country's big cities are quite unconstrained in their geography.

Indeed, like most cities in the American West, Greater Los Angeles actually has quite constrained geography, thanks to both mountains and the ocean. It's not a coincidence that perhaps the two most congested segments of freeway in the country, I-405 between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside of Los Angeles and CA/SR-91 between Riverside and Orange Counties, pass through mountain ranges with no high-capacity parallel routes for several miles on either side. (In the case of the latter, it's the furthest south road between the coastal plain and the inland valleys for 50 miles, unless you want to count Ortega Highway--a terrifyingly twisty two-lane mountain road built for pleasure drives in the '30s. I bet Kevin knows folks who moved to Temecula or Lake Elsinore, figuring that they could commute on Ortega, and immediately grew to regret the decision.)

The only urban area in the eastern half of the country with quite as much constraint as Los Angeles is New York, and even then its sprawl has eaten half the state of New Jersey and most of Long Island. Except for Lake Michigan, there are no natural constraints to the development of Chicagoland for 150 miles in any direction from the Loop. The same thing goes for Houston (the Gulf), Boston (the Atlantic), and Washington (Chesapeake Bay). Fast-growing inland cities like Dallas and Atlanta really have no geographic constraints whatsoever. Compare this with Seattle-Tacoma (the Cascades and Puget Sound), Tucson (mountains on three sides), Denver (the Front Range is some of the most stultifyingly ugly land in America if you don't have a mountain view), and San Diego (crammed into every little nook and cranny where it'll fit) and you'll see what I mean. Not coincidentally, metropolitan Portland--which is hemmed in to the east by the Cascades but is unconstrained otherwise--resembles an Eastern metropolis more than any other Western city, regardless of its urban growth boundary.

There's another factor explaining the low density of suburban areas in the eastern half of the country that many commentators overlook: the value of agricultural land. Los Angeles and Orange Counties were formerly perennial top-5 finishers in the list of the nation's top agricultural counties by value of produce. The soil is superb thanks to frequent alluvial flooding until the 1930s, while the climate allows three growing seasons a year. (My neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mar Vista, used to be known as the world's lima bean capital.)

Refrigeration and irrigation opened the West to agriculture, pretty much killing off anything but grain and potato farming in the eastern half of the country. (Subsidy of corn, soy, and wheat finished the job.) As a result, when new subdivisions are built in an Eastern or Midwestern suburb, they usually replace grain or soy farms--but in California or Arizona, they usually replace orchards or vegetable fields. Needless to say, a developer is going to have to pay a lot more for land producing fruit and vegetables than producing grain, meaning that he's going to have to build a lot more units to make a profit.

Posted by: Pete on December 4, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Desmo, I gather from your comments that the key to improving/expanding bus service is to greatly reduce the probability of obtaining ***crotch-**crickets** through the use of the system. I say that because I know of at least one person who has contracted **CC** from the use of public transit. Maybe it is some mum, don't talk about it thing that needs to get discussed.

I'm pretty sure that the solution to this is to not wear a miniskirt and a thong when riding transit.

Posted by: Pete on December 4, 2007 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

As a New Yorker, all I can say is that if there were an honor system here I'd frequently violate it.

Between the closed books and the frequent poor service, which to my admittedly ignorant mind seems to be poor management, I'm often mad at the MTA.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on December 4, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing wrong with ripping off the government as they rip off taxpayers right and left.

Posted by: Luther on December 5, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

Re: ***crotch-**crickets**

I guess that is a better excuse than alien abduction or demonic visitation in the night.

Posted by: jefff on December 5, 2007 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

If this change means the city loses money, it's stupid.

If this change means the city saves money, it's smart.

All the talk about 'those poor soon to be maybe out of work ticket inspectors; only reason they are being shed because they require health care' is a red herring

Really, if you were in charge in the forties and fifties, would you stopped the switch to diesel and electric locomotives? Because that threw a lot of people out of work (union people by that point I might add). Diesel/Electric took about half the crew of steam and made obsolete entire categories of skilled and semi-skilled labor.

So you think we should retro-mod one of the lines with a Big Boy? I will say, that will be an impressive sight, especially if they wind up making another Speed movie.

Posted by: Kolohe on December 5, 2007 at 5:34 AM | PERMALINK

The reason for resistance to monitors is the insurance that transit companies have to pay for them. For a given recovery of fare income, it is much cheaper to pay the cost of monitors than turnstyles -- until you add the insurance on them. If legislation forced reasonable insurance protection for the security of monitors or had intelligent integration of law enforcement and transit monitoring, the problem would disappear. You can imagine why and how insurance companies are not required to act responsibly or in the public spirit in this case!

Posted by: Jaem on December 5, 2007 at 6:29 AM | PERMALINK

This thing is a bit complicated. There are revenue losses from freeloaders aside from the loss of the fare money. (1) Would-be freeloaders, flirting with the idea of fare evasion, are emboldened when they see fare evaders get away with it. (2) The taxpaying public, since virtually all public transit systems need a subsidy, says, when asked for the money, "Why don't you crack down on freeloaders before asking us?" (3) Scofflaws do more than just beat the fare. If I were trying to beat the fare I would sit quiet and still as a mouse. But these guys regard fare evasion as only part of their pattern of sociopathic activity. They sprawl across two seats, stick their legs out into the aisle, get out their markers and write graffiti on the inside of the bus. The fare paying public, fed up with being mistreated by them, flees the bus.

I visited Amsterdam, the world capital of public transportation, in 1996, and again this year. In 1996, the system was completely proof-of-payment. Today, however, POP has been abandoned. Every tram has both a driver and a conductor, and the conductor takes everyone's fare as the passengers board. The buses have no conductor, but the driver seriously checks everyone's ticket, and the schedules have obviously been lengthened to allow time for this.

This must cost the system a bundle in additional wages. I think the managers went over to it because they feared passenger erosion caused by fare evasion. It's no secret that the Netherlands has had difficulty assimilating Islamic immigrants, and there may be an element of racial uneasiness here also.

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