Asking a subway rider for a MetroCard swipe as he or she heads back to street level is no longer an offense punishable by arrest. Under a new policy instated this week, NYPD officers can issue a $25-50 ticket for a swipe request, or a summons for a court appearance in Lower Manhattan.

The NYPD is following the lead of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who suspended arrests for all low-level offenses in his borough—from turnstile jumping to public urination—in March. Announcing the change earlier this spring, Vance argued that it would conserve NYPD resources and deter about 10,000 cases from criminal court.

Requesting a swipe on another straphanger's unlimited MetroCard is not technically a violation of MTA policy. According to the authority, riders only have to wait until their own ride is complete before passing off the favor. But the ask violates two NYPD rules—it counts as "begging or panhandling," and can impede "free movement of passengers."

In a statement to the NY Times, NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Joseph Fox argued that continuing to enforce these rules is "integral to maintaining the civility for each of our millions of riders," adding that, "riders have come to expect... to travel without... being subject to overt acts of criminality and disorder."

But transit activists counter that many desperate straphangers aren't being overly aggressive when they ask for a swipe. More importantly, they often don't have another choice. A joint study [PDF] released this month by the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society—a nonprofit that advocates for low-income New Yorkers—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.

According to the Police Reform Organizing Project, the NYPD made 29,000 arrests for fare beating in 2015—more than any other type of arrest.

Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said in a statement that her firm sees thousands of clients annually who have been arrested for fare beating. "The vast majority of people arrested for this offense are Black or Latino," she said. "Many are detained on Rikers Island at a cost of about $500 per day simply because they might not be able to afford a $2.75 subway fare."

"This is a real problem for a lot of people," said Riders Alliance spokesman Nick Sifuentes on Monday. "This isn't just a couple of people asking for swipes."

The Riders Alliance recently launched a campaign for City-funded half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. Under the proposed plan, a single ride would cost about $1.35 and riders who purchase monthly cards could save up to $700 per year. "Look, it's good that the penalty is being reduced," Sifuentes said of the NYPD's new swipe policy. "But if the City really wants to do something about this, the right thing to do is a reduced fare program—people who can't pay now would be able to afford a ride."

PROP Director Robert Gangi argues that, judging by his own frequent observations in arraignment court, the majority of defendants arrested for swipe solicitation walk away without any charges. A recent PROP report found that of 498 arraignments observed in Manhattan and Brooklyn courts between last October and March of this year, 479, or 96.2% of them, resulted in the defendant walking out of the courtroom.

"Being arrested is a difficult and harrowing experience," Gangis said on Monday. But he argues that a fine is not a huge improvement on the old practice. "The painful irony of fining someone who can't pay $2.75 for the subway, is that you're putting an additional hardship on people who are already poor," he said.