For months, the NYPD and the MTA have been cracking down on fare evaders on New York City’s subways and buses. On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 500 NYPD, MTA, and Bridge and Tunnel officers will soon be taken off their current beats and assigned to 100 different farebeating “hotspots” across town.
“More and more people are evading the fare and getting on the trains without paying, or the buses without paying,” Cuomo told reporters at a press conference, claiming that farebeaters were costing the MTA more than $240 million each year. “That is not only a legal violation, it’s unfair to everyone.”
Late last year, as it projected a $1 billion budget shortfall, the MTA said it had lost around $215 million from fare evasion according to its own internal surveys, and New York City Transit President Andy Byford partially blamed Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s decision to stop criminally prosecuting fare evaders. Over the first three months of 2019, summonses for farebeating doubled compared to the same time period in 2018—from 10,511 to 21,112, though arrests have decreased from 2,599 to 1,144.
Cuomo said that deterring fare evasion at 50 bus stops and 50 subway stations will be the “primary deployment” for the 200 MTA police officers, 200 NYPD officers, and 100 reassigned MTA bridge and tunnel officers, but a recent spate of violence against transit workers was another reason to put more cops in the system.
“We've had 2,300 harassment incidents of MTA employees, 100 assaults—stabbings, punching, violence against MTA employees,” Cuomo said. “We cannot allow it. They do not deserve it. They need more protection.”
Critics argued that staffing up transit police to crackdown on fare evaders is missing the point. The Legal Aid Society called Cuomo’s announcement part of a “further criminalization of low-income New Yorkers,” and MTA board member and Community Service Society president David Jones said much of the problem of fare evasion stems from the authority’s own issues with malfunctioning equipment and the difficulty bus riders have in refilling their MetroCards.
“It's certainly not because everyone are evildoers. Many of these are economic problems that are starting to play out,” Jones said.
District Attorney Vance, who shared the stage with Cuomo during Monday’s announcement, emphasized the need for deterrence rather than criminal enforcement of farebeating, as the latter resulted in “expenditure of a lot of money for very little criminal justice benefit.”
After pointing out the need to be wary of the “racial disparity in prosecutions” for fare evasion, Vance noted that drivers who skip a toll are not subject to the same severe penalties.
“If you are an individual and you drive through an E-Z toll, you are not going to get arrested, you are going to get a ticket...If you are driving down the West Side highway at 65 miles an hour, you are not going to get arrested, you are going to get a ticket,” Vance said. “So, it is unclear to me why, as a matter of equity, if you commit a $2.75 theft, you should be prosecuted and, at the same time for that, incur thousands of dollars in cost, perhaps in each case that is prosecuted, to no material benefit that occurs in court that I can see.”
To that end, Vance said his office was giving $40 million to the MTA to come up with other ways of combating fare evasion, including stationing transit workers near exit gates in the subways, adding more surveillance cameras, designing better subway entrances, and reactivating those terrible, screeching gate alarms.