When first implemented, the LA Metro system operated without barriers. In other words, passengers could get on and off without buying a ticket.
The incentive to buy a ticket was provided by the fact that officers regularly patrolled the trains asking for evidence that passengers had paid fares.
Barrier systems have their own costs associated with them. The economic viability of this barrier free system rested on the fare evasion rate – did the value of the fares forgone exceed the cost of operating a barrier system?
Accurately estimating the fare evasion rate for a sprawling metro rail system is no easy task. To do it cost effectively requires an efficient sampling procedure and an efficient interviewing procedure, so as to cover all parts of the metro system and also to stop fare evaders from avoiding the fare checkers.
Further, we surmised that fare evasion on a no barrier system was not related to a rider’s goodwill as much as it was to the perception of getting caught or fear of the consequences of doing so. As it turned out, riders given citations were rarely punished, creating the odd scenario where someone who has been caught evading fares is more likely to do it again in future because they know there are no consequences.
The RIGHT Answer
At the time of the study fare evasion rates ranged from less than 4% on weekdays in some parts of the system to 25% on weekend evenings on other parts of the system.
The evasion rate was directly related to the perception of getting caught and to the consequences of being caught.
The results suggested a substantial increase in the presence of uniformed officers checking for fares at certain times of the day on certain segments and more consistency in the enforcement of punishments for evading fares.
Since the study was done, MTA has installed barriers to the system so that it is not possible to board without a ticket.