Home Buses Fare evasion a Select Bus Service problem

Fare evasion a Select Bus Service problem

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation gear up for a citywide rollout of Select Bus Service — SBS on 1st and 2nd Aves. is rumored to be coming on October 10 — the agencies are still facing some growing pains. In particular, the concept of pre-board fare payment has proved elusive for many riders along Fordham Road’s Bx12 SBS route.

From the get-go, the fare system faced some hurdles. New Yorkers have long paid their bus fares while boarding, and although some passengers skip the MetroCard swipe by hopping in through the back door, the driver has served as a generally adequate deterrent. There is, in any business, the risk of some shrinkage, but with SBS, the MTA has to lower the shrinkage rate to make it work. Because bus rapid transit service relies upon pre-board fare payment in order to cut bus dwell times, drivers aren’t watching people as they board. Rather, the riders are supposed to carry proof-of-payment with them in case of an inspection.

During the early days of the Bx12, the MTA and NYPD vowed increased enforcement of the fare-jumpers on Select Bus Service lines, but according to a Daily News report, that enforcement has failed to materialize. Mike Jaccarino traveled the Bx12 recently and found rampant fare-beating. He writes:

Recent stakeouts by The News at a number of stops along the route found dozens of riders still brazenly boarding the buses, distinctive for their flashing blue lights, without first buying the required tickets at kiosks at the stops. Over the course of an hour at each stop, 40 fare-beaters boarded the bus at Fordham Plaza sans tickets; 22 did so near the Pelham Bay IRT subway stop, and 27 at the stop on Pelham Parkway at Williamsbridge Road…

The Bx12 SBS began rolling June 30, 2008, as a way to speed up the ride across the congested Fordham Road corridor. The line now carries an average of 30,500 riders weekly. A squad of eagle-eyed cops and retired police officers were supposed to enforce the bus honor system with spot checks. The MTA said its has issued 6,532 summonses, each carrying a $100 fine, to date.

Unsurprisingly, those fare-beaters confronted by Jaccarino weren’t too pleased. A few cursed at the reporter, but another offered a half-hearted defense: “I don’t have enough money to feed my kids, and I’m going to pay for a ticket on a bus when no one checks whether I’ve bought one or not? Why should I?” I wonder if the same rationale would fly if he or she were caught stealing from the supermarket.

Those who pay are obviously upset at the free-riders, and it’s hard to understate how the need for enforcement is tied in with the future success of SBS. The MTA and DOT want to bring Select Bus Service to every borough along major arteries, and both the mayor and MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder see the need to speed up bus service. The MTA, though, has to capture revenue from this new service, and if the solution to this fare-beating problem is a massive week-long crackdown and guerrilla proof-of-payment inspection efforts, so be it. We need SBS; the MTA needs its money; and people should pay for the rides they take.

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40 comments

Robert Hale April 6, 2010 - 3:16 pm

In Italy, you pay for four tickets on one paper card. When you board the bus you stamp one end of the card and that validation is good for 70 minutes. To simplify boarding, most buses especially double buses have validation machines at either end. Fare inspectors ride regularly to catch fare beaters; the fine for such is steep. When we were in Florence for Christmas we had a fare enforcement officer board our bus wearing but a fanny pack. Not having ridden SBS, how similar are the operations to this strategy?

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E. Aron April 6, 2010 - 6:24 pm

Funny, when I went there last year I enjoyed the “free” transportation in Milan and Rome and so did most Italians. The inability to enforce fare payment was an issue I brought up when I first learned about SBS, and I brought up my example from Italy. I see there is no solution yet.

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SEAN April 6, 2010 - 4:12 pm

On the SBS at Bay Plaza you pay the cash fare at a machine outside JC Penny. If you have a Metrocard you need to go inside the store for validation. How pointless is that.

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Jonathan D. April 6, 2010 - 5:59 pm

Important note. If it costs more to stop fare beaters than to let them beat the fare, it’s not worth it. There’s always an equilibrium to these things. I also believe that ridership on this line is up immensely, and as such, revenue may well be up significantly even with the increased fare beating. I do agree that everyone should pay their fair share, but there’s no need for a scorch the earth policy if it’s going to be more expensive to stop. This comes up frequently as far as enforcement goes. Big numbers are bandied about concerning losses, but it’s not cheap to fix either. I mean, 1 police office at Fordham is going to cost more than the $56 in lost fares that hour (40 fares*$1.40 average fare).

