After months of advocacy from transit riders and public defenders, Mayor Bill de Blasio declined this week to fund a $50 million pilot program for half-price MetroCards. De Blasio has consistently indicated his unwillingness to fund multiple versions of the proposal in this year's fiscal budget, despite advocates' insistence that doing so would reduce fare beating arrests and help poor New Yorkers get to work and school.
"I lament that we were not able to come to an agreement to support poverty-stricken New Yorkers struggling to pay for public transportation," stated City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez on Tuesday.
"For those that choose to jump the turnstile because they can't afford a ride, they put themselves at risk of entering the criminal justice system, or, if undocumented, at risk of deportation," he added, pledging to continue fighting for reduced fares.
"The MTA is the responsibility of the state and they should consider funding the program," a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio told us ahead of the budget deadline.
"The MTA already makes a substantial commitment to low-income City riders," countered MTA Spokeswoman Beth DeFalco in an email last fall, referring to programs like Access-A-Ride and free fares for students.
A recent study [PDF] released by transit reform advocates found that more than a quarter of low-income working New Yorkers were unable to afford subway or bus fare at least once in 2015. The NYPD arrested 5,137 New Yorkers for fare evasion between January and mid-March this year, according to the Riders Alliance, 90 percent of whom are black or Latino. Last year, fare evasion was NYC's second most common arrest charge, resulting in nearly 26,000 arrests.
In order to hammer home the scale of arrests, Queens Councilman Rory Lancman today announced in-draft legislation that would require the NYPD to regularly report granular data on fare evasion arrests and summonses—data it has thus far reportedly been reluctant to share with the MTA Board.
MTA board member David Jones on legislation requiring NYPD to publicly report fare evasion arrest info pic.twitter.com/svfqlfMzBC
— Madina Toure (@madinatoure) June 7, 2017
Lancman would like the NYPD to report the number of arrests and summonses each month, with breakdowns by race and individual subway station.
"I think it will paint a very unflattering picture," the councilman told Gothamist on Wednesday. "Overwhelmingly fare evasion is a crime of poverty. People don't risk arrest for not paying a couple dollars [for] fare, unless that couple dollars really means a lot to them."
"It begs the question of whether we should be prosecuting jumping turnstiles as a crime, whereas, when I don't pay the parking meter, I just get a ticket," he added.
Lancman has urged de Blasio to move all low-level, nonviolent quality of life offenses from the criminal code to the civil code, and hopes this latest legislation will help the case. Though the City Council passed legislation to this effect last spring, beat cops still have discretion, and can choose to issue a criminal summons if they see fit.
NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox tweeted this winter that 73 percent of people stopped for fair evasion are issued a summons and not arrested. Cops are instructed to prioritize repeat offenders and individuals with open warrants for arrest, according to City Hall.
Mayor de Blasio has been resistant to decriminalizing turnstile jumping. As for Lancman's legislation, spokesman Austin Finan told Gothamist Wednesday that, "The NYPD has taken real and meaningful steps to increase transparency through new tools and technology like CompStat 2.0.," and, "City Hall and the department will review this bill as part of that ongoing effort."
An NYPD spokesperson said the department "looks forward to reviewing the bill to determine if we are able capture and provide this data in the way the bill envisions."