Bus fare evasion now a $50 million problem


One question I’ve struggled with over the past few months has concerned fare-jumping. Does the New York City media place too much of an emphasis on the revenue lost to fare-jumping? Should we care that a small percentage of transit riders try to duck their fares? At what point does the cost of increased enforcement outweigh the benefits?

When it comes to subway fare enforcement efforts, I’ve been firmly on the side of ignoring it. I think the media has spent all together too much time focusing on subway fare jumping as it is mostly just an inconvenience. Steeper fines are likely a sufficient deterrent by themselves. But what about buses?

For a while, the MTA had pegged bus fare evasion as a $14 million problem. Despite anecdotal reports of rampant fare jumping on certain bus lines, Transit had downplayed their bleed rate. Now, it seems, it may be worse than they thought. Pete Donohue had the report:

The MTA loses about $50 million in revenue each year to bus farebeaters — more than triple what it previously estimated, the Daily News has learned. The staggering figure is partly the result of a new way the authority calculates fare-dodging, but also indicates that the longstanding problem has worsened because of lax enforcement, sources said.

The authority previously had estimated that bus farebeaters were stealing $14 million worth of free rides annually. Gauging bus freeloading levels has been an inexact science. Drivers are supposed to keep tallies by pushing a button every time someone boards without paying. The authority also has used video to estimate the frequency of bus farebeating.

“This is situation we have to get under control,” MTA board member Allen Cappelli said. “Not only is it a significant amount of revenue, but you’re allowing people to behave in a lawless manner.”

At a certain point, some bleed is inevitable, but if the MTA’s $50 million estimate is accurate, the new bleed rate on the buses has jumped from around 1.5 percent of annual revenue to 5.5 percent of annual revenue. It’s probably time to address the problem.

As folks enter without paying their fares, it creates a disincentive for others to swipe their MetroCards, and enforcement has been lax. According to Donohue, the MTA is working to propose a citywide plan to “deter fare evasion,” and politicians are calling for more police activity aboard buses. It’s tough to say though what the golden ticket will be here. Until these figures decline though, bus fare evasion will garner headlines one way or another.

Categories : Buses

47 Responses to “Bus fare evasion now a $50 million problem”

  1. Michael says:

    Fare evasion will always exist, and people evade fares for different reasons. The MTA needs to find the balance between costs of limiting fare evasion and fines to limit evasion.

    Most importantly, the MTA needs to make sure people capable and willing to pay fares always can.

    I have mistakenly tried to board a bus many times with an expired metrocard or one without enough cash. It doesn’t help that the subway turnstiles don’t let you know how many days are left on your card. Thankfully many drivers have been kind enough to understand and let me ride. By encouraging the use of automatically refilled metrocards, the MTA can avoid this issue. Now I always have the fare when boarding.

    Ultimately, the system needs more fare inspectors and a way to quickly show proof of payment, which is not possible with the current metrocard. The addition of fare inspectors would allow all door boarding on busses. Often on very crowded busses, the only way to get on is through the back doors. card readers at all doors with random fare inspection would allow quicker boarding of busses and increased fare collection.

    • mike d. says:

      NYPD is the solution.

    • Sharon says:

      There is a way to quickly check a metro card to see if you paid . All you would need to do is to issue portable metro card .

      The city has released an army of traffic agents who storm middle class areas to give parking tickets. Why can’t the same thing be done on the subways with the money going into operations .

      End the station agent role and hire enforcement agents.
      Ticket fare beaters
      Ticket those who exit through e,edge cry exits regardless of whether they beet fare
      Ticket those who violate subway rules

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    Yup, 1.5% is an annoyance, but 5.5% is a disaster.

  3. Forsyth Jones says:

    How do you avoid paying the fare on the bus? Dont the drivers stop you?

    • Drivers are instructed not to confront passengers about non-payment. Basically, you can either just walk on past a driver if you’re gutsy enough or hop in through the back doors when they open. Unless someone watches you jump the fare, there’s no way to enforce non-payment once someone is already on a bus.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        What is the thinking behind drivers not confronting fare jumpers? (And by confronting, I mean telling them to pay the fare or stoping the bus till the cops come. I don’t expect bus drivers to be beating people or throwing them off moving buses.)

