getting around

The Beginning of the End of the Turnstile

Photo: Clio Chang

In its Blue-Ribbon Panel report on fare evasion, the MTA described the various means of jumping a standard turnstile with what you could interpret as begrudging respect. “All require a high degree of intention,” reads the report. “Some require athleticism.” Evading the new gates at the Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue station in Queens — swinging doors that stand about four feet high — demand perhaps even more intention, more athleticism. “People still do it,” an MTA worker told me on a calm Wednesday afternoon — while it’s much harder, they still manage to double up or crawl under. The long-armed can even activate the exit sensors with a little bit of stretching. Some even still jump, he said. “I was surprised.”

The Blue-Ribbon report, released in May, recommended the gates as a new tool in the MTA’s battle against fare-beating, but they’re also significantly wider and easier for bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs to move through. In place of the emergency exit, there is also now an even bigger gate. I watched as a commuter named Sylvester Uwadiegwu easily rolled his e-bike through one of the extra-wide turnstiles. He liked the new setup. “If you try to jump it, you might injure yourself,” he said.

The Sutphin gates are a trial balloon in a wider campaign against fare evasion, a pet obsession of the mayor’s. (“If we start saying it’s all right for you to jump the turnstile, we are creating an environment where any and everything goes,” he said last year as the NYPD began a new crackdown, an effort that has mostly criminalized poor New Yorkers of color.) The new gates are built by the same contractor that designed OMNY and were part of a preexisting contract, with installation costing just under $700,000. (Instead of all of this complicated and expensive work, perhaps public transportation could just be free?) Penn Station will be getting its own gates soon enough, and New York City Transit president Rich Davey said that he was hoping to get the formal bidding process started on additional gates “early in the new year.”

As is the case with all new tech, there are design glitches. As I watched people enter and exit with their rolling luggage — the station was chosen because it connects with the AirTrain — one of the gates ended up getting stuck with the doors open. Nobody walked through, but they certainly could. After a few minutes, the station worker positioned himself in front of it, looking a little bewildered. “If ten people go in, you’re not able to do anything.”

The Beginning of the End of the Turnstile