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Fare evasion on the Orange Line has fallen, transit officials say

Fare evasion along the Metro Orange Line has fallen significantly since law enforcement began a more aggressive campaign to check passengers' fares and issue citations and warnings, authorities said Tuesday. 

The ratio of passengers riding the San Fernando Valley busway for free fell to 7% and ticket misuse fell to 5% after more Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies began checking fares and doing it more frequently, officials said at a Van Nuys news conference. 

"This was only accomplished with a focus on enforcement," said Cmdr. Mike Klaus, who leads the L.A. County sheriff's team that patrols the Metro system. "Failure to tap, even if you have a valid pass, may result in a citation or a fine." 

The new data presented Tuesday -- from a sampling conducted in December and again in February -- followed a recent Sheriff's Department audit that found more than 25% of Orange Line passengers had either not paid or had not paid correctly.  

Each day about 30,000 people use the Orange Line, which connects commuters in Chatsworth and Woodland Hills with the Red Line's northern terminus in North Hollywood.

Waiting areas on the line resemble light-rail platforms more than bus stops. Passengers are supposed to tap plastic ticket cards on stand-alone pillars that automatically deduct the fare amount. The platforms do not have turnstiles, and Orange Line buses do not have fare boxes.

Tackling fare evasion will require enforcement and education, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said. Some passengers, particularly those who don't ride every day, may not know how to use the electronic ticketing system or may not realize that even if they buy a fare and add it to their card, they are still required by law to tap before boarding.

In coming weeks, passengers will see new signs with such reminders. 

Finding a solution to reduce fare evasion makes financial sense but will be tough, Los Angeles City Councilman and Metro director Paul Krekorian told The Times. The added revenue from fares might not offset the cost of installing turnstiles, he said. 

"It's hard to make the argument that it's cost effective" if gating is more expensive than the money that comes in, Krekorian said. He added that although gates force most passengers to pay, they also slow down the boarding process -- and some platforms are too small to accommodate turnstiles.

Metro staff members are expected to make a report to the board of directors next month that analyzes the possibility of adding gates to the Orange Line. The report is also expected to address whether new light-rail lines in Los Angeles County's sprawling commuter rail system can be outfitted with gates or something else to prevent fare evasion.

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Twitter: @laura_nelson

laura.nelson@latimes.com

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