Trust Me

Los Angeles' subway system is installing turnstiles on one of its three lines. No, not new turnstiles. First-ever turnstiles. Incredibly, L.A.'s rail system has operated since 1993 without turnstiles.
August 2002
By Otis White  |  Contributor
President of Civic Strategies Inc.

Los Angeles' subway system is installing turnstiles on one of its three lines. No, not new turnstiles. First-ever turnstiles. Incredibly, L.A.'s rail system has operated since 1993 without turnstiles. Riders purchase rail tickets at self-service vending machines (fares are $1.35), then take their tickets on board. If a police officer asks, you have to show the ticket or face a $250 fine. (Portland, Oregon, and a few other American cities, plus many transit systems in Europe, do it the same way.) The L.A. honor system, begun as a publicity ploy when the subway opened, has worked just fine, transit officials say, with about 95 percent of riders paying their way. So why change things? Because the transit system is changing the way it staffs stations and trains by hiring more civilians and fewer cops. Without as many officers to write tickets, another enforcement mechanism was needed. Hence, the turnstiles. Interestingly, the system's other lines will continue with the honor system, as will a fourth line that opens this summer.


Ever hear of the Free Trade Area of the Americas? Not many have. It is an agreement, reached in 1994, to create a free-trade zone for the entire Western Hemisphere by 2005. It is an awesome undertaking, now in its final stages, involving 34 countries from Canada to Argentina. Closest comparison: the European Union. Which brings us to this question: Where will the Brussels of this massive trade zone be? There are at least five cities in the running to host the headquarters or secretariat, as it's called: Mexico City, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. This is no small prize. The winning city can expect to become a hub for companies looking to serve the Western Hemisphere. Who has the inside track? Clearly, Miami, which was the site of the summit that began the FTAA process in 1994. Business leaders have raised $2 million to bring the headquarters there, and Miami begins with advantages, including airline connections to Latin America and a large bilingual population. On the surface, the least likely candidate is Atlanta. But Atlanta has two advantages: a huge international airport and a strong business community (Coca-Cola, UPS, Delta Air Lines), which is committed to nabbing the secretariat. Don't think much of Atlanta's chances? As people there like to point out, nobody gave their city much of a chance in 1990, either. That's when Atlanta stunned countries all over the world by winning the right to host the 1996 Summer Olympics.


If Washington, Madison and Hamilton were picking a place for the constitutional convention today, it's almost a sure bet they wouldn't pick Philadelphia. Then again, few are. The Philadelphia Convention Center is booked for only 9 percent of its capacity for five years from now. In 1997, it was booked for 59 percent of its capacity five years out. Worse, only 17 percent of groups meeting at the convention center say they'd return. What gives? Labor problems so bad one meeting planner called them "hellish." Example: In some cases, trade show exhibitors were denied permission to work in their own booths. The situation is made worse because three trade unions fight constantly over who's supposed to do work at the center. A consultant's recommendation: Rein in the unions, force them to create a single workforce and let the customers, not the unions, pick the foremen and skilled workers. It might happen. The convention center authority is asking the state legislature for $232 million to expand the center. The legislature's response: not until the authority cleans up its union problems.


There's nothing small about Texas--and nothing small about how Texans approach transportation. Example: the proposed Trans Texas Corridor. The Texas Transportation Commission announced this astonishing 4,000- mile network of highways, rail lines and pipeline rights of way in January. Now, the commission has drawn the maps of where the roads, rails and pipelines will go. Biggest winners: Houston and Dallas. The idea is to create a new group of highways to complement the interstate highway system, but with significant differences. First, there won't be many exits. This is a system for people who want to go long distances fast. Second, trucks and cars will travel in different lanes (two in each direction for trucks, three for cars). Third, the corridors will make room for rail (three lines in each direction for high-speed freight, high-speed passenger and conventional commuter rail and freight). The cost over 50 years to build the entire system: a staggering $183 billion. Most astonishing, state planners say they intend to build most of it without federal or state funds. They think the money will come from private investors, who will share in the corridors' tolls. State officials call the Trans Texas Corridor "the most significant thing since the interstate highway system in terms of serving transportation in our state." They may be understating it. The new system, when completed, will be bigger than the Texas interstates.