The MTA is taking a new approach to addressing the ongoing issue of fare evasion across its system. In addition to posting police at subway turnstiles and on buses checking whether people paid, MTA chairman Janno Lieber has repeatedly tried to appeal to New Yorkers' sense of fairness by pitting paying customers against fare evaders, repeatedly saying that people who pay the fare feel like “suckers” when they see others hopping turnstiles or going through the exit gate. 

With a projected $245-million loss due to subway fare evasion, Lieber has created a panel to look more deeply at the social, physical (like turnstile design) and economic factors that lead to fare evasion, with a report expected next fall. 

The agency expects to lose $205 million to fare evasion on buses, so the MTA has called on drivers to prohibit people from entering through the rear doors, even though there are OMNY readers at the front and back. The MTA has also announced a renewed crackdown on toll evasion, where it expects to lose $50 million this year to toll cheats. Fare and toll evasion total an estimated $500 million in losses, but make up a small fraction of the MTA’s $18.5 billion budget.

Gothamist asked subway riders if they felt like “suckers” when they see people jumping turnstiles or entering through the emergency exit gates. Most said it didn’t bother them, and some also shared their most pressing concerns about the subways, including safety and accessibility.

Here’s what 10 people said:

Williams Banks, 29, East New York (pictured at top)

Does he feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“In New York, you’re taught not to watch anybody — you get how you get there, I get how I get there. We’re all just trying to get somewhere … I don’t care about other people, I try not to, otherwise we’d all be mad watching everyone ride for free and I’m swiping. It sucks, but, at the end of the day, everybody gotta do what they gotta do.”

What he’d want improved:

“Everything! Like, what, the fare price? We’re paying too much for nothing. Everything’s dirty … trains never come here on time.”

Kellie Johnson

Kellie Johnson, 40, Far Rockaway

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“I don’t feel like a sucker because I feel like some people have and some people don’t. If I can help – and I’m coming out and I have an extra swipe – and I see someone standing there, before they can even ask me, I’ll ask, ‘You need a swipe?’ You never know what people are going through these days … you can’t get mad at people trying to get to work doing all this [fare evasion] just to make money.”

What she’d want improved:

“They need to have better token booth clerks so when people come to them to talk to them and explain their situation they’re not just being told ‘go find a cop.’ Because half the time cops are not in the train station.”

Sarah Rothberg

Sarah Rothberg, 34, Greenpoint

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“I feel like, good for them, jump the turnstile, I don’t care. New York is a city with a lot of inequality, and I think transportation is a right of a city, and I think it should be free for everyone.”

What she’d want improved:

“I think it’s really inaccessible for people and they should double down on making it easier for people to get around.”

Adriana Morote

Adriana Morote, 36, Forest Hills

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“I do feel like everyone should pay, but I also feel like there is no security, the subways aren’t clean … I don’t think people will mind paying, if they have a better service … And at the end of the day, why pay when you can just jump? So, today you don’t pay the fare, tomorrow something else will happen, because they already know, nobody is there looking for us.”  

What she’d want improved:

“I want security, it’s not good to feel unsecure, feeling you’re goin to be maybe harassed or robbed.” 

Bert Gervais

Bert Gervais, 38, Long Island 

Does he feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“If one person poisons the pool, why should I keep that pond clean? … if it’s a 12-year old kid trying to get to the Boys and Girls Club, I’m not mad, but if it’s an adult, it’s not fair. Everyone is scraping by in New York … just pay the three bucks, chip in, especially now. If there was ever a time when everyone needed to chip in to feel part of a community with everything going on, it’s definitely right now.”

What he’d want improved:

“I think fare evasion is a concern if it’s going to put the MTA in a bad financial spot and change the way they deliver services. I think safety and cleanliness are important as a subway rider, but if fare evasion takes away from them being able to innovate, keep this place clean, keep it safe, then it should be a concern for all of us.”

Tasha Jones

Tasha Jones, 47, Rockaway Park

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“Because it’s hard times for so many people, I feel like you should just ask, ‘Hey, excuse me, could I go through the door? Could I get an extra swipe?’ We’re not gonna go anywhere if we can’t help each other out. It really doesn’t bother me.  

Tiana Rodriguez

Tiana Rodriguez, 20, Brooklyn

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“I do [feel like a sucker], so next time I get on the train, I’m gonna hop. Imma get mine’s back …  I hopped coming here. The [exit gate] doors open, I’m going through the door. If it’s open, it’s open, that was God’s sign telling me to save my money.”

Keith Squires

Keith Squires, 65, East New York 

Does he feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“Everybody's suffering out here, we going through COVID, you can’t afford a lot of things in life, and everything’s going up [in price] … and everybody’s trying to survive getting from point A to point B, that’s all we can do right now.”

What he’d want improved:

“Put more better bathrooms, everybody’s gotta use the bathroom sometimes.”

Sarah Dow

Sarah Dow, 26, Queens 

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“Personally, I don’t really care. I don’t worry about it because I don’t know what other people are going through to the point to know whether they’re struggling, if they can’t afford it, so that’s not my business.”

Bruce Maffeo

Bruce Maffeo, 69, Park Slope

Does he feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“People have been jumping turnstiles since subways have been running.” 

What he’d want improved:

“Having the F train run on time.”

Annette Renaud

Annette Renaud, 65, Bedford-Stuyvesant

Does she feel like a sucker for paying the subway fare? 

“I don’t know why that individual is jumping a turnstile. I’ve had to go over some time. I was once living in a domestic violence shelter and I had to make meetings and there were times I had no funds.”

What she’d want improved:

“If there’s another incident [like] at 36th Street [subway shooting in Sunset Park] where the employees and the passengers somehow could be safeguarded if we’re in another car and it’s going on in one car. Technology… so people… in other cars could stay safe, along with alert[ing] [someone] outside the subway. So as soon as that train pulls in they catch the perp.”