About the report on MTA Fare and Toll Evasion
Fare and toll evasion is a sensitive issue that raises difficult questions about social cohesion, inequality, and appropriate use of enforcement. But the situation in New York has reached a crisis level, and avoiding the topic is no longer a viable option.
Losses to the MTA’s operating budget are staggering, with nearly $700 million in revenue not collected in 2022 alone. This includes $315 million lost in bus fares, $285 million in subway fares, $46 million in bridge and tunnel tolls, and $44 million in railroad fares.
Fares and tolls account for a significant proportion of the MTA’s annual budget revenue — almost $7 billion a year. But every dollar lost to evasion impairs the MTA’s financial stability, threatens reliable transit for all New Yorkers, and increases the need for alternative revenue sources, including through larger fare and toll hikes.
The MTA convened a Blue-Ribbon Panel of high-profile New Yorkers with expertise in relevant fields to better understand fare and toll evasion, and develop fresh solutions to the issue.
Panelists spent the better part of a year meeting with stakeholders inside and outside the MTA, speaking with transit users, and observing fare and toll collection operations throughout the system.
The panel’s final report proposes a cohesive and comprehensive set of strategies around education, environment, equity, and enforcement.
Strategies for responding to fare and toll evasion
Driving down evasion means going beyond enforcement measures and adopting a 360-degree strategy — one that acknowledges the reasons why people evade in the first place. To do this, the Blue Ribbon Panel recommends focusing on what it calls the "Four E's": education, equity, environment (design and technology), and enforcement.
These principles informed the panel's recommendations for how the MTA responds to fare and toll evasion across all of its modes of transportation.
The MTA should communicate the importance of fare and toll payment to the general public, and respond to the particular needs of different demographics throughout the city (for example, students who use student MetroCards).
Better support for low-income New Yorkers who need help paying transit fares and embedding equity principles in enforcement policies.
The report recommends exploring new technologies and changes to the physical entry experience that will make payment easier and evasion harder.
The panel recommends increasing the focus on serious criminals, evasion enablers (those who cause or profit from evasion by others), and evasion recidivists. It also recommends expanding the use of civil tools to handle most evasion while applying precision policing and criminal justice tools to respond to the most determined evaders.
The report includes more than 70 recommendations for combating fare and toll evasion, focusing on the principles outlined in the four Es. While some of these recommendations may be implemented agencywide, others speak to specific issues with particular MTA modes of transit — such as covered or obscured license plates on MTA's nine bridges and tunnels, or delayed ticket activation on commuter railroads.
Some of these recommendations are included below, and the full list is available in the report itself.
- Move toward modernizing the subway entrance experience with 21st-century faregates
- Better support low-income bus and subway riders by expanding and improving the Fair Fares program
- Prioritize the transition to OMNY, including for students, especially to OMNY on smartphones
- Create messaging campaigns that focus on the benefits of fare payment, as well as the causes and effects of fare and toll evasion
- Regularly consult with vendors and peer agencies to keep pace with needed technological improvements
- Identify opportunities to streamline and simplify the on-board commuter rail fare collection process
- Adopt a warnings-first approach to summonses for first-time evaders
- Improve enforcement through a new commitment to “precision policing"
- Continue the shift to civil enforcement for most evaders
- Double down on community outreach and publicity efforts through local nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and local media in multiple languages
About the Blue-Ribbon Panel
In 2022, MTA leadership created the Blue-Ribbon Panel to hit the reset button on how the authority and its stakeholders approach fare and toll evasion in New York. The panel's mandate was to develop fresh approaches to reducing fare and toll evasion across the entire MTA system of subways, buses, commuter rails, bridges and tunnels.
Members of the panel were asked to focus on innovative approaches to encourage fare payment through education, equity, environment, and enforcement. The panel also sought to determine how technological, design, and personnel solutions can help limit fare and toll evasion.