        • Bolwerk says:

          They do ask them to pay up or leave, they just don’t physically confront them.

          Stopping the bus until the cops come is silly, and possibly wastes a bus load of people’s time.

          • Andrew Smith says:

            I’m not sure about silly.

            It would waste time, at first. But as soon as you communicated that no MTA bus would move with a fare-jumper on board, no one would do it. There’d be no incentive to. So you beat the fare jumping (minus folks who can trick the conductor into thinking they’ve paid) with little cost.

            I suppose you might get some folks who thought a small fine worth it for the pleasure of stopping a bus, but the solution to that would be to raise fines until such folks disappeared.

            Might not work, but I’m not sure it can be dismissed out of hand. Unless there’s something else that makes it silly that I’m not thinking of.

      • Sharon says:

        Metro cards hold data that is used for transfers and can be scanned.

    • mike d. says:

      Some drivers will stop the person fare beat. Most of the times do not, just let them in. MTA advises bus operators just do not confront the person who did not pay the fare or who didnt pay the full fare. Bus operators have to press the fare box button “F7” to record the person not paying the fare.

      • Flatbush Depot says:

        F7 is for employees, F5 is for farebeaters.

      • John says:

        Technically they don’t HAVE TO press anything on the fare box. They’re supposed to, but I can imagine that some don’t always do so.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I had one flat out tell me that I should always just give something, even if it’s not the full fare. Most drivers would wave me on if I did.

          • John says:

            I can see why. If people see you just walk right past the fare box, they will start to think that it’s OK to not pay. But if you drop a couple nickels in or something, it’s harder to notice that you didn’t pay full fare.

      • Sharon says:

        Why can’t this button be hooked up to automatically alert nypd. If you install CCTV on buses , the image of the fare beater can be sent to police iPads. It is time we deploy common tech to solve this problem

        75% beat fare because other get away with it

      • ceaser says:

        UMM No mike d iit’s not F7 it’s F5 aleast thats how it’s actually programmed on every bus in NYC at the time the bus pulls in and is Vac’d in the House

  4. Noah says:

    Honestly I think the only solution is follow a route as prescribed by the Kheel report. That is we should move to a free fare system. Transportation should be funded through various forms of taxation, such as congestion pricing.

    • Matthias says:

      That would certainly eliminate the money wasted on fare collection and issuing refunds due to malfunctioning MetroCard readers.

      • Noah says:

        Not only that, money would be saved on enforcement, police could be directed to where they are actually needed, rather than trying to catch fair jumpers. It also gets rid of all processing fees, maintenance fees and everything involved with fares. And so many more positives.

        • nycpat says:

          It then becomes impossible to maintain any sort of order. How do you eject people from a free system.

        • Sharon says:

          Except it will cost even more to operate the system because people would take a bus to go one block causing more buses to be needed thus driving up costs. When free metro card transfers were instituted on the b3 bus along ave u in Brooklyn. People who would ordinary walk to the train jumped on the bus because it was free causing increased travel time. Prior to free transfer, buses rarly stopped to pick up passengers between Bedford ave and e16th street station.

          Issuing tickets to fare betters and other subway rules violators would generate tons of money.

          Get rid of the station agents in the booth and make them enforcement .

      • Alon Levy says:

        Collection costs don’t have to be that high.

    • Sharon says:

      Except not everyone take mta services. We already are stuck paying for studd with criminal taxes and tolls
      . Mta services are not a right. Stop creating a government mandate.

  5. Peter says:

    How about a turnstile on the bus? And if it only worked in one direction, it would also encourage people to exit from the rear.

  6. Al D says:

    It’s interesting that the MTA almost always errs in its favor. In this instance, oops we were off by 280%. Oh well, that’s how they manage so many things, it’s a wonder how they are in so much trouble. Oh, and somewhat related, I was in a meeting today where the whole matter of the 2 Broadway sweetheart/corrupt deal came up again. Still there for a whole lot longer. Probably no out clause either. That agency is well… a train wreck!

