Fare-jumping: A $31 million problem or an inconvenience?


One way or another, the MTA's turnstiles will earn some revenue. (Photo by flickr user Karen Foto)

Every few months, the MTA rolls out another report on the revenue lost to fare-jumping, and every few months, the same report leads to a bunch of outrage. How could the MTA give up so much fare revenue? Why aren’t more cops patrolling the stations? This is why we can’t trust the authority do anything properly. And over and over and over again.

This year’s story rings true to form. After finding that the MTA lost approximately $27 million to fare-jumpers in 2009, a report covering 2010 found $31 million in lost revenue due to fare-beaters in 2010. According to coverage of the report, fare-jumpers entered the system in 2009 18.5 million times without paying. That’s 50,684 per day, and cops handed out 120,000 summonses all year.

Per The Daily News, turnstile-hopping seems to be the rare case where crime does pay. As The Daily News notes, a fare-jumper who gets caught just once every six weeks would gain money. Six 7-day MetroCards cost $174 while the summons sets them back $100. This year, with the economy stagnant and the fares up over early 2010, the MTA estimates that’s 1.5 percent of riders jumped the fare as compared with 0.9 percent last year.

Pete Donohue had more on the MTA’s response:

The MTA said the report – presented at a transportation think tank’s conference this year – was not an official document. Average weekday ridership is about 5.4 million.

“New York City Transit takes fare evasion very seriously and is continually working with the NYPD on cost-effective strategies to combat it, such as targeting high-incidence locations and placing cameras in key areas,” MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said.

She said transit cops have made 12,468 arrests for fare evasion this year, up 5.5% from the same time last year. Officers have issued 37,825 summonses to evaders this year, a 1.7% increase from the same period in 2010.

Whether or not there is an actual problem, police officers have called upon politicians to raise the fine. A 2009 effort to jack up fare-jumping penalties to $250 went nowhere in Albany, but NYPD officials want a renewed effort. “I think the state legislature should consider raising the fine,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. “It would probably be a good idea.”

What would be a good idea though? Perhaps raising the fine makes sense. If the price is high enough to deter fare-jumping, then the penalty would be ideal. If, as the News says, jumpers get caught on average of once every 6-13 week, it would have to be a substantial fine.

Beyond that though, the MTA and the NYPD probably shouldn’t do much. While the pure numbers sound high — 18.5 million! — in percentage terms, they’re not. As even the News noted, only 1.5 percent of riders are jumping this year. For any business that’s more than an acceptable bleed rate, and it’s tough to tell how much extra revenue one police office at nearly $80,000 a year would net. Perhaps it would make sense, but perhaps it wouldn’t be the best use of police resources.

Basically, fare-jumping is a sunk cost for the MTA. It is the price of doing business in a system that can’t station a cop in 468 stations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A higher fine should temper the problem, but anything else is simply overkill.

Categories : MTA Economics

31 Responses to “Fare-jumping: A $31 million problem or an inconvenience?”

  1. Chet says:

    Why not get rid of the turnstile and have doors similar to the T in Boston or the London Underground? You cant jump over or crawl under.

    • BBnet3000 says:

      They have recently (last summer) gotten similar ones on the Muni Market Street subway in San Francisco. I like the design, though there were articles after they introduced them saying that you can reach over them to motion-activate them due to the exit being motion only, no ticket needed (as in New York).

  2. Alex C says:

    Just replace all turnstiles with HEET’s; ones that take a little less effort to turn (re: kids). Boom, problem solved.

  3. Jehiah says:

    You mention 468 subway stations but doesn’t the report cover the whole MTA? I see fare evasion on busses, and the LIRR as well ( although not as often )

  4. Scott E says:

    Cameras? What on earth are they going to accomplish, other than help to count how many turnstile jumpers are out there? Somehow, I can’t imagine we’ll see someone’s picture plastered on the 10 o’clock news and the front page of the New York Times for failing to pay $2.25 to the much maligned Transit Authority.

  5. HEET says:

    Gotta agree, replace turstiles with HEETs!

  6. skunky says:

    stylistic correction… should be the [New York] Daily News, not The Daily News. The title of the paper has no definite article, unlike The New York Times.

  7. Adam says:

    Enforcement might not pay for itself directly, but it discourages future fare-beating. Even if an $80k/yr officer only hands out $50k in tickets per year, that might discourage $50k more.

    Also for a full-time officer to reach $80k in tickets would be a breeze: $80k / $100 per ticket / 200 working days = 4 tickets per day. I bet I could do that in an hour. Given the type of people that jump turnstiles I’d bet no more than 25% of tickets are paid, though.

  8. John says:

    Perhaps a silly question, but how do they come up with the total number of turnstile jumpers?

    • I believe it comes from sampling from cameras in stations as well as observations of the remaining station agents. Those agents, by the way, don’t stop people from hopping the turnstiles.

  9. John-2 says:

    I suppose the ultimate high-tech solution would be to create a pedestrian version of EZ Pass, able to link up to microchip embedded credit, debt or government benefit cards and tied to sensors in the turnstile area. That way, even if you jumped the thing, the RF frequency could still register you passing by the sensor and deduct a ‘fare’ from one of your cards. It wouldn’t solve the problem if you carry nothing but cash, or carry no form of money at all, but you could probably knock the avoidance level down a half-percentage or so (or really promote the sale to fare-beaters of those new RF-blocking wallets).

