PA: SEPTA's 69th Street station gets new, taller gates to combat fare evasion

April 5, 2024
The 7-foot-8 glass gates are supposed to make it nearly impossible to jump the turnstile.

Apr. 3—SEPTA turnstiles at 69th Street Transportation Center are going to look different by the end of the month, as the transit agency begins a pilot program to crack down on fare evasion using high-tech gates that sound an alarm when someone tries to "tailgate" or piggyback off another rider's swipe.

"We are losing about $30 to $40 million a year on fare evasion," said Leslie S. Richards, SEPTA's CEO and general manager during a demonstration of the new gates Wednesday. "So this is a very big deal to get on top of, from the bottom line, as well as making sure that everybody feels safe and is safe."

Though overall crime on the system is down 42% from last year, some high-profile incidents on SEPTA have raised safety concerns among riders.

Richards and transit police say they see a correlation between those who skip the fare and go on to be "bad actors" on the system, from engaging in quality-of-life violations such as smoking to committing crimes. Also, transit leaders say letting fare evasion go unchecked is simply not fairto those who do pay.

The 20 gates slated for 69th Street Station are from Conduent Transport Solutions Inc. The total cost for the gates is about $1 million. This particular model is also being used in France, and SEPTA joins U.S. agencies such as the Chicago Transit Authority and Bay Area Rapid Transit in investing in new gates. SEPTA chose 69th street as the location for its three-month pilot because it touts the highest ridership and experiences high numbers of fare evasion.

The 7-foot-8 glass gates are supposed to make it nearly impossible to jump the turnstile. Pushing through would also be difficult, according to the agency, which said it can tweak the resistance. Could someone pummel through the gate? Sure, but they might get hurt. The models include "wide-aisle" gates for people with strollers and wheelchairs.

There's also a public-shaming element to the gates. An alarm, similar to those at retail stores, will blare when someone doesn't pay. Wednesday's alarm during the demonstration sounded faint, but SEPTA said there are plans to give them a boost later by adjusting the speakers.

And SEPTA Transit Police Chief Charles Lawson said officers will go after fare evaders even if they're not stationed at the gates themselves.

"Every fare evader that gets on a train is coming to us, we have a cop somewhere over system," he said. "We intercept wherever they're headed."

But just as useful as making it harder for people to skip paying for the service, SEPTA leaders hope the new gates will give them a better sense of just how much money they're losing. Right now, revenue losses due to fare evasion are a bit of an educated guess. Cashiers at stations write down when someone bails and it's not a perfect system.

The new gates, however, come equipped with 3-D imaging. So while they can't take photos or videos of people, they can tell the difference between someone lugging a suitcase behind them and someone being tailgated by another person looking to skip the fare. Transit police is then alerted when someone doesn't pay. As the gates are rolled out cashiers will still track fare evaders the old-fashioned way to compare their data with the gates', said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesperson.

SEPTA aims to couple the information from the gates with its network of 30,000 cameras to get imaging on the bad actors on the system. The images from cameras paired with data from the gates will streamline citations, according to SEPTA.

Should the test run be deemed a success, Richards has hopes to install $15 million worth of gates in up to six train stations, though it would cost about $50 million to address the issue to other stops experiencing high fare evasion.

A citation for fare evasion runs an administrative fine of $25. In 2022, the transit agency issued more than 2,700 of these citations.

"We're on pace to completely obliterate that this year without this tool," said Lawson, who expects the gates to boost enforcement even further.


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