transit

No Fare: 1 in 5 Bus Riders Don’t Pay

Riders boarding via the back door of a bus at West 231st Street in The Bronx.
Riders boarding via the back door of a bus at West 231st Street in The Bronx. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The MTA is getting taken for a ride: New agency numbers show a spike in bus passengers who don’t pay the fare.

More than one in five bus riders – close to 370,000 every day – skipped paying in the last three months of 2018, according to new figures that show the MTA lost about $225 million last year to fare evasion on its buses and subways.

That’s more than double what the MTA estimates it lost to fare evasion just three years earlier.

“It’s a terrible problem,” said Andrew Albert, an MTA board member who represents the New York City Transit Riders Council. “It adds to the deficit and you might eventually get service cuts due to this because management thinks the ridership isn’t there, when actually, more people are just riding for free.”

The fare-evasion surge has been especially pronounced on the buses, which in 2013 had about 210,000 daily fare evaders, according to the MTA.

Bus drivers have been advised not to tangle with fare beaters. A Brooklyn bus driver was stabbed to death in 2008 during a dispute with a fare-beater in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“There’s a button on the farebox that we press every time we get shortchanged,” said Willie Rivera of Transport Workers Union Local 100, who drove a bus for six years. “It’s gotten so bad with people not paying that the (bus) operators aren’t even pressing the button now. The bus operators are just so tired of seeing this happen.”

“It’s like nobody pays,” Miriam Allen, 62, said while waiting Friday at a bus stop at West 231st Street in The Bronx. “When they open that back door, people are already lined up to avoid paying the fare.

“It’s disgusting.”

The fare-evasion figures point to more pain at the MTA, whose leadership has aggressively pushed for tolling motorists into the most congested parts of Manhattan to drum up money for the financially strapped transit agency.

Next Stop: Fare-Evasion Battle Plan

Agency leaders are expected during Monday’s monthly MTA committee meetings to detail plans to combat fare evasion on the buses.

“Fare evasion deprives the transit system of hundreds of millions of dollars needed to run and improve service, is unfair to the majority of customers who do pay to ride, and we’re engaging in and exploring a wide range of options to fight this growing problem,” said Maxwell Young, an MTA spokesman.

“When they open that back door, people are already lined up to avoid paying the fare,” said Miriam Allen, 62, of The Bronx.
“When they open that back door, people are already lined up to avoid paying the fare,” said Miriam Allen, 62, of The Bronx. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The figures – which also show a slight uptick in the number of the more than 200,000 subway riders who slipped past the turnstile daily in 2018 – have been questioned by advocates for criminal justice reform.

“For those of us who want true transit justice and accessible transportation, this relentless obsession with farebeating only suggests that the agency is stuck in the era of ‘broken windows’ policing instead of pursuing meaningful solutions to our transit crisis,” said activist Josmar Trujillo of the #SwipeItForward campaign, which urges riders with unlimited MetroCards to swipe in those who can’t pay the fare.

The MTA says it sent staffers to assigned subway station and bus routes daily to study and log how many riders are beating the fare. The monetary losses are calculated by factoring in MetroCard discounts.

“Sometimes, if I don’t have the fare, I’ll ask the driver to let me on and they let me through,” said Nicole Daniels, 38, of The Bronx. “But some people just go right in as they see fit through that back door.”

This story was originally published in Intelligencer at nymag.com.