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.