The MTA is plowing ahead with its promised crackdown on fare beaters—though police won't say who, exactly, they are targeting.
According to an NYPD spokesperson, a total of 21,112 summonses were issued to fare beaters in the first three months of this year, compared to 10,522 summonses during the same period in 2018. The more than twofold increase comes after the MTA's own survey of the issue found that the number of subway fare beaters remained "relatively flat" last year.
Still, NYC Transit President Andy Byford continues to trumpet the difficult-to-assess fact that fare beaters cost the MTA approximately $215 million annually. During a board meeting on Monday, Byford thanked the NYPD for their increased presence inside subway stations, and spoke of the need to "get people in the mindset that...you may be intercepted."
Byford, who previously drew the ire of policing reform advocates for blaming an uptick in fare beating on the Manhattan D.A.'s decision to stop prosecuting the charge, was quick to add that such interceptions could be accomplished through civil summonses: "Just to be crystal clear, and for the avoidance of doubt, we actually don't want to arrest anyone, we don't want to criminalize people." (The summons carries a $100 fine, and does not require a criminal court appearance.)
The NYPD seems to be coming around slowly to this view—shared by advocates and now some prosecutors—that the penalty for fare evasion does not need to be criminal charges. In the first quarter of this year, police arrested 1,144 people for misdemeanor theft of services, compared to 2,599 in the first three months of 2018.
At the same time, the number of overall stops for fare beating has skyrocketed, and the racial disparities that have long plagued subway enforcement don't appear to have gone away.
According to David Jones of the Community Service Society, the NYPD has proven "singularly resistant" to releasing the relevant information that would show the scale of the problem. A spokesperson for the police department did not respond to multiple inquiries from Gothamist requesting a breakdown of the arrest and summons data by race and subway station.
In theory, the NYPD is legally obligated to make this information public. A city law passed in 2017 requires the department to share quarterly data on fare evasion-related arrests and summonses broken down by age, sex, race, and location. But the department has routinely flouted key aspects of that law, and are currently being sued for their refusal to comply.
When the NYPD did eventually release the demographic breakdown of last year's stops, it showed that 90 percent of fare evasion arrestees and 65 percent of those who received a summons were people of color.
"You've got communities that are largely white communities, but every single arrest is a person of color," said City Councilmember Rory Lancman, who sponsored the disclosure law, and is currently running for Queens District Attorney. "The reason police refuse to show [arrest data] by station is because it will have the same effect of the 911 call data on marijuana enforcement: the disparities are shocking."
Lancman told Gothamist that he is filing a second lawsuit against the department to demand that it release the fare arrest data. In the meantime, he says, the MTA leaders calling for a crackdown on fare beating should consider the "racially discriminatory manner" in which the law is currently enforced.
That view was echoed by Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance, who told Gothamist that the MTA's focus on fare evaders seems to be diminishing its own credibility among New Yorkers. He noted that the agency’s effort to clamp down on the offense has not addressed the fact that riders are often unable to pay for MetroCards because of busted MTA machinery. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many fare beaters are students, who have a limited amount of swipes to get between class and extracurricular activities.
"The unfortunate part of the discussion around fare evasion is that it tarnishes riders as a group," said Pearlstein. "It blames riders for a wider social phenomenon, and really it harks back to some dark periods like the Giuliani era, where blame was the mainstay of politics."