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Rhywun April 6, 2010 - 6:45 pm

Please tell me you don’t have to buy a ticket if you already have an unlimited MetroCard… because that would be a real drag.

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Alon Levy April 6, 2010 - 7:20 pm

You still have to swipe. It’s New York we’re talking about, not Berlin.

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Rhywun April 6, 2010 - 9:47 pm

That’s just… incredibly stupid. I didn’t know.

How hard would it be for the checkers to carry around a card-swiper to verify unlimited cards…?!

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AK April 6, 2010 - 11:11 pm

They carry it around to make sure you swiped the unlimited…so essentially its the same thing.

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John April 7, 2010 - 10:02 am

But why swipe at all? Just to track ridership?

Andrew April 7, 2010 - 8:44 pm

No they don’t. The inspectors only check paper receipts.

SBS on the Bx12 was implemented quickly and relatively inexpensively, generally using preexisting equipment (modified MetroCard machines and parking meters). I don’t know if more seamless support of unlimited cards is being implemented on the M15 (or B44) or will have to wait until smartcards, but I’m sure it will come eventually.

Rhywun April 7, 2010 - 10:02 pm

That’s all well and good, until I remember that Germany et al. were providing for faster boarding using nothing more sophisticated than paper tickets, stamping machines, and monthly passes – 25 years ago.

Andrew April 7, 2010 - 11:07 pm

Very nice. But NYCT had to design this thing around the existing MetroCard system, not around a 25-year-old German paper system.

Alon Levy April 8, 2010 - 4:01 pm

Handheld smartcard readers are standard technology on all buses in Singapore. You have to tap in and out, either on board or at the station, but that’s because like most other Asian cities, Singapore has distance-based fares and no unlimited cards. With unlimited cards, you wouldn’t need to tap in at all.

It should be easy to construct an analog of this technology for magnetic cards. At least, the MTA execs should spec it out before deciding that if long boarding times were good for their grandfathers, they’re good for us, too.

Andrew April 8, 2010 - 10:12 pm

Easy doesn’t mean fast or cheap, both of which were requirements for the Bx12.

MetroCard is on the way out. Perhaps now is not the time to be developing new MetroCard devices.

The machines are all at the bus stops, not on the buses. Boarding time is unaffected.

Alon Levy April 8, 2010 - 11:19 pm

Easy in this case means the technology exists and requires minor tweaks, which means that if the city wanted it to be fast and cheap, it would be fast and cheap.

When you say MetroCard is on the way out, when do you mean it’s going to be out? 2013? 2018? 2025?

The long boarding times are systemwide. First-world cities don’t waste money on fancy bus stations for a handful of corridors; they put a tap/swipe station at every bus station as well as on each bus.

Andrew April 9, 2010 - 7:47 am

You are vastly underestimating the time and cost involved in developing and obtaining a custom product in the scale required by a major transit agency, even if it’s conceptually similar to an existing product.

The MTA probably made a mistake in going with the proprietary MetroCard system in the 90’s. The PayPass pilot of a few years ago (and I read somewhere that PayPass readers are starting to show up on buses, with a bus pilot starting soon) is promising, since handheld PayPass readers are probably available off-the-shelf.

I believe that the widespread PayPass pilot program will begin within the next year or two. Systemwide implementation would then presumably be phased in over the next few years.

Have you ridden the Bx12? The “fancy” bus stations consist of an elongated shelter with three or four payment machines. A systemwide rollout of off-board payment would be very nice but would also be very costly. A corridor-by-corridor approach makes sense for now, especially with outside funding available for BRT.

Elizabeth January 19, 2011 - 6:43 pm

I got a $100 ticket because I misplaced my receipt and could not produce it for Transit Police. I showed them my valid unlimited Metrocard, but they gave me the ticket anyway.

Within 15 minutes of getting the ticket, I found my receipt. Now I am awaiting judgment from the Transit Adjudication Board. I will soon find out whether I have to pay the ticket or not.

I was treated badly by Transit Police — they shouted questions at me about whether I was working and demanded my Social Security number. When I said I was afraid of identity theft, they wrote REFUSED on the ticket.

Someone told me that they have signs posted in all SS buses letting you know about the fine, but I never saw any. They could have been posted in the month since I got the ticket and have completely stopped riding this bus.
Maybe for some, this service is wonderful and they never misplace a receipt (or for that matter, anything else), but I will never ride the Select Service bus again. It’s just too risky.

