Under State Senate bill, fare-jumping could carry $500 fine

By · Published in 2012

Spurred on by numerous articles this past fall detailing the money the MTA loses to fare-baiting, the State Senate on Monday approved a bill that could hike fines to $500 for those who do not pay their fares. Sponsored by Charles J. Fuschillo of Merrick, the measure increases the cap on civil fines for violations of NYC Transit’s Rules of Conduct from $100 to $500 and could go into effect if the state Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approve of the measure. The bill also raises the penalty for failing to pay a fine from $50 to $100.

“The MTA and its fare-paying riders shouldn’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars more each year paying for other people’s illegal free rides. At a time when every dollar counts, the MTA needs stronger tools to discourage fare-evasion. Higher fines would create a stronger deterrent and remove the incentive which actually encourages people to try and beat the system. I’m pleased that the Senate has passed this legislation and I urge the Assembly to join us,” Senator Fuschillo, Chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, said in a statement.

In his statement touting the bill’s passage, Fuschillo references the Daily News reports that noted 50,000 straphangers a day entered the subway system without paying in 2010. Ostensibly, the MTA lost out on $31 million in revenue, and the News found that a scofflaw could come out ahead by receiving a $100 ticket every six to eight weeks rather than ponying up for a $104 monthly pass.

I have to wonder though if Fuschillo’s measure won’t get to the root of the problem (or if there’s even a problem). Those 50,000 straphangers per day represent approximately 1 percent of the MTA’s daily ridership. Thus, the authority’s bleed rate is exceedingly low for any business. Without cops stationed at every station at any hour — a terrible use of NYPD manhours — people will find a way to ride the rails without paying. The new fines are certainly high enough to serve as a deterrent, and yet, a $500 fine for a fare jumper strikes me as just a wee bit excessive.

Categories : MTA Politics

23 Responses to “Under State Senate bill, fare-jumping could carry $500 fine”

  1. Bolwerk says:

    I’m not clear whether they’re talking about stolen trips or discrete riders making round trips. If it’s the former, we’re talking about $112,500 or so in lost revenue each day. If it’s the latter, it’s significantly more, perhaps close to double that amount – making the outlandish assumption here that those who don’t feel the need or can’t afford to pay for a trip in one direction can’t afford a trip in another.

    Either way, it’s not excessive at all. Here’s why: the $500 fines they pay need to cover at a minimum the lost revenue plus the costs of NYPD enforcement. Figure it is incumbent on the NYPD, which admittedly doesn’t have much else to do, to catch about 1% of the scafflows. Taking the low-ball scenario, $112,500/lost a day, the revenue for $500 fines is $250,000. After paying for lost service revenue, everything from police time to administration needs to come out of the remaining $137,500 each day – and anything after that, if there is any, could actually go to the benefit of the system, probably combatting other antisocial behaviors that are even harder to enforce against (littering, graffiti, vandalism).

    The police time can’t be cheap either. Not every officer (or pair of officers?) assigned is going to catch a scafflow. The fine should account for these costs too.

    • Bolwerk says:

      To clarify, 1% of 50,000 is 500. I was multiplying 500 scofflaws busted by $500 to get the $250,000. Of course, I have to wonder if they can really recover anywhere near that much from 1% of these people.

      And I typo’d “scofflaw” twice! :-O

      • Hank says:

        Agreed. $500 is a good number. Hits people hard without crippling them. Particularly if some kid’s parent gets hit with this bill, you can be sure it will have deterrence value.

    • pea-jay says:

      I don’t understand what a “discrete rider making a round trip is”

      • Bolwerk says:

        Each person who uses the system is a discrete individual; statistically, all their swipes add up, and to an extent we don’t know anymore about them than where they swiped in (and even then, who is to say two people might not be sharing a card?). If you say there are “50,000 straphangers” a day who are evading, does it mean each one is perhaps evading twice or are they just counting every evasion once? The wording would suggest something closer to the former, if you think about it, but that seems surprisingly high.

        I normally wouldn’t care enough to ask, but in in this case it seems relevant because the difference means a huge difference in how much enforcement you need to break even.

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    Funny how someone from Long Island wants to raise fines in New York, so the MTA can capture more money to ship out of the city.

    Fine; I say double down. A commuter rail fare is more valuable. So make it $1,500 on the commuter railroads.

    And then go with an “honor” system, as in some systems in the world, with random sweeps to collect that $1,500 from anybody who hasn’t paid. Get rid of the conductors, and hire more cops. And make sure the perps are held until they pay.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I don’t doubt every suburban politician is going to want to steal this money from the city’s residents, if they can, but if the MTA is going to be so needlessly expensive, the least they could do is not add by the expense. Increasing the cap to something that approaches actual cost recovery for both enforcement and the anti-social behavior at hand is legitimate.

