MTA, NYPD struggle to rein in rising fare evasion on NYC buses, subways
Officers issued 40,323 tickets for fare evasion during the first six months of 2022
By Clayton Guse
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — At the Bowling Green subway station recently, a pair of well-dressed men leaving work in the Financial District showed little regard for the finances of the MTA.
The duo jumped the turnstiles in unison before heading to the uptown platform. A trio of more casually dressed younger riders soon followed them. One of those riders jumped a turnstile and opened an emergency gate to let the other two riders in.
These acts of petty public theft happened steps away from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s lower Manhattan headquarters — and transit officials are growing more concerned such behavior will grow more common among New Yorkers from all walks of life.
Officials estimate the agency will give roughly $500 million in free rides in 2022 to people who skip the fare.
At the base bus and subway fare of $2.75, that’s about 180 million acts of fare evasion a year cutting into the MTA’s budget, which faces a $2.5 billion deficit come 2024.
“It’s a sieve,” said Andrew Albert, who represents riders’ interests on the MTA board. “Fare evasion has become so nonchalant because there’s no enforcement.”
An MTA survey released earlier this year estimated 12.5% of subway riders and 29% of bus riders don’t bother paying for their rides.
Before the pandemic, MTA’s surveys in 2019 found about 4% of subway riders and 25% of bus riders skipped their fares. Ridership is down about 35% from then.
MTA Chairman Janno Lieber recently has taken steps to address the problem, including convening a panel of “distinguished New Yorkers” to come up with solutions to the issue.
Officials expect the group’s recommendations to include a redesign of subway fare gates to make them harder to jump over.
“We expect the panel to recommend fresh approaches for each of its ‘4 E’s’: education, enforcement, environment (design and technology) and equity,” said MTA special counsel Jeremy Feigelson.
The equity element is crucial for members of the MTA board like David Jones, who also heads the Community Service Society of New York.
Jones has for years decried data that show that Black and Latino New Yorkers account for the vast majority of fare evasion arrests, despite MTA surveys suggesting the crime is widespread across all races and ethnic groups.
NYPD enforcement of fare evasion is up slightly this year from before the pandemic. Cops issued 40,323 tickets for fare evasion — each costing $100 — during the first six months of 2022, according to data published by the MTA. That’s up about 2.5% from the corresponding period of 2019, when cops issued 39,347 summonses.
Police have even taken up creative methods in their efforts to catch fare evaders.
An NYC Transit source says police have gone undercover in MTA vests at the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn, and have been seen ticketing people who jump turnstiles.
The MTA has even turned to private security to help address the problem.
MTA spokesman John McCarthy said the agency earlier this year began deploying private security guards at stations where vandals regularly bust up MetroCard vending machines.
The idea — which McCarthy said came after NYC Transit President Richard Davey witnessed a scammer during his first day on the job — is to stop criminals who break the machines and then collect cash from riders after they open the subway emergency slam gates.
Albert said he has a problem with the lack of police enforcement of fare evasion. But he sees a complete redesign of turnstiles as the key to putting a lid on the problem, and that he’d worked with former NYC Transit President Andy Byford on new designs that would cover entryways from floor to ceiling, making them impossible to hop over.
“I think a new fare entry system would pay for itself in the long run,” said Albert. “But now I cannot take a ride without noticing multiple instances of fare evasion. I sometimes yell at people, ‘You want to see service cuts? Keep doing that!’ ”