The chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority defended its much-mocked new subway gates and emergency-exit timers as the authority estimates losing $690 million to fare jumpers.
Chairman Janno Lieber admitted Wednesday that the easily opened $700,000 gates the MTA tested at the Suptin Boulevard-Archer Avenue station weren’t full-proof.
“We might, in retrospect, have chosen a different model,” Lieber said.
.”We’re going to to continue to experiment, this is not what we’re putting in, in the whole system and it’s being adjusted to deal with some of its shortcomings.”
He argued the gates were a partial success, with fare collection at the station having jumped 20 percent since they were installed.
He also knocked critics of the subway’s new 15-second timers that aim to discourage straphangers from using the emergency doors to leave the station.
Officials believe that reducing the number of times the emergency doors are opened will reduce the number of chances for fare cheats to sneak in without paying — but lefty political activists and commentators online have compared the changes to the decisions made by the sweatshop owners of the Triangle Waistshirt Factory.
That led to the deadliest infernos in city history and subsequent efforts to impose worker safety regulations in the early 1900s.
“It’s not funny and it’s not relevant, you’re making light of a tragedy in New York’s history,” a visibly irritated Lieber told reporters.
“We’ve gotten approval from the code authorities, the fire experts on how to do it, and we’re gonna do it,” he continued, “because we’re not letting New Yorkers who walk up to the turnstile and pay their fare — and look over at somebody who has their Metrocard in their hand or their OMNY open on their phone decide that they’re going to go for the gate because it’s open.”
MTA officials have long pursued sign-offs from state safety regulators to begin testing the timed emergency gates near the turnstiles.
They will be installed at three stations as part of the pilot: 59th-Lexington Avenue (No. 4,5 and 6), 138-Grand Concourse in The Bronx (4/5) and Flushing Avenue (J/M) stop on the Bushwick-South Williamsburg border in Brooklyn.
The modified doors will have signs that inform riders of the timers.
Officials also said Wednesday that the motorized doors equipped with fare readers at wheelchair-accessible subway stations — known as AutoGates — will not have timers installed.
The timers are one of a slew of shorter-term efforts the agency is pursuing to clamp down on fare evasion, which soared post-pandemic.
Just 3 percent of riders hopped the turnstile in the first quarter of 2018: a number that tripled to 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2022 and rose again to 13.3 percent during the last quarter of 2023.
The problem is even worse on the city bus system, where nearly half of riders board without paying, stats show.
Exact figures for the amount lost to fare-beating in 2023 have not yet been released, but Lieber said the toll would likely be higher than the $690 million in 2022.
The growing toll put the agency’s finances under strain and, officials argue, contributed to drop-offs that riders reported in feeling safe underground.
Officials have announced that they are installing tighter gearing on turnstiles to stop riders from being able to wiggle through and the MTA has installed new locks on the emergency doors in the stations after discovering that copies of the old master keys had become widely available. Officials also hired private security guards to stand near the emergency exits at stations to discourage people from sneaking in.
Ultimately, the MTA officials believe — and transit advocates largely agree — that a redesign of the subway system’s fare gates is necessary to fix the problem.
Fare gates commonly used in Europe feature tall plastic doors that are much more difficult to jump or squeeze through. The doors close quickly to prevent people skipping fares from trailing in behind paying riders, but the mechanism is designed to stay open longer for those with wheelchairs, strollers or riders in wheelchairs.
However, New York’s first attempt at using an imported gate setup was quickly hacked by a social media star who showed in a widely shared video how they could be defeated just by leaning over and waving at an ill-placed sensor, which would open the doors.
Officials have said they are working to modify those gates and are actively pursuing other designs from manufacturers that would be harder to beat.
Those proposals are due back on Feb. 29.