Home New York City Transit Transit reports $27 million in fares lost to jumpers

Transit reports $27 million in fares lost to jumpers

by Benjamin Kabak

These turnstiles are not for jumpin’. (Photo by flickr user saitowitz)

For years, New York City Transit assumed that fare-beating with a minor, but containable, problem. Most estimates put the number of people who sneaked into the system at five million, a high number but just a few tenths of one percent of the subway’s annual ridership.

Well, toss that assumption out the window. As the Daily News reported today, a new study by Transit found that the agency lost $27 million to fare-beaters in 2009. The problem runs deeper and is far more widespread than anyone at the MTA had originally suspected. Based on new MTA estimates, riders hop turnstiles or sneak in through emergency exits 19 million times a year. While still just over one percent of annual ridership, that $27 million, as the News notes, would be enough to cover the planned subway service cuts.

Pete Donohue has more on the new methodology for tracking those who avoid paying:

NYC Transit for years arrived at fare-beating figures by using a formula based on the observations of token booth clerks. A one-day count was conducted each month, agency spokesman Paul Fleuranges said. An MTA audit concluded the agency was way off the mark. Clerks weren’t keeping accurate tallies because they had other duties like selling MetroCards, Fleuranges said. Because of staff cuts, there also are fewer clerks to make observations, Fleuranges said.

Despite the cuts in personnel and the massive increase in fare-beating numbers, Fleuranges insisted the system has not seen a spike in actual turnstile-jumping. Instead, he said, an unreliable system of estimating has been replaced with a better method that provides a more realistic picture.

NYC Transit now uses “traffic checkers” who are randomly placed at a sampling of turnstiles to count fare-beaters, Fleuranges said.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign issued the obvious comment, and there’s definitely some truth behind it. “The MTA’s only going to make jumping the turnstile more inviting by slashing scores of clerks from subway station entrances,” he said.

But what is the MTA to do? Nearly two years ago, they raised the fare-evading fine to $100. Right now, they need more police enforcement against fare-jumpers. The station agents can sit there and watch people exit and enter, but it’s still exceedingly easy to sneak into a station even with an employee in the booth.

There is, of course, a baseline problem here. No amount of enforcement will stop people from fare-jumping, but at what level of evasion does it become more costly to enforce than it would be to simply chalk up lost fares to an operating expense? After 1.6 billion paid to ride the subways last year, and as long as that 27 million doesn’t creep upward, it could just be a sunk cost.

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lee March 16, 2010 - 12:51 pm

i wonder how much they are really losing since many times people walking through the exit doors will have bought unlimited cards.

Susan soto August 23, 2016 - 2:31 am

Wonder how much there loosing because people with unlimited cards swiping others in, right and left. I phones,expensive headphones, sneakers but you guys ending up paying twice for it. Fare increase and paying for the lifestyle of the ” dont wanna pay, need new sneaker for $200. “

Older and Wiser March 16, 2010 - 1:14 pm

A purely a priori guesstimate, based solely on the several times I’ve observed fare-jumpers, is that half of them wouldn’t opt to make the trip that day if they knew they’d have to pay the fare in order to ride. Figure the revenue loss at closer to $15 million than 30.

Marc Shepherd March 16, 2010 - 1:37 pm

That is an excellent point. They are probably assuming that, with perfect enforcement, every one of those people would have paid a full fare, and that is probably not so.

Russianoff’s comment is also off-the-mark (as his comments so often are). I am sure there is plenty of fare evasion even in stations with agents. They don’t arrest people, and as Ben noted, if they are doing their main job (helping customers), then they are probably not looking at the turnstiles and exit doors.

JP March 16, 2010 - 9:07 pm

And what can they really do when someone jumps the fare? call the police and identify the jumper before the train arrives? Tell the motorman and conductor to halt the train because an alleged fare-beater is somewhere on one of the platforms?

Please forgive my skepticism but is 19 million/year (an average of 52,000 people a day) a realistic count?

How expensive would it be to install motion detectors that take pictures of people going the wrong way in emergency gates and turnstiles, like the ones used in vehicular traffic to catch cars running red lights?

Alon Levy March 18, 2010 - 2:14 pm

How expensive would it be to install motion detectors that take pictures of people going the wrong way in emergency gates and turnstiles, like the ones used in vehicular traffic to catch cars running red lights?

More than 19 million per year.

Unlike cars running red lights, people jumping the turnstiles are not a safety hazard.

Ralph October 17, 2010 - 3:36 am

Just wondering where you get the estimate of 19 million. There are ways of fine tuning that suggestion to make it successful in multiple ways. I have been researching the problem. First off, most crimes committed in the NYC transit system are by fare beaters. If a picture was taken of the fare beater, it would be able to give law enforecemnt a head start in the investigation. Second, if the images were kept in a data base of the evaders and matched up when they get arrested for something in the future, why couldnt these people be re-arrested for every evasion jump. After the word gets out, less people will jump, the MTA saves money because eventually the money lost from the evaders will drop and the subway will become safer.

