In 2005 and 2006 MTA New York City Transit modified about fifteen hundred locked access gates within its system so that they can be opened from inside the paid area of a station by a customer pushing on a “panic bar” latch mechanism, which meets state building code specifications. These gates, as modified, are intended to allow customers to immediately pass from the paid to the unpaid area of subway stations and to more quickly evacuate the stations in the case of an emergency. Opening the gate causes an alarm to sound, which serves to notify a station agent of the opening of the gate. The gates are also available for use in non-emergency situations, where station personnel may open the gates upon request to assist customers with strollers, carts or other bulky items. Use of the gates by customers in non-emergency situations without authorization by station personnel is prohibited.
Unfortunately, however, the installation of the panic bar latches has led to a surge in non-emergency use of the access gates. The alarms that were meant to alert station personnel to the opening of the gates are now largely ignored or in some cases appear to have been disabled. As riders become accustomed to hearing the alarms and booth agents and station customer assistants have been removed from subway stations, there is a growing perception that unauthorized use of the access gates is increasing. In response to this perception, the Council decided to monitor locations in the subways with access gates to gauge the degree of improper use of emergency exit gates in the system.
In the summer of 2010 the members of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) observed designated emergency exit gates at nineteen locations within the subway system. In the course of sixteen hours of observations during peak hours and nineteen hours of observations in off-peak hours, surveyors counted a total of 2,308 passengers using designated emergency gates for access to and egress from the paid area of subway stations. Most of this activity involved 2,115 individuals who exited the paid areas of the stations through the emergency gates. Surveyors also observed 193 individuals entering the paid areas of stations through the emergency gates. In 109 cases, these entries into the paid areas appeared to be made in the course of evading fare payment.
These casual observations indicated that there is substantial use of the emergency exit gates in the subway system for non-emergency use and this impression was confirmed by the Council’s survey. While a relatively small part of this use was for the purpose of fare evasion, there is some fare evasion through the emergency gates and at least some of it is facilitated by the improper use of the gates as an exit. To read the full report click here.