Children and Transit’s fare evasion conundrum


Earlier this week, during the MTA Board Committee meetings, the Transit Committee materials let slip an interesting fact: Fare evasion is higher than previously reported. Facing pressure from within and without, Transit has upped its estimate of lost revenue to around $100 million. Based on the latest budget projections, that puts the agency’s bleed rate at around 2.7 percent, not unmanageable but higher than anyone would like.

Now, it’s all well and good to target fare evasion, but there’s a potential PR problem looming. What do you if many of those evading the fares are children? According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, children who duck under turnstiles could account for up to 43 percent of the subway fare evasion problem. Sumathi Reddy had more to say:

Last year, the Daily News reported that an agency staff report presented at a conference found that 43% of fare-beaters were kids taller than 44 inches ducking under turnstiles. At the time, the Daily News said the authority was considering placing signs near turnstiles to make riders aware of the rule.

Bowling Green is the only subway station that has one: Near the turnstiles at every subway entrance is a blue sign with a yellow ruler. The 44-inch point is marked and the sign says: “When accompanied by an adult, up to 3 children under 44 inches in height, ride free.”

Hmmm. So if you have four babies in tow, you have to pay for one. Who knew? But it doesn’t clearly spell out that if a parent has even one child over 44 inches, he or she must pay (though that information is posted on booths).

A spokesman for the MTA said the Bowling Green sign was part of a pilot program that began last year to inform commuters that the requirement exists. He said the agency is studying whether it’s feasible to put them up across the entire system.

Of course, the sign, as Reddy notes, is having no effect. She noticed parents opening the emergency exits for her children, two children doubling up on one swipe at the urging of their parents and a general disregard for the height requirement.

What to do? What to do? Reddy offers up this child-friendly take: “It’s hard to complain about the MTA not cracking down on child fare-beaters. In fact, we should probably applaud them, though one has to wonder why the rule exists to begin with.” Still, with the stories she tells, parents should be under the microscope here, and neither age nor height should excuse a proper fare payment.

Yet, it’s a tough question to address. If the MTA is going to cut down on fare evasion, it will have to focus on the fact that a lot of children who should be paying for the rides have not been, and that’s an uncomfortable conundrum for parents and transit executives alike.

33 Responses to “Children and Transit’s fare evasion conundrum”

  1. Nicholas Ober says:

    Are higher profile plexiglass fare gates like those seen in Western Europe the solution? It would certainly make turnstile jumping (or ducking) a rather difficult proposition.

    • They have those in Boston too and a similar set-up in DC. I think you can jump over those, but it would certainly make ducking with smaller children nearly impossible. It might be a good idea to overhaul the turnstile when the MetroCard is eliminated.

      • Nick says:

        I live in Boston. The T fare gates are pretty tough to jump, especially compared to NYC. However, dangle your backpack/skateboard/anything over the gate to the sensor on the other side and it’ll open up. It’ll make a horrible “ERRR ERRR ERRR” noise but if its busy nobody would take note of it.

  2. AC says:

    my almost 5 year old son is 44 or 45 inches. maybe a little more. if i have to pay for him, i’ll just drive my car. $5 round trip for a kid and a longer trip than driving is not worth it

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      The average age for attaing that height is about eight years old.

      Of course anyone over 65 rides for a half fare. It used to be only off peak. Now it is all the time.

      • mike d. says:

        Of course anyone over 65 rides for a half fare. It used to be only off peak. Now it is all the time.

        Except MTA express buses & railroads

      • al says:

        Check again. Boys and girls reach that at 4.5-7 yrs old.

        • SEAN says:

          Keep in mind that many kids are bigger than prior generations. This is do to several factors including but limited to: lack of physical activity, changes in the food supply/ ease of junk food, biochemical changes do to enviernmental exposure amung other things.

          So a height limit no longer makes sence, but an age limit does.

          • SEAN says:

            correction, not limited to.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Actually, while Americans have been getting wider, they’re not getting taller much.

            • Bolwerk says:

              They might not be getting much taller, but they might be getting as tall as they have been a younger ages.

            • shelley Winfield says:

              Every decade the height of Americans has increased. MTA’s subways and buses’ age requirement was changed to height three decades ago. The age requirements was age six. Maybe 44″ was the equivalent then but now it is equvalent to 41/2 years old.

              MTA’s MetroNorth and Long Island Railroad require age for full payment of a child’s fare.
              Let’s be fair and return to age to determine fare.

  3. Michael K says:

    Opening up the system by giving everyone under 16 and over 65 free use of the system during off peak hours would solve this issue, as well as the expensive access-a-ride system that we all love…

    If anything it would would cut down on congestion and improve air quality.

    Transport for London has a system that is exactly this, I had a pass when I was 14 visiting my grandparent there back in 2000.

    • Andrew says:

      Transport for London also charges adults between £2.00 ($3.14) and £8.20 ($12.87), depending on zones, for a single ride on Oyster.

      What you propose is costly. Unless subsidized, it would require a significant fare increase for the rest of us.

  4. John-2 says:

    Back in the 1960s, the TA used to put signs up on subways and buses that said:

    “Little Enough to Ride for Free?
    Little Enough to Ride Your Knee!