I have been working on turnstile modifications and motion sensor technology with a new database. I think the costs should be less than 19 million.

Matt Singleton March 16, 2010 - 1:21 pm

and it costs many millions more to have station attendants than they would save if they eliminated ALL fare jumpers….

Andrew March 16, 2010 - 10:37 pm


Also, some types of fare evasion are never enforced, and the fare evaders probably don’t even realize that they’re evading the fare. I’m thinking specifically of children over 44 inches tall. NYCT policy is that only children under 44 inches tall ride free, but that’s never enforced, and most parents probably have no idea that that’s the policy. It’s still technically fare evasion, and the traffic checkers are probably instructed to tabulate it as fare evasion (to the best of their ability to estimate heights).

jon March 16, 2010 - 1:37 pm

This is yet one more reason for paying customers to not use the emergency exits unless necessary. I’m sure we’ve all seen many people use these as entrances, especially the ones that are not anywhere near a token booth.

E. Aron March 16, 2010 - 1:52 pm

Are there considerations for replacing turnstiles with, perhaps, the system they use in London, where plastic doors look like they would effectively prevent fare evasion? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_olfhN3elog no need to watch past 1:30, just as an example.

It seems that if this sum is anywhere near accurate, it would be cost-effective to update the turnstile.

Scott E March 16, 2010 - 2:17 pm

They’ve got similar turnstiles on the JFK AirTrain from Jamaica Station and Howard Beach… and they take Metrocard. (A similar one at Newark uses a different type of ticket).

One might think that this type of turnstile would be put in at new installations (Second Ave, #7 extension), but if South Ferry and Tomkinsville, Staten Island are any indication, they won’t.

wade March 19, 2010 - 9:34 am

good thought,but why was”nt sirt equipped with fare control areas anyway?

pete March 16, 2010 - 6:57 pm

You can still jump/climb over that. You can even get a discounted ride if you share a HEET with someone else.

John March 16, 2010 - 2:16 pm

$100 probably isn’t a high enough fine either, to be an effective deterrent. Assuming you ride fairly infrequently and would pay $2 per ride on average, you’d have to get caught at least one out of 50 times to make the fine a deterrent. From what I’ve read, I don’t think the enforcement rate is that high.

AK March 16, 2010 - 2:49 pm

A significant percentage of offenders are indigent and cannot pay the $100 fine as it is (the Transit Adjudication Bureau provides an “inability to pay” defense on the second appeal). SO, while I would typically agree that they should increase the fine, it is unlikely to make much difference here.

John March 16, 2010 - 5:46 pm

Yeah, not really sure what to do about people who literally can’t pay the fine. One would think they couldn’t afford regularly paying subway fare then either, right? So no revenue loss from them.

AK March 17, 2010 - 8:56 am

Precisely John, which means that any count of them as “lost revenue” is disingenuous.

John June 4, 2010 - 11:58 pm

How can they tell whether or not you can pay? Do they ask for proof of income or do they just go on your word that you can’t pay and then waive the fine?

lee March 16, 2010 - 3:07 pm

a certain amount of shrinkage is inevitable in any business.

I’m no great mathemagician but I’m getting this loss to be about 1.4% of farebox revenue. Using 1.6B rides at $1.41 per. Right?

Benjamin Kabak March 16, 2010 - 3:12 pm

More or less, that’s about right. That seems like a pretty low shrinkage rate to me.

Alon Levy March 16, 2010 - 3:25 pm

Lee, you can get the full revenue numbers here. Subway revenues are $2.2 billion, bus revenues are $800 million. I’m not sure how bus-subway transfers are allocated, though.

lee March 16, 2010 - 3:18 pm

would have to compare to other cities to get a sense of whether that shrinkage is acceptable.

there probably is not an inexpensive or cost effective remedy

Alon Levy March 16, 2010 - 3:26 pm

In Zurich, the 2% fare evasion rate is considered a great success of the POP system.

Marcus March 16, 2010 - 3:45 pm

2% is good for a Proof of Payment system. In San Fransisco, which also uses POP for its buses and light rail, fare evasion rates are 9.5%.


Aaron March 16, 2010 - 3:38 pm

The endless debates in Los Angeles really highlighted the fact that often the marginal cost of decreasing fare evasion will often be higher than the loss experienced from said evasion.

Put in simply language – it’s probably going to be more expensive to reduce fare evasion than it would be to accept a certain baseline number. All operations experience a certain level of loss, be it retail stores that budget for a certain amount of shoplifting or damaged product, or bakeries that account for a certain amount of spoliage. That’s pretty much business 101. A business or agency with zero loss also has zero production.

