BART is looking at ways to redesign itsgates to reduce fare evasion. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

BART mulls new gates designed to stop fare evaders

Cost estimates for installation systemwide range from $15 million to $135 million

BART is redesigning its fare gates to curb ticket cheats, and while final design decisions are still pending, one thing is clear: The BART Board of Directors wants any design except the “iron maiden.”

BART staff presented the board at its regular meeting Thursday with four options for redesigning station fare gates. While the board wasn’t asked to take a vote on the options, they were asked for “guidance” which BART General Manager Grace Crunican will take into account, then bring back a preferred option for the board to vote and approve later.

The agency is stepping up its battle with fare evaders, who the agency estimates cost it as much as $25 million annually. The transit agency has added fare evasion officers, raised railings, enclosed elevator areas and is considering modifying its 600 fare gates to prevent people from simply jumping over them.

The first and perhaps simplest option involves making existing gates taller with an additional “cinch,” the mechanical portions of a BART fare gate that opens once you’ve paid.

The second and third options were glass doors that either swing outward or slide outward into slots. But it was the last option that earned all the board’s ire — New York-style turnstiles, taller than the height of people. Those turnstiles are nicknamed “iron maidens” because they resemble a historic torture device with spiked prongs affixed to the doors of a human-sized casket.

While the turnstiles aren’t designed as torture devices, the BART Board of Director’s responses were so negative, they may as well have been.

“We won’t be able to get people out of there in a mass evacuation” with the iron maidens, said Director John McPartland, who represents Alameda county. “That would be a killer.”

“It reminds me more of a jail than anything else,” he added.

Director Rebecca Saltzman, who represents Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, said the iron maiden option would likely lead to longer lines during commute peaks.

“If those lines were doubled, I’m not sure where we’d put those people,” she said, voicing concern they’d need to snake around stations to exit.

That concern didn’t come from nowhere: BART staff noted that egress from the iron maiden would be cut by half. The other options have throughput “comparable” to the existing fare gates. Like the other wholly new options, the iron maidens are estimated to cost between $115 million and $135 million to install systemwide.

BART director Janice Li, who represents San Francisco County, said she lived in New York City where those turnstiles are common. Often, they’re accompanied by a door nearby, she said.

“Everyone goes through that door because of the throughput issue,” she said.

BART staff were not immediately available to confirm to the San Francisco Examiner which option they believe the board indicated they should move forward with.

But at the meeting, many directors seemed in favor of the first option.

BART director and Board President Bevan Dufty favored that simpler approach, as did Li and Liz Ames.

“People putting their hands down and vaulting over would really be minimized by this,” Dufty said.

He also pointed out that the first option gets the most bang for the buck — systemwide installation would only cost between $15 million and $25 million. And it would only take two years at most to install, versus six to seven for the other options.

At least one director was a partial fan of the turnstile-style faregates. Director Mark Foley, who represents Contra Costa County, said he was hoping for a “blended” option that would utilize the turnstiles at some stations, but not all.

“While I’m more of a Metallica fan, I do like Iron Maiden,” he said.

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