Here's what we saw at the West Oakland BART station
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- For years BART has struggled to keep fare evaders off trains. Two weeks ago, BART began testing new 7-foot gates at the West Oakland station. On Thursday, the transit agency will announce the next eight stations where they will be installed.
In the meantime, we showed up unannounced at the West Oakland station. No BART officials were contacted. This way we could observe and record whether or not the new fare gates were effective at deterring evaders.
BART is testing several prototypes to see which door material makes more sense. Why these 7-foot gates?
Let's refresh your memory. For years, the transit agency has struggled to stop anyone with any kind of athletic skill or will who avoided paying by jumping, sliding, squeezing, following, or crawling.
It's hard to put a cost on how much BART loses out yearly, but the transit agency believes it's it loses between 15 and 25 million in unpaid fares this way.
That brings us back to 2024 and the West Oakland Station as BART tries to deter evaders by hardening its system.
We were there for nearly two hours. Let's just say, we've never seen so many people buying or adding money to their Clipper cards.
And during that time, we saw only one person who piggybacked off another paying passenger.
We asked Tito Gomez, a BART rider what he thought of the new fare gates.
Lyanne: "So, you've been taking BART for a long time, I suspect right?"
Tito: "Yeah, a long time."
Lyanne: "Did you ever jump?"
Tito: "Yeah, a couple of times and now this one, is the only one where I can't do it."
To be fair, we believe two other riders mistakenly went through without realizing they were doing anything wrong.
By the way, kids five and older are expected to pay.
Other tried, but were unsuccessful.
One BART agent told his co-workers not to let a non-paying rider open the emergency gate. "Don't let him out that gate," yelled the agent.
A man on his bicycle apparently had used the emergency gate before to exit without paying, but this time it was locked. BART employees asked to see his card.
He was told he had to pay, just like everybody else.
He then left by going back up to the platform to get off at another BART station that doesn't have the new gates and presumably without paying.
To confirm our findings, we decided to return to the same station the following day.
This time we met up with BART spokesperson, Anna Duckworth.
"I can speak anecdotally and from what I've heard from station agents, they say it's been a complete game changer," said Duckworth.
When BART signed the $90 million contract with Straffic, a South Korean Company, they asked for gates that were harder to push through than any other in the world.
"We wanted to have something physical so we have the physical equipment in it that is going to lock those gates so that they cannot be penetrated," added Duckworth.
The mechanical locking brake has yet to be installed but even without it, it was hard to push through.
I asked to try getting past the gate but was unsuccessful. Granted most people are stronger than I am.
BART is working on other issues. For example, people were used to the old system of just tap and go. With this new software, BART riders have to hold it for a little longer.
"We've noticed it, we're working on it. There's a little bit of a delay sometimes from some of the Clipper users and that's why we're testing it, we're working on that timing right now," reveled Duckworth.
Even when that gets addressed, there will still be those who get past without paying.
On Tuesday, we saw a few who followed closely behind another person or waited for the right moment to go through, despite warnings from the station agent.
"Hey, hey, you're supposed to go one at a time," yelled the agent.
"We did see people coming down the stairs and then going right back up to go probably to different station. We expected that but from our riders they're telling us they like it, this is something they've been asking for. They want people to pay their fair share," insisted Duckworth.
We saw proof of that when one man tired to exit without paying by getting behind this bicyclist. The bicyclist refused to let him go through and both got into a heated argument which led to an exchange of words outside the station.
"Try to touch me, try to touch me," threatened the bicyclist.
"I think some people are really determined to not pay to get into the system and if they want to figure out a way to do that, they're going to figure out a way to do that. This is going to make it much harder," said Duckworth.
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