Side note: I suspect much of the fare evasion that takes place happens because of the structure of the Autogates – I try hard not to let people in behind me when I swipe in, but the door stays open for so long that often people do waltz in behind me. Not too much that can be done about that, for safety’s sake, the door has to be open for longer for wheelchair users. CTA tried to push the envelope on that in Chicago and I think I still have the bruises from the gates closing on my arms – I’m surprised I didn’t get a broken arm, despite the fact that I’ve got a small wheelchair and am rather quick about it. I even got clocked by a WMATA gate once – it’s so difficult to retrieve your card and scoot through the gate, I wish they’d spit the card out the other side of the turnstile in more systems. MTA’s system is a lot more forgiving (and you’re not going to get a bruise if you don’t make it in time), and is probably much easier for folks with more severe disabilities to use – In DC and Chicago it seems that more severely disabled riders have to get help from the station agents (*cough*) just to swipe themselves in.

Aaron March 16, 2010 - 3:46 pm

By the way, and pardon the second comment but, for those autogate users, I bet that there are some false positives. When I’m in the City I almost exclusively use unlimited ride cards, and if the autogate is already open, I’m just going to go on in – maintenance on the autogate is so poor that it seems that inserting an autogate card when the door’s already open can lead to Bad Things happening (cards not being accepted, etc.), and if I’ve got an unlimited ride card, I’ve already paid my fare anyhow – I’m not going to risk having my card eaten and winning an unscheduled trip to Downtown Brooklyn.

It’s not like WMATA or BART where I need to be able to swipe out (further side note: I can’t tell you how many free rides I’ve gotten on BART because the station wasn’t properly configured to accept red tickets at the platform elevator – usually happens on Market Street, not the outer stations – I usually am instructed to tell the attendants something to the effect of “The card reader wasn’t working at Montgomery, can’t swipe out”). It must happen often because, oddly, I’ve never been challenged before on that.

Kai B March 16, 2010 - 9:36 pm

I’m shocked that, aside from one man wiggling under a turnstile in front of a station agent’s eyes recently, I’ve never witnessed anyone beating the fare in the three years I’ve lived here.

What I do see a lot is MetroCards failing (expired, no funds, etc) on busses and passengers just continuing onto the bus, often with the driver’s blessings.

wade March 19, 2010 - 9:45 am

The union has notified the drivers not to get into a conflict wit fare beaters for obvious reasons.Remember the driver in brooklyn that was killed over a transfer?

Brian March 16, 2010 - 10:07 pm

I think that some people hit the nail on the head early on in the comments, that these people would probably not take the subway if they had to pay. And for them, or, as I often see, their children, these people can not afford to take the subway. A full family of five? That’s about 10 dollars if they get a pay-per-ride metro card.

I think that maybe the solution could be not in enforcement, but in enacting a policy to give people who are in certain low income brackets subsidized transit cards, perhaps the feds could just include the money as part of the food stamps program, or make special debit cards that can only be used on the subway. Not only could that reduce fair jumpers, but it would properly transfer money and help subsidize transit when it is desperately in need. Not to mention the fact that it could help bring dignity to those who can’t even afford to pay the 2 dollars to get to work or 10 dollars to take their family out.

Not that this would happen, no one is willing to pay for anything right now, but it’s wishful thinking.

Daniel Howard March 17, 2010 - 11:20 am


That sounds like an invitation to worse fraud. If you’re jumping turnstiles today and then you get an opportunity to purchase discounted fare cards, why not sell those discounted fare cards to those who would otherwise have to pay full fare?

And then jump the turnstiles.

Personally, I would increase the fine and require a trip to the local precinct and the posting of some bail, and video cameras at the turnstiles that cops waiting on the platform can watch. But as others have pointed out, the present fraud rate is sufficiently low that we could regard the status quo as acceptable.


Alon Levy March 17, 2010 - 6:41 pm

The vast majority of low-income riders pay the fare.

wade March 19, 2010 - 9:38 am

you are correct!!The majority of residents in this city are low income…..they really carry city in taxes and have the lowest income!

Andrew March 16, 2010 - 10:44 pm

I doubt that “The problem runs deeper and is far more widespread than anyone at the MTA had originally suspected.” I doubt anybody thought that the old numbers were accurate; they were probably just used to allow comparisons from station to station or from year to year.

Perhaps a better way of phrasing it is “The problem runs deeper and is far more widespread than had previously been reported.” The new methodology is more accurate but is also more labor-intensive; it presumably wasn’t deemed worthwhile until recently to spend the money to obtain the more accurate data.

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Derien August 4, 2010 - 11:00 am

I suspect this will not go over well but feel compelled to speak regardless of response. I am a regular fare beater and unrepentant. I say this having been caught by a transit cop who ticketed me $100, a fare I cannnot afford. I work full time in this city and pay more than two of my checks for my rent. $2.25 for a ride on a filthy train with regular delays, extremely limited train service on the weekends is absurd. I will simply not accept the fact that the MTA is struggling. Charging the millions of hardworking people in New York $5.50 to complete a roundtrip commute is absolute robbery and there is no way they are not making an enormous profit. It is simply an absurd lie. There are the rich in New York and there are the working poor that include me. Having said that, after having been ticketed and then paying the summons which set me back financially I became more determined to make up the lost income for that ticket and have continued to beat the fare whenever I can and will continue to until I manage to move out of this awful city.


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