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Elizabeth January 19, 2011 - 6:46 pm

Now I have to pay $104 a month for my unlimited metrocard — and for the privilege of being ticketed for not producing my receipt. Must be a glutton for punishment. The fare increase is being used to pay Transit Police to ticket people for paying the fare but misplacing the receipt.

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elle April 19, 2011 - 2:37 am

I just had a select bus experience to add to yours today. Was sick, on cold meds, thought I was putting my select bus receipt into my purse, but the lurching bus made me stagger to regain my balance and it must have dropped to the floor. When I got off the bus, a small black MTA woman charged at me demanding my receipt, which of course I couldn’t find now. She started yelling at me demanding photo ID, which, get this, because it didn’t have my address on it only name and photo, she threatened to ARREST me and have me taken to JAIL if I didn’t somehow PRODUCE ID with address as well!!!! The nerve of this boob! Two MTA men rushed up and started with me as well in front of crowds of people, embarrassing me no end. One of the men was writing up the “summons”, and when I told him I needed to sit somewhere I felt like passing out, he offered me the dirty sidewalk! He took FOREVER to fill out the summons, and I suspect he did this purposely just because I told him how sick I was. The female MTA worker screamed, “So what, I’m sick too!” and coughed in my face! FINALLY I grabbed the paper away and rushed as fast as I could away from this abusive Gestapo trio. I read another horror story of the select bus service and the woman had been going to her doctor for a biopsy after having cancer, got a summons anyway, went all the way to transit court, and after explaining to the judge, despite her illness she was still FINED the $100.! Another woman paid by mail and they added on another $50. because they said she paid late (and she hadn’t). So, I figure it’s a waste to plead my case in this kangaroo court on wheels, and if or when I mail in this $100. I will send it CERTIFIED MAIL to make sure they don’t try any tricks on me about when it arrived. ALSO I will make sure to NEVER, EVER use the First or Second Ave. Select bus service as long as I live! I hope the whole thing fails. It’s a way for petty and minor employees to take out their power mad fantasies on innocent New Yorkers (like we don’t have enough problems). Oh, yeah, I refused to give my social and the guy wrote “Refused”, and I told him I was “Self employed” so he wrote “Unemployed”!!!! What a joke!

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Jean Harlow December 1, 2014 - 7:55 am

Beautifully stated, Elle. I call them the “Bus Bolsheviks” after a similar incident. Those power-mad lowlifes are frightening. Meanwhile, serious crime continues as usual. Good luck to you, dear.

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Alon Levy April 6, 2010 - 7:24 pm

Okay, 40 boarders in a peak hour at a major station… that’s, what, 400 a day? That’s 1.3% of the ridership. Big deal.

If the MTA were better at its job, it would be auditing the books to see what the fare evasion rate is. 2% is very low; 5% is still acceptable. At such a rate, the only reason to step up enforcement is as a jobs program for cops and fare inspectors.

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Tim March 9, 2011 - 2:16 pm

I think you need to check your math. 40 per hour at one station, 22 at another and 27 at a third. That is 89 per hour amongst 3 stations. Using your 10 hour multiple that is 890 per day, muliplied by 7 days is 6,230 per week. That divided by weekly ridership of 30,500 is 20.43% of riders are skipping fares. 20% is significantly higher than your 5% “acceptable” rate.

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herenthere April 6, 2010 - 11:23 pm

I think when the Liberty SmartCard becomes standard fare here, this problem will likely go away by speeding up transaction time.

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JPN April 7, 2010 - 12:19 am

I would tend to agree because patience is such a lacking virtue for many New Yorkers, myself (admittedly) included. But this will not necessarily happen until people stop gaming the system and notice that there’s consistent enforcement.

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Rhywun April 7, 2010 - 10:17 pm

“Patience” would mean accepting a 10- or 12-minute headway, or whatever it is. It shouldn’t require settling for the current brain-dead implementation of requiring even Metrocard holders to buy a ticket. And again, borrowing successful ideas I lived with in Germany 25 years ago, one should be allowed to buy a ticket anywhere (assuming widespread deployment, not just for BRT but *all* buses), and stamp it on board the bus, rather than be required to stand in a line at the stop where one boards.

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JPN April 7, 2010 - 12:12 am

I wonder if a similar fare beating problem exists in the New Jersey light rail services. In all the less than 15 times I’ve ever used the light rail or the SBS combined, I recall my fare was checked only two times. I think that’s sad.

