Transit officials have struggled for years with two of the subway system’s most vexing problems: the dozens of people struck by trains every year and the millions of dollars lost to fare beaters. In the latest efforts to find solutions, they are testing new fare gates to stop turnstile jumpers and metal platform barriers to keep riders safe.
New Yorkers have not been impressed.
At the 191st Street station on the No. 1 line in Manhattan, rows of waist-high, canary yellow screens made of perforated metal were bolted onto the platforms earlier this month. The simple fences bridged gaps between the station’s pillars but still left ample openings in which riders could reach the tracks or fall on them.
About 15 miles away at the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue station in Queens, transit crews have replaced the system’s familiar turnstiles with glowing green fare gates that feature panels that swing open like saloon doors. Some transit riders who wanted to avoid paying their fares had already discovered that they didn’t need to jump over these gates: The panels opened so slowly that two people could squeeze in at once.
The pilot projects are trying to solve intractable problems. Over the last three years, as more riders have returned to transit, more have been hit and killed by trains. And fare evasion drains millions of dollars annually from a system that, until recently, had been on the brink of a fiscal crisis.
During an evening rush hour last week, riders gave poor reviews to the metal barriers in Manhattan, which are being added in three other stations.
“Another waste of money,” said Rebeca Madrigal, 50, a teacher who works near the 191st Street station. “They should use it on more service.”
That same day, police officers at the Queens station pushed out of the station a steady stream of people who had skipped payment by slipping in behind each other through the new gates. The new gates have also been installed in three other stations.
“I don’t like them,” said Vilma Berrezueta, 25, an electrician from Queens on her way home.
The gates didn’t seem to do much to deter fare evasion, she said. “If people don’t want to pay,” Ms. Berrezueta said in Spanish, “it will be just as easy to cross as at any other station.”
Transit officials said they were trying to see what works and what doesn’t and hadn’t committed to either device. Richard Davey, the president of New York City Transit, a division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, noted that the technology is being tested on a small scale. Authority officials said that the eight fare gates at the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue station cost about $700,000 in total. They did not say how much the metal fences had cost.
The M.T.A. has not identified a timeline or provided many specifics for the pilot programs but said that officials intend to study the way that riders interact with the devices and how well they stand up to wear and tear.
Yonah Freemark, a transportation and land-use researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, complimented the M.T.A. for trying new things. But he was skeptical about the metal barriers and said that the authority should invest in more sophisticated solutions, such as sliding screens that fully block the track area from platforms.
“This feels like a very rudimentary approach,” Mr. Freemark said.
Transit leaders have said they will put more robust platform barriers, known as platform screen doors, in a handful of stations, but have also cautioned that some platforms are too narrow or can’t bear the extra weight of these barriers.
Brian Boucher, 53, a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan, said that the yellow platform barriers were an eyesore.
“They definitely didn’t waste any money on beautifying them,” Mr. Boucher said.
The metal barriers were installed in response to the hundreds of people every year who end up on the tracks: some are suicides, some are shoved by other passengers and some slip and fall. The latest data from the M.T.A. reported 1,322 track intrusions in 2023. Out of 241 transit riders who came in contact with trains last year, 90 were killed — an increase of 43 percent compared with the number of people killed in 2020, when the system had fewer riders because of the pandemic.
The most recent fatal, high-profile incident occurred last week, when a man fell in between cars after his arm apparently became stuck in a closing subway door at a Brooklyn subway station.
The new fare gates were installed last year in hopes that they will help address fare evasion, which cost the authority $690 million in 2022. Officials are considering other options to lessen fare evasion, such as subsidizing travel costs for poor riders.
The M.T.A. is also looking into stopping people from sneaking in through the emergency gates at stations by setting a 15-second delay before they can be opened, according to a spokesman for the authority. The timed delay will be tried out in a pilot program at three subway stations starting next month.
Other cities are trying new fare gate designs, too. In Washington, D.C., officials have installed gates with an L-shaped panel that seem to have cut down on gaps for people to sneak through. Mr. Freemark noted that those have yielded good results.
Not only do the new fare gates allow two passengers to squeeze in; riders have also found other weak spots. A video online shows that the gates could be opened with the wave of a hand over a poorly placed motion sensor. At a state budget hearing last week, Janno Lieber, the chairman of the M.T.A., said that the problem had been fixed.
Hanna Bowman, 25, said that she cared less about the new pilots than she did about run-down train stations.
“There’s definitely other things in the city that need more attention,” said Ms. Bowman, who lives in Manhattan. “Just, like, literally not have stations look like they’re about to cave in.”