      And an “honor” system works perfectly well. It’s, in fact, not an honor system at all. It’s a proof of payment system, where people are obligated to show they have a valid fare if asked. It possibly even has advantages in that it creates a “manageable” evasion rate; you don’t need to catch everyone who evades, only enough to make it worthwhile – the rate at which evaders are captured times the fine should equal or exceed the costs of enforcement. This is a good thing because it encourages enough people to still evade to make enforcement worth it. If the right-wingers that infest the U.S. justice system were half as fiscally prudent as they imagine themselves to be, they’d probably appreciate that approach. Even the broken windows cretins should appreciate it, but sadly they’re more obsessed with controlling behavior than managing it.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Some numbers: fare evasion rates on POP systems generally range from 2-5%. Zurich’s evasion rate is 2%. I believe San Francisco Muni’s is at the lower end as well. The Vancouver SkyTrain’s is 5%, and as a result, the city is making the wrong decision to install faregates at all stations next year (and despite that, Translink is probably the best-run transit agency in North America).

        I don’t know the numbers on systems with faregates, but they are not zero. In Paris, faregate-jumping is very common, there are subcultures that encourage it either as beating the system or on the grounds that public services should be free, and it’s not really enforced.

  3. Anon256 says:

    The very fact that it’s difficult and expensive to catch fare-dodgers means that the fines need to be very high when they are caught, both to serve as an effective deterrent and to fund enforcement.

  4. JB says:

    From my 15+ years riding the rails here, 9/10 fare beaters that i have witnessed were kids of varying age. Raising the fine won’t deter them one bit.

    • Frank B. says:

      It will if their parents become responsible for paying their fines. It’s not that difficult to do; it happens everyday.

      If your son were to throw a baseball through your neighbor’s window, the neighbor cannot sue a child for damages; but you are his guardian. You are liable. Your neighbor can sue you.

      And I’m sure there’s a fair number of fare-jumpers who are adults.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I concur with Frank B. I don’t really see the trouble here, though IMHO they should simply make it easier for kids to use the system anyway. Not free, but easier. Maybe huge discounts during off-peak hours where school isn’t letting out?

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        Discounts are for seniors. Or should I say today’s seniors, those currently 55 or older.

        I wonder if transit workers are part of the Cuomo’s plan to make up for all the retroactive pension enhancements for Generation Greed by providing future workers with drastically worse pensions than Generation Greed had been promised to begin with?

        • Bolwerk says:

          The puritans who control Real Amerika do seem rather inclined to make sure kids stay as immobile as possible. Remember how infuriated the official minders of other people’s business got when that 9-year-old was allowed to take a train by himself? Afterall, 18yrs of TV in a suburban living room before embarking on one of the three socially sanctioned life paths – college, menial work, or poverty/prison – gets chosen for imposed on offspring is the only explanation for a sufficiently jaded population with the requisite lack of critical thinking skills to make someone like Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, or Paul even remotely appetizing. (The only one of the bunch that might not be a sociopath is Santorum, which kinda says it all.)

          As for the pension thing, it’s entirely in control of outside forces now. As long as NYS’s population keeps growing and the newcomers are generally a little wealthier than the old-timers who leave for Florida, the pension matter is probably sustainable, at least if the growth is halted (big if). I think the problem here is upheaval can happen quickly. A paleocon president could shut the legal immigration taps, which would take away much of the “middle class” of our economic base. God knows that a President Newt would fleece the shit out of us by making sure our money pays for highways near Atlanta – and he’ll do it whilst claiming we are full of marauding, welfare-dependent negroes who don’t contribute anything back to the country at large.

          And that’s all before the stuff we can control but don’t: our own state government. I don’t reckon there is a way to escape existing obligations that doesn’t involve bankruptcy?

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            In most of the U.S. younger generations are poorer on average than older generations were at the same age. That’s been the trend for nearly 40 years. And that is the trend in Upstate and the suburbs.

            NYC is the exception, because for the moment we are attracting the best off of the younger generations from elsewhere, and because the city was so poor 40 years ago.

            • Bolwerk says:

              I would expect that. The boomer generation is the older generation now, and they ain’t dying fast enough. Hell, Gen X must have people hitting 40 now.

              More troubling is they took away even most opportunities for social mobility. Their wealth will be inherited, but there isn’t any reason to think it will “trickle down.” On the bright side for those with little conscience, many of them seem stupid enough that it will be easy for enterprising sociopaths to separate them from their money in pyramid schemes!

  5. Scott E says:

    Higher fines will lead to more sympathy by those cops who should be enforcing these rules, resulting in less citations actually being issued. And out of those that are issued, I’d bet that a much higher percentage will go unpaid versus what they have today.

    Keep the fines as they are today.

  6. Brian says:

    If you don’t want to pay the fine, Don’t jump the turnstile its really that simple

  7. normative says:

    yeah extremely high punitive damages always deter crime–remember when we made all those extremely harsh drug laws that were no-nonsense law and order policies. Oh wait, the prison population skyrocketed and drug use is the same as it ever was.

    • Anon256 says:

      The fines aren’t merely punitive, they can be an important source of revenue. (Unlike prisons, which cost the government money hand over fist.)

  8. Real NewYorker says:

    The $100 fine disproportionately effects poor and minorities. The $100 fine is 40 times the cost of a 1 way fare. It is a violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Some failures to pay fares are the result of mistake, ignorance, confusion, no change, or lack of current cash. In light of these difficult times, the $100 penalty should be REDUCED for first time offenders, not increased to an oppressive $500.

    • Andrew says:

      Is it OK to steal a bag of chips from the supermarket due to “lack of current cash”? If not, why do you think it’s OK to steal a ride on the subway for “lack of current cash”?

      If you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime.

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