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AK April 7, 2010 - 9:31 am

2 out of 15 (~13%) is a significant percentage. That would be an pretty significant deterrant–> 10% (lets be conservative) of $300 (the fine on CalTrain, for example) is $30, meaning your expected value is -$30 if you board without a ticket. Seeing as practically no tickets cost $30 in the system, being checked 10% of the time would be very effective..

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Scott E April 7, 2010 - 7:46 am

The fine for fare-beating the SBS is the same as for jumping a turnstile? I would think, since you are being “trusted” to pay your fare without being audited, that the penalty for not paying it would be steeper. As Robert Hale said in the first comment, in other countries, the fines are steep enough to be a real deterrent, not just a calculated cost-versus-benefit.

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Alon Levy April 8, 2010 - 4:11 pm

I believe the fine in Berlin is 100 Euros, compared with 2 Euros per ride with a pay-per-ride. The unlimited fare is much lower comparatively speaking, but if you own a valid unlimited card you by definition can’t evade the fare.

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Al D April 7, 2010 - 9:47 am

How does this compare to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail? I’m sure it faces the same challenges. In all the times I rode it, I was never challenged by an inspector.

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SEAN April 7, 2010 - 10:48 am

I have been stopped by a fare inspector one time & that was on the HBLR.

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Andrew April 7, 2010 - 8:49 pm

How does the reporter know who has a ticket?

I don’t ride the line often, but the inspectors did a check on my last ride (around October or November) at Fordham Plaza. The bus was crowded, but only two people were pulled off the bus (to be issued summonses, I assume). That’s about 3-4% – not bad at all.

If a regular rider never pays and gets caught once a month, the fine alone would cost more than a 30-day unlimited (and wouldn’t help on other bus lines or on the subway). How often do regular riders encounter an inspector?

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KPL April 9, 2010 - 5:40 am

They probably watch the stops and see if people swipe their cards before the bus comes. They they probably board as well in order to confront them.

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Andrew April 9, 2010 - 7:49 am

So if I swipe my card, get a ticket, see that the bus isn’t coming, run into a bodega, and return to the bus stop to board a bus, the reporter will assume that I haven’t paid.

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Gnostradamus July 9, 2013 - 1:24 pm

And that happened to >70 people in an hour?

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Report: Select Bus Service fare-beating under control :: Second Ave. Sagas June 17, 2010 - 3:01 pm

[…] the spring, the Daily News has seemingly slammed the MTA for its failure to crack down on fare-beaters along the Bronx’s Bx12 Select Bus Service […]

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Erica October 11, 2010 - 1:41 am

1. What happens when the machine runs out of paper and you thus cannot show a receipt when asked?
2. I rode the Orchard Beach line when it was being tested and I believe even if you had an unlimited pass, you still had to swipe your card on the machine and print a receipt, meaning a waste of paper every time you ride the bus.
3. I truly wonder if anyone in the MTA bothered to investigate the use of this system in other cities before trying to implement it. Fare evasion rates are very high in San Francisco because of a similar system. The system also creates an environment of police intimidation and harassment as you search for some scrap of paper amongst the many you have stuffed in your purse/pockets after a week of bus rides. Their system doesn’t work, so why are we modeling ours after a system that has been publicly accepted as a failure?
4. There is no way police or MTA can board a crowded bus at rush hour to check tickets.
5. Really, we are cutting important services in favor of this highly unnecessary and ineffective change? Do these machines accept cash/change? That is the one thing that could speed up bus boarding and earn the MTA as if someone doesn’t have change (only bills) usually the bus driver waves the person through, but it won’t make enough of a dent given the cost of implementation.
6. What happens to transfers? If I pay and then the bus I am waiting for is extremely delayed, will I have trouble using my transfer then? I can think of a number of times where I’ve waited over a half hour for a bus and given up, especially since to avoid overtime, the MTA has been cutting routes when drivers are sick instead of sending replacements. I wouldn’t be too happy if I paid for a bus that never showed up.

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Jum Per April 16, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Listen to Erika.

The way to beat the system is to beat the fare on crowded select buses at rush hour. They don’t check then.

Conversely, they do check on late night, less crowded runs.

Ride for free at rush hour.

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sanjay June 11, 2014 - 7:53 pm

I like the fact that these random spot checks are done in preferably in minority Areas.

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Alejandra October 1, 2019 - 5:18 pm

How much money for machines and Paper is this wasting? For the people who buy weekly or monthly cards this is a nuisance. Unless you take the same route all the time it is not clear which buses need a paper ticket the system is absolutely backwards and stupid. If you are running short of time and the bus arrives why would you miss it? This is literally making people skip fares.

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