There’s an endless variety of people who board the trains at any one of Long Beach’s eight stations along the Blue Line. On a Sunday afternoon, Richard Vargas, 51, sat at the Willow Blue Line Station. He was on his way home to Koreatown after his sister dropped him off at the station. He had spent the day at her home in Orange County to celebrate his mother’s birthday. At a bench close to the parking garage, 78-year-old Carmen Saucedo of West Covina sat alone next to a tiny pink bag on wheels. Dan Brown, 29, finished his day out in Long Beach. He was also on his way home to Los Angeles.
A couple of miles north of the Willow Station, Eric Holiman also waited at the Wardlow Station. He was also hoping to catch one of the northbound trains. The 54-year old Long Beach resident on his way to work waited only a few minutes before the train headed for downtown LA stopped at the platform. Holiman wasn’t pleased to hear about any recommendations to add turnstiles at the station when he was asked to offer an opinion.
“All it’s going to do is slow down the process of boarding the train,” Holiman said. “It’s going to be a madhouse.”
None of the eight stations in the city has any kind of physical barrier or gate that stops a person from getting a free ride on Metro’s Blue Line. Right now Long Beach City officials are hoping to change that, to the chagrin of Holiman and others who don’t think that turnstiles would cut down on the number of riders looking to avoid paying the $1.50 base fare.
Holiman acknowledged that there is a fare-evasion problem, but he pointed out the obvious problem with turnstiles– people could always jump over them.
The light-rail service that connects Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles is about 24 years old now, and Long Beach Vice Mayor Robert Garcia says that the city’s eight train stations are overdue for updates.
Garcia gained unanimous support from the councilmembers at the June 4 meeting when he put forward a recommendation to ask Metro to install turnstiles or some other kind of electronic monitoring system at the stations in Long Beach. There were other elements to his proposal that went beyond the turnstile issue. Part of his recommendation also included a request to repair the public art and signage and to address safety issues at the station.
According to Garcia, about six million riders use the eight train stations every year.
“So the impact that we have is immense,” the vice mayor told the Councilmembers, “and the public safety need that we have is also quite large.”
Garcia said in an interview Wednesday that the safety concerns include crime prevention, but he also stressed the importance of safe crossings for pedestrians. Four out of the eight train stations are in Garcia’s first district.
Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) officials have already begun to address the safety concerns voiced by Garcia. According to a letter issued to city officials by representatives of Metro’s Board of Directors, Metro has committed for the next two years about $21 million to update several rail stations in addition to a total of $172 million in various upgrades to the track, signal systems, wiring and power substations for the Blue Line. To address safety concerns, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has added two deputies each to the morning and evening shifts to patrol four stations in Long Beach. Metro has also added four security personnel assistants to both shifts.
Although Metro is already making a serious financial commitment to Long Beach’s section of the Blue Line, its officials say that installing turnstiles will be problematic at some of the rail stations.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Metro spokesman Rick Jager said that the stations in Long Beach are not scheduled at this time to have any turnstiles, explaining that there is a space problem with the stations that operate on street medians. He described safety concerns that may come when a large number of people are queuing up behind gates if they try to navigate through turnstiles.
Jager described how that scenario may “pose a safety hazard if people are spilling out into the railroad tracks on the streets from the stations.”
Jager said that he looked forward to discussing the issues with city officials. The Council voted to direct the city manager to return in 90 days with a timeline and a plan.
Second District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal acknowledged at the Council meeting that turnstiles aren’t foolproof.
“I don’t think any one of us is naïve about this expectation that somehow turnstiles will magically keep people from doing things they’re not supposed to do,” Lowenthal said Tuesday, but she explained that the turnstiles would at least be a “barrier” to more people.
The possibility of putting in turnstiles didn’t bother Vargas, the Sunday-afternoon traveler at the Willow Station who was headed home to Koreatown. Vargas knows a lot of people don’t pay for a ride on the Metro rail lines. He thought turnstiles were a good idea.
“I…think it’s good [because] people shouldn’t ride for free,” Vargas said. He, however, acknowledges a little bias. He doesn’t pay full price. He said he qualifies for a fare discount since he’s an injured veteran.