losing track

MTA Taking a Bigger Beating on Subway and Bus Fare Evasion

Commuters ignore an MTA sign at Herald Square urging them to pay the fare, Sept. 11, 2019.
Commuters ignore an MTA sign at Herald Square urging them to pay the fare, Sept. 11, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The MTA says it took a $215 million hit from fare evasion in 2018, and has projected an even bigger loss this year.

But a new report from the Office of the MTA Inspector General contends the agency’s tracking of fare evasion on the buses and in the subway missed the mark — leading to an undercount.

The report, obtained by THE CITY, calls into question the accuracy of the methods previously used by New York City Transit to estimate the fare-beating toll on local bus routes and subway lines.

“Accurate and reliable data is the foundation of the MTA’s critical efforts to prevent fare evasion,” MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said in a statement to THE CITY.

The audit looked at six quarterly fare-evasion reports from mid-2017 to the end of last year — a time MTA officials said the agency’s bottom line hemorrhaged from lost fares.

“In the long run, it would be preferable to have more confidence in the reported trends,” Elizabeth Keating, the executive deputy inspector general, wrote in a letter to the MTA that detailed the audit.

A December report by the MTA said fare evasion rose “significantly” in 2018, with an estimated $119 million loss on the buses and a $96 million hit in the subway.

The report estimated that more than 550,000 riders skipped out on paying the fare last year. The document outlined the methodologies used in 180 subway stations and along 140 bus routes to generate a systemwide fare-beating estimate.

The MTA acknowledged last year that “observed evasion likely constitutes an undercount,” because staffers couldn’t keep track of multiple gates, doors and turnstiles at the same time.

‘Fare Evasion Cadre’ Formed

In a response to the audit, Tim Mulligan, a senior vice president for New York City Transit, wrote that several changes have been made in fare-evasion accounting methods.

Mulligan said “a combined subway bus and fare evasion cadre” has been formed, with checkers exclusively devoted to monitoring fare beating “as opposed to splitting their time with other duties.”

Uniformed employees previously did 30-minute checks on fare beating. But that time period has been doubled to an hour, with the workers taken out of uniform.

“This will lead to more accurate estimates going forward,” said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesperson.

The changes marked the MTA’s latest efforts to reduce free rides. Others have included a $40 million campaign to redesign some stations where people can easily reach over emergency gates and let themselves in.

Still, some commuters told THE CITY that the MTA is fighting an uphill battle against farebeaters.

“I see people going through the emergency exit, I see it all the time,” said Minna Harbater, 20, who was waiting for an A train at Jay Street-Metrotech in Downtown Brooklyn.

Sara Fowler, 22, said she sympathizes with those who can’t afford to pay for a bus or subway ride.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “A lot of people who ride the MTA are already struggling.”

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