  7. Bolwerk says:

    No bleed is inevitable. If your fines don’t make up your losses, you’re doing it wrong.

    That said, bus enforcement is badly executed. Go POP already, and spare drivers the distraction and risk of physical harm they incur when they have to do collection. Let them drive. This is even the one area where the TA could make sense by increasing its labor overhead!

    • To play realist here, do you know any business that has a 0 percent bleed rate? Even with penalties.

      • Bolwerk says:

        A (private) business can’t streamline fines and forfeiture like a public agency can. But to answer your question, I would define a “bleed” as losing more than you gain from an activity. Going by that, sensible fines and effective enforcement should make it so there is even a bit of a profit from this anti-social behavior, so there literally should be no net loss – I believe this is how most POP agencies work, at least outside the USA.

        But if you’re defining a bleed as the people who still manage to get away with the evasion, I agree some always will. I just don’t see the problem with that if the end financial result is the same as, or in fact better than, the ideal of no evasion.

      • Alon Levy says:

        I know several in this industry that have a 2% bleed rate.

        Hell, what’s the bleed rate on the subway?

  8. ant6n says:

    5.5% is worse than in many POP systems. Maybe part of the solution is offering a yearly subscription which is noticeably cheaper than single tickets, and cheaper than monthly passes. The decision to pay your fare should almost never happen when entering the bus, but months before. (This could also be achieved by making single tickets more expensive)

  9. Phantom says:

    I am occasional bus rider, and I don’t know if I’ve ever observed fare beating on a bus ( in Bay Ridge, lower, or east side of Manhattan , M60 to LGA ) I must be living a sheltered life.

    I would engage a lot of resources to beat this anti social activity.Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.

    Michael, people beat the fare for only one reason. They don’t want to pay the fare.

    Noah, a free fare system is the worst solution. The trains and buses would become rolling flophouses for bums of every subspecie, and productive society would abandon the system.

    Enforce the law aggressively. Word gets around.

  10. UESider says:

    If’ve been stuck a few times with either an expired card or no card with me – most drivers will let you on if you come clean

    In the (roughly) 6-8 times I’ve been in this situation, only 1 driver told me to get off. He was a d* about it but the next driver was cool about it

    It happens and since you cant pay with a CC, it really shouldnt be a big deal

    I’ve seen others get on without paying and most drivers are ok with it Lbut I’ve never seen them let anyone just cruise by without any explanation). On one occassion the bus driver made a guy get off for not paying but he was pretty wise, so glad he did

    • Phantom says:

      If its happened 8 times to you , its not an accident. It is intentional at some level at least.

      • Bolwerk says:

        It’s a pretty easy thing to do. One day your card works, the next day it doesn’t.

        My experience is similar to UESider’s. I usually just ask if I can get a new one when I get to the subway. The ones who say no usually do it by stopping the bus and leaving the door open without saying a word. He’s right, they tend to be dicks.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    Out of curiosity, does the number include or exclude people who say that they have unlimited monthlies or are transferring to the subway?

    • ajedrez says:

      It probably does. I mean, if the B/O presses F5, it doesn’t distinguish between the different reasons somebody has for not dipping in a MetroCard.

      Hopefully this doesn’t end up being like enforcement of rules like taking up two seats, where they ticket people putting the corner of their leg up at 2AM with 10 people in the car while letting people spread out during rush hour. I’ve seen people go on saying “I don’t have a MetroCard” as if it was the equivalent of dipping in a MetroCard (no waiting for the B/O’s permission or anything like that). Hopefully those are the types of people who they go after, and not those who legitmately forgot their MetroCard or whatever. Personally (and a lot of drivers have this attitude), if somebody comes on and respectfully asks if they can ride, I don’t see the problem with it. Yeah, I know the system needs money to run, not “Please and Thank You”, but at least be grateful for the free ride.

  12. ceaser says:

    No ajedrez you wount see a problem with it cause you don’t drive a bus and go thru that crap each and everyday

  13. Danny N says:

    50 million dollars in farebeating on buses per year times $100 in fines equals 5 billion dollars in extra revenue!
    Wake up MTA!!

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