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Metro Is Trying To Deal With Its Big Freeloader Problem

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Some people are not tapping. (Photo by Gary Kavanagh via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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The Metro is a month away from raising fares to cover the costs of its operation and expansion, but it turns out that a lot of riders might not be paying their fares at all. The L.A. Times reports that even though Metro had an estimated 115 million riders last year (up 5 percent from the previous year), the MTA could only produce a documented 70 million rides—a difference of 40 percent.

A study from earlier this year conducted on the Orange Line—a bus line that could become a rail line in the future—indicated that as many of as a quarter of riders weren't paying.

So what accounts for this discrepancy? It could actually be a number of things: Metro's estimates, which are based on a six month rolling average, may be too high. Riders who purchase day, weekly or monthly passes may not realize they need to TAP again, even though they are technically breaking the law by not doing so. Some fare evasion may be intentional, while other riders might simply just be confused.

One figure that is interesting is that in cases where stations were upgraded with turnstiles that locked between passengers, the gap between numbers started to close. The subway had a gap of 46 percent in January 2013, but that figure had decreased to 13 percent come April 2014. However, many light rail stations still allow passengers to operate on an honor system.

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Currently, Metro only derives enough from ticket sales to cover a quarter of its costs—costs that are racking up as Metro expands. Additionally, if Metro can't increase the amount of covered via fares, they many stand to lose federal funding for the expansion. Metro is raising fares is September, and additional fare increases have been proposed for the future. (It is worth noting that September's fare hikes come with a free two-hour transfer, similar to cities like New York and Chicago, and this may decrease some confusion for riders and also lower costs for riders who must transfer lines during their daily commutes.)

Recently, it was reported that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which is on a multimillion dollar contract to police Metro, isn't doing a very good job. An audit reported by L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's office says that fare enforcement is one of the areas where LASD is lacking. Yaroslavsky, who also sits on the Metro's Board of Directors, told the Times he thinks it's still too easy for fare jumpers to slip through.