  10. SEAN says:

    What about the gates that MARTA uses. They are sertently high enough & large enough to prevent fare evasion.

  11. ant6n says:

    Other solution:
    Start charging higher fees for repeat offenders, so that the expected cost after three summons is much higher than paying the fare. Done.

    • Bruce M says:

      Better yet, lock up the fare jumpers that they do catch overnight–no exceptions. If the NYPD did this for a couple months I would be willing to bet that many would think twice. Additionally, wasn’t one of the strategies credited with drastically reducing crime in the subway during the 90’s catching fare beaters and ejecting them from the system? Surely it makes sense to continue throwing petty criminals out altogether.

      • ant6n says:

        Except that there is a blurry line where some people screw up, for example walking through an open emergency door, with a monthly pass in the pocket, without acting in bad faith. Locking them up over night -no exceptions- could result in quite a backlash as the media starts reporting on these sort of cases.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Locking people up who didn’t do anything harmful or violent is an incredible waste of resources. Simply issuing a fine is good enough. Besides, there is no reason to fine/punish anyone who has an unlimited pass on them.

        The strategy in the early 1990s was to focus on farebeaters so the police could connect them to more serious crimes. That’s not so likely to yield much in the way of results these days

  12. BrooklynBus says:

    The fines in this City are high enough. All that raising them does is bring in more revenue. Stepped up enforcement is the answer, not raising them. As usual, the MTA is looking for the easy answer. If someone is not detered by a $100 fine, he won’t be deterred by a $250 fine or a$1,000 fine. People do not consider a $100 fine to be peanuts. Why should the average fare evader be able to get away with it for six weeks?

    • Bolwerk says:

      It would be tragic to bring in more revenue – which stepped up enforcement would do too.

    • VLM says:

      As usual, the MTA is looking for the easy answer.

      In your quest to continually slam the MTA due to your personal grudge, you seem to leave reading comprehension by the wayside. If you read Ben’s post and the Daily News article, you’ll see that Ray Kelly, head of the NYPD, asked for the fares to be increased. The MTA did no such thing. They’re simply reporting the numbers. Clearly, they’re not going to spend more money they don’t have on improving a 1% fare evasion bleed rate.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        So according to you a $31 million annual loss is perfectly acceptable. You also believe that increased enforcement would not be cost effective to cut that loss. At the same time the MTA is inconveniencing thousands of passengers every day by having had to cut service on hundreds of bus routes and even eliminate some in their entirety at a cost savings of $100,000 here or $200,000 there. Do you realize how many cuts could have been avoided with $31 million more in revenue annually? Or is it that you work for the MTA and you just don’t care about the customers?

        Perhaps the MTA didn’t request an increase in fines, but if they haven’t been pressing for increased enforcement, they are just as guilty. There is no way their revenue would have not increased with increased enforcement.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Given the relatively low fine, and the undoubtedly high cost of finding and administratively prosecuting farebeaters, it really might not be worth much trouble.

          If I’m not mistaken, it’s mainly the NYPD that handles ticketing people – the MTA doesn’t seem to have much if any internal enforcement. And the NYPD seems to have its own agenda in how it handles the matter.

    • Andrew D. Smith says:

      Yes, people are confusing nominal fines with actual fines. We can raise the fine to $10,000 but if people think there’s no real chance of getting caught, they will perceive the actual fine to be $0, which is pretty close to what it is. (Just divide the number of fares thought to be evaded with the fines collected last year. I’d guess it’s well under $1 per evasion.)

    • Andrew D. Smith says:

      Yes, people are confusing nominal fines with actual fines. We can raise the fine to $10,000 but if people think there’s no real chance of getting caught, they will perceive the actual fine to be $0, which is pretty close to what it is. (Just divide the number of fares thought to be evaded with the fines collected last year. I’d guess it’s well under $1 per evasion.)

      I actually think raising the fines too high would be a mistake because no cop will really levy any fine that’s so high they think it unfair. $100 is a good number, but it should go up if you try to fight it to cover the MTA’s cost of fighting you. Thus, it’s $100 if you get the ticket and mail it in, but it’s $1,000 if they spend $1,000 in man hours tracking you down and getting you to pay.

      • Bolwerk says:

        The fine should at least be high enough to cover the loss plus costs of enforcement and there should be a targeted percentage of beaters caught. For example, if you catch 1 out of every 100 beaters, that one who gets caught should be paying about $225 for the 100 lost fares plus the costs of the enforcement.

        • VLM says:

          Truth or false: It is impossible to stop every instance of fare-jumping.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I don’t know, or care. It’s a lot of effort for decreasingly useful results as you catch a higher percentage of evaders. It’s better to catch a low percentage of the beaters, and keep the beaters as a low percentage of the riders. That way it’s easy to make them pay for themselves and the enforcement – or hell, maybe they could turn a slight profit from people beating. That requires a higher fine, probably higher than $100.

          • Alon Levy says:

            True. Well-designed systems can reduce the incidence to 2% or less, though.

  13. Al D says:

    The MTA though does not operate like any business. If it did, it wouldn’t last a fiscal year. Every bit of revenue is critical to its operation. Raise the fine, conduct a sweep. The theory used to be that by catching the fare jumpers, you mitigate additional crimes in the subway.


  1. […] the heels of a report that the MTA is losing $31 million to fare-jumpers, one State Senator wants to jack up the penalty. Charles Fuschillo, a Nassau County Republican, has […]

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