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Does the light rail need turnstiles to stop fare evaders? Audit says probably not

Between 4.6-9 percent of passengers aren't buying tickets for the Green Line.
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Metro Transit loses thousands of dollars because of passengers who take advantage of the light rail's honor payment system – but costly turnstiles and physical barriers may not be worth the financial gains from nabbing those fare evaders, a Metropolitan Council audit found.

An internal audit conducted for a month last fall found the Twin Cities' two light rail lines are missing out on up to $28,000 in potential revenue every week. That's about $1 million in lost revenue annually, KSTP says.

Between 4.6-9 percent of passengers aren't buying tickets for the Green Line (roughly $11,000 to $22,000 in lost revenue weekly), while only 2.6-3.6 percent of riders aren't paying on the Blue Line (that's $4,662 to $6,456 in lost revenue every week).

The audit says this is likely an overestimate, but adds there is still room for improvement to bring down the number of passengers who dodge paying their fares, noting inconsistencies with the Metro Transit Police Department's enforcement on fare evaders.

"As the audit asks for us to do, we're going to reevaluate things. We always evaluate things to see where improvement can be made," Howie Padilla, a spokesperson with Metro Transit, told KSTP.

So, how about those turnstiles?

Officials say it's unlikely to get 100 percent of passengers to pay fares all the time. Even public transit systems that have barriers to enter still experience fare evasion – passengers can hop over turnstiles or avoid paying other ways, the audit says.

Think of New York City.

It has a completely enclosed subway system, but a 1994 audit found 2.3-2.6 percent of passengers don't pay the fare, the Metro Transit audit says. The New York Daily News reported last year that fare evasion costs the city up to $100 million a year, and the number of people arrested for evading fares has been on the rise.

Los Angeles added turnstiles to some of its stations in 2009 with the hope of bringing down its 6 percent evasion rate – which added up to about $5 million in lost revenue annually.

Authorities there invested $46 million, noting it would be made back in 10 years if fare evasion was eliminated. But that hasn't been the case – fare evasion is still an issue, even with the turnstiles, the Metro Transit audit notes.

Over the years, these major transit hubs have had to increase their efforts to prevent the growing number of riders who dodge paying their fare, Metro Magazine reported. Efforts include increased law enforcement and people checking tickets, permanently locking gates, and requiring riders to tap their cards when they enter and exit the closed transit system.

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