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Home Travel Here’s how new BART’s entry gates are meant to reduce ‘mayhem’

Here’s how new BART’s entry gates are meant to reduce ‘mayhem’

by Staff

Prototypes of three different fare gates will debut Thursday at the West Oakland BART Station. The gates are designed to reduce fare evasion.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

On Thursday, riders at BART’s West Oakland Station are expected to be the first to experience the new way of entering the rail system — through fare gates more than 7 feet tall, with sturdy and transparent polycarbonate doors.

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The new gates contrast the hip-level gates BART has used since its inception that are notoriously easy for fare cheats to vault over or push through.

A prototype of new fare gates will launch Thursday at the West Oakland BART Station. 

A prototype of new fare gates will launch Thursday at the West Oakland BART Station. 

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The gates’ debut at West Oakland Station kicks off a $90 million project to replace all BART’s 700-plus gates — including elevator entrances at station platforms — by summer 2025.

Here’s what we know about BART’s new fare gates, and how they differ from the old ones.

How new gates make it difficult to evade fares

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BART’s new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station are the first of the transit system’s rollout.

BART’s new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station are the first of the transit system’s rollout.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

One of the main reasons fare evaders could find it challenging to bypass the new gates is because the clear, saloon-style doors cover most of its height, and sit within inches to the ground. The new gates at the entrance of the West Oakland Station resemble a wall, with a steel bridge above the swing doors connecting the gates.

That design leaves little openings for people to crawl under or vault over the gates.

BART riders will enter stations the same way they did with the old gates, by tapping in with a Clipper card. Then a green arrow will light up underneath the Clipper card reader and the doors will open, swinging away from the rider.  

The agency says the speed of the doors is adjustable. The new gates can also handle higher foot traffic volumes at turnstiles than the old gates, according to BART, meaning less waiting during busy periods.

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Gates redesigned to withstand abuse

Prototypes of three fare gates have been installed and tested at the West Oakland BART Station. The new gates will eventually be installed throughout the system.

Prototypes of three fare gates have been installed and tested at the West Oakland BART Station. The new gates will eventually be installed throughout the system.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

BART laid out 70 pages of technical specifications to build its new gates when it awarded the contract to STraffic America, the company that replaced fare gates for rail systems in Seoul, South Korea, and Washington, D.C.

Those specifications originally called for building gates powered by electric motors and equipped with “software locks” in which the gate doors are programmed to push against people trying to pry them open.

However, BART assistant general manager Sylvia Lamb said tests found applying pressure to the doors created a “little bit of flex in the gate, still more than we would like” with the software lock. So, BART told STraffic to revise the gates’ design to instead include a “mechanical locking system” unique to BART “that would keep the gates still” when people try to force the doors to open, Lamb said.

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“It will be harder to push through these fare gates than any other gate in the world,” Lamb said.

New gates could help BART’s finances  and safety

BART spokesperson Chris Filippi tests prototypes of new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station. The gates will emit an alarm if a commuter’s Clipper card has insufficient funds. 

BART spokesperson Chris Filippi tests prototypes of new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station. The gates will emit an alarm if a commuter’s Clipper card has insufficient funds. 

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

BART officials in 2017 estimated the agency lost up to $25 million in revenue due to fare evasion. That estimate was based on the conservative assumption that between 3% and 6% of riders weren’t paying fares, pre-pandemic.

BART expects to recuperate more fare revenue with the new gates. It couldn’t come at a more needed time for the agency, which projects nine-figure operating deficits starting in 2026 amid a sluggish post-pandemic ridership recovery.

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To date, BART has recovered about 45% of its 2019 ridership, or about 185,000 paying riders on its busiest weekdays.

Prototypes of fare gates are tested by workers at the West Oakland BART Station.

Prototypes of fare gates are tested by workers at the West Oakland BART Station.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

“As we figure out how to balance the budget and how to make ends meet, our agency has been forced to pay far more attention to making riders feel good about riding BART,” said BART Director Debora Allen, who championed the new fare gates.

Allen believes the new gates will improve safety and reliability on BART and reduce “mayhem” in the system, be it criminal activity or antisocial behavior that can stall service or fuel dirtiness on trains.

Though not everyone who fare evades commits other crimes on BART, transit police officials have acknowledged that fare evasion contributes to crime in the system. 

Officers now patrol trains more often, and BART police officials have said that the hardened gates will allow officers to shift more of their focus toward enforcing rules beyond fare payment.

West Oakland gates won’t be a finished product

Prototypes of fare gates have been installed and tested by workers at West Oakland BART Station and are scheduled to launch Thursday.

Prototypes of fare gates have been installed and tested by workers at West Oakland BART Station and are scheduled to launch Thursday.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The gates launching at West Oakland Station won’t include the mechanical locks, and BART anticipates some of the most aggressive fare evaders will be able to push through the new gates.

The new fare gates come equipped with cameras and alarms that will go off when more than one person attempts to pass through the gate, or “piggyback,” as well as when someone tries to jump over or crawl under the gates, according to BART. Tapping in with a Clipper card that has insufficient funds will also trigger the door alarms.

The batch of West Oakland Station gates will include three different gate materials, including framed doors encased with perforated metal. Testing of West Oakland gates will determine the final design of the gates manufactured by STraffic, Lamb said.

BART will install the new gates in batches, and officials will announce the next eight stations to get the gate replacements at the Jan. 11 transit board meeting.

State bailout funds hinge on replacing gates

The West Oakland BART Station is the first in the transit system to receive the new fare gates.

The West Oakland BART Station is the first in the transit system to receive the new fare gates.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The debut of the new gates at West Oakland Station will coincide with an increased discount — 50% off fares — for low-income BART riders.

BART will collect fare evasion data

About 25% of riders report seeing acts of fare evasion, according to recent BART quarterly performance reports. However, the true prevalence of fare evasion on BART is not known because the agency doesn’t track such data.

That will change with the new fare gates, which will come equipped with sensors that can track how often people push through the gates and try to evade fares.

BART officials acknowledge that the new gates won’t put a stop to fare cheats, particularly the most aggressive offenders. It’s unclear how effective the new gates will be in reducing fare evasion. For reference, the gates STraffic manufactured for D.C.’s Metrorail, with gates shorter than BART’s new ones, brought down fare evasion by 70%.

Signs will accompany the prototypes of the new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station.

Signs will accompany the prototypes of the new fare gates at the West Oakland BART Station.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Allen is hopeful the new gates will end casual fare evasion from people who can afford fares but choose to not pay because of permissive enforcement.

“Along with the people committing mayhem who don’t pay, there are regular working people who have watched the people who don’t pay, for years, throw their hands up and say, ‘Well, why should I pay? ’ ” Allen said.

The reaction at West Oakland BART

The senior manager for Bart’s engineering programs Wahid Amiri stood at the West Oakland station Thursday morning alongside other Bart staff watching people use the gates for the first time. Police watched nearby. Amiri said extra people were stationed at the Bart stop to support the transition. 

The morning went smoothly and there were no reported tech issues, Amiri said. 

Martha Lincoln, who typically commutes to work via Bart, did not have any issues getting through the new gates with her bike, but is not a fan of the change. 

“Seems like a lot of resources are being used to criminalize the poor,” she said. 

Alvin Williams, who rides Bart daily, believed no one was trying to evade the Bart fare at the station Thursday morning because of the police watching, but guessed people could still get through without paying if they ran through the doors at the same time as another person.  

Out of curiosity a man Williams was with tried pressing on a closed gate door to see if someone could push through, but it did not budge.

“They want their money,” Williams said. 

Staff writer Clare Fonstein contributed to this report.

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