    …with accompanying illustration. Not quite the 44-inch rule, but similar, while the latter is more specific to the problem of an adult having too many kids/not enough knees in tow to make the original rhyme work (of course, the 44-inch rule would tend to discriminate towards the kids of jockeys and against the kids of basketball centers, but other than tagging each kid in the subway with some sort of age-specific RF device, there isn’t any easy way for the MTA to monitor who deserves to get in free and who doesn’t).

    • Jerrold says:

      I was going to say something about THAT issue, but you beat me to it. Many parents put their baby or toddler on a seat, even when there are people (including senior citizens) standing. And coming to think of it, some people even keep a PACKAGE on the window seat next to them on a crowded train or bus.

  5. Andrew Smith says:

    Why, exactly, do they think it would be a PR problem to crack down on this? The MTA would not be asking the children to pay. It would be asking parents to pay. We don’t expect restaurants to give free food to kids or clothing stores to provide free clothes. Yes, some people really lack the money needed to pay, but the solution to that is certainly some sort of subsidy to those who meet income requirements, not to let countless kids whose parents can afford transit beat the system. Not only would the MTA benefit but the kids would, too, because they wouldn’t learn that cheating is somehow OK.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I agree in principle, but in practice cracking down on parents getting their kids free rides means cracking down on possibly the loudest, most narcissistic/entitled group in the city. It’s no wonder they don’t want to do it.

      Also, at least half-rate cards or slightly pricier family passes for kids too young to ride alone seems reasonable. Get them to pay something. I get AC’s position too, where it’s not very helpful to pay full fare if you have a bunch of kids – at that point, it’s cheaper to drive, at least if you already have a car.

      • AC says:

        outside of manhattan most people have cars. its 2 stops from daycare to home. if the weather is nice i like to pick the kid up on foot and walk to the train.

        if i have to pay for this i won’t care, i’ll just go home and get the car and drive that 2 miles round trip to pick up my kid. not like the MTA will ever see that revenue. not worth the $40 a month its going to cost me if i have to pay for my kid.

        you can’t achieve 100% perfection in any system. the first 80% is easy and the last 20% is hard and the closer you get to 100% the less sense it makes to put the effort in.

        same here, the MTA is chasing a few imaginary dollars where people can just change their routines and they will never see them anyway

  6. Kai B says:

    Using height seems pretty discriminating. As I am very tall, my future child will (likely) start costing me money before a short couple’s would.

    They should switch to age.

    • Kid Twist says:

      Unless kids start carrying ID cards, it’s much easier to determine a child’s height than his age.

      • Andrew says:


        Even if kids carry ID cards, it isn’t feasible for the police to check them. Height is easy for a bystander to determine; age is not.

        And imagine the uproar when a parent “forgets” to bring his child’s ID and is fined for fare evasion.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s legal to discriminate based on height.

    • M Solomon says:

      It misleading to say that these kids or parent are evading fares. It implies that these parent actually know the fare rules for kids. Most parents do not know them. I met a parent recently who thought it was based on age and not height. Most people are not purposely breaking the rule.

      Also remember that fares in the city are high. Is it fair for a kid to pay the same fare as an adult? Is it fair to even have this rule based on height? A short seven year old won’t have to pay. On the other hand, a tall one will. This does not make any sense.

      New York city transit is not kid or parent friendly.

  7. UESider says:

    this issue gets compounded as these kids begin to grow up because their parents have been teaching them to steal free rides… I bet this leads to juvenile (maybe even adult) fare beating as it becomes a mindset

    a subsidy is probably the only feasible solution

    to me, the bigger problem are the wide-set riders who taken up a seat and a half and tie up two seats and those who spread out every other seat and choose who they ‘let’ sit down next to them. these riders should pay double.

    karma is going to haunt these riders for years, cuz it’ll come around one way or another

  8. Anon says:

    New rule: Everyone Under 70 pays
    Everyone over 70 rides free.

  9. Farro says:

    1. The Child discount/ride free should be based on age, not height. Give all children a special age-verified ride-free metro card.

    2. Students should have discounts on exactly the same terms as seniors. It always embitters me when student discounts are cut but senior discounts are maintained b/c seniors are a better political lobbying group.

    • BoerumBum says:

      Hello, black market for children’s metrocards!

    • Andrew says:

      Personalized MetroCards for children are impractical. How do you ensure that they aren’t passed on to older children? What happens when a child loses his pass? The mere administration of the program would be a nightmare. A height-based policy is easy to enforce (as long as the police opt to enforce it).

      The student free ride policy is a substitute for school buses. It’s specifically intended for trips to and from school – that’s why it isn’t valid at night or on days school isn’t in session. The city should be funding the student fare program in its entirety, much as any other school district pays for its school buses. When the MTA threatened to cut the program in 2010, the point wasn’t to leave students stranded – it was a strategy to force the city to pay up. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

      Outside of rush hours, the senior discount is mandated by federal law. The MTA could limit its availability to off-peak periods but otherwise can’t touch it.

  10. Bob says:

    Look, parents need a break. we often travel with kids because we cant afford a babysitter, so the kid comes on errands with us. or to drop the kid off somewhere will already require a full round trip. Costs mount fast, even if kids ride free. Once you,start doubling and tripling those costs, it just becomes too expensive to go anywhere. with a car, at least your costs dont triple when you take your two kids shopping.

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