MTA to Reimagine Subway Fare Gate System to Improve Accessibility and Deter Evasion
Four-Pronged Focus on Equity, Education, Enforcement, and Environment
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today released the Final Report of the Blue-Ribbon Panel on Fare Evasion, a group of education, social justice, and law enforcement experts convened in May 2022 to better understand the causes of rising fare and toll evasion across the transit system and recommend actionable solutions. According to the report, the situation has reached crisis levels, with the MTA losing an estimated $690 million in unpaid fares and tolls in 2022, threatening the economics of mass transit in the New York metropolitan area and tearing at the social fabric of the city and region.
To combat this trend, the report recommended a comprehensive plan to combat fare and toll evasion, including modernizing subway fare gates, better supporting low-income transit riders, and instituting a generational refresh of enforcement that commits to precision policing and civil enforcement for most evaders. The Blue-Ribbon Panel’s mission is to reduce fare and toll evasion rates and dollar losses by half within three years across the entire MTA while boosting paid ridership.
“This report is the product of over a year of intensive work taking a fresh look at the issue of fare and toll evasion, its causes, and potential solutions,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis and Roger Maldonado, Blue-Ribbon Panel Co-Chairs. “Fare evasion is a crisis that threatens the future of the MTA, and to solve it the panel believes a rigorous, comprehensive approach to tackle root causes is needed. By bringing New Yorkers together and centering education, equity, and changes to the physical entry experience along with a reimagined enforcement strategy, we can alleviate evasion and turn the tide.”
“Fare and toll evasion isn’t just an economics problem: it tears at the social contract that supports mass transit in New York City. New Yorkers are sick of feeling like suckers seeing their neighbors beat the fare or cheat the toll while they pony up their fair share,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “The report findings address this emerging crisis with a comprehensive plan across all MTA services, while also acknowledging that enforcement alone will not solve this problem. The MTA will look to implement some of the Panel’s key recommendations, and we thank them for their tremendous work.”
“These are 16 New York leaders who love the city, love the region, love the transit system,” said MTA Special Counsel Jeremy Feigelson. “I think you'll see that this is not your grandfather's approach to fare evasion. It's fresh, it's different, it's comprehensive. It's an approach that for the first time says we're going to pay as much attention to the driver of the Mercedes with the fake plate as we are to the person who is walking through the subway exit gate, or the commuter rail rider who is hiding from the conductor.”
“The Blue-Ribbon Panel has asked the MTA to think big and pursue a reimagined subway fare gate that works better for all customers while also limiting fare evasion,” said MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer. “Fare gates of the future will be an OMNY-era upgrade on turnstiles - virtually unchanged from the day of the token - that will increase customer flow and accessibility while combating fare evasion by addressing the problems we see at turnstiles today and limiting the need for emergency fare gates, which have become a superhighway of fare evasion. We look forward to advancing this proposal in the MTA’s upcoming Capital Plan.”
Convened in the spring of 2022, the Blue-Ribbon Panel was given a mandate to investigate the root causes of fare and toll evasion and develop a comprehensive strategy to combat it. In developing the plan, members of the panel performed nine site visits of subway, bus, commuter rail, and bridge and tunnel facilities and held six panel-wide meetings to develop the final report.
To drive down evasion, the panel proposed a refreshed, 360-degree strategy, which moves away from a sole focus on enforcement and, instead, responds to the root causes of fare and toll evasion through the four “E’s” of Education, Equity, Environment, and, of course, Enforcement.
Fare evasion in the subway system cost the MTA $285 million in lost revenues in 2022. Each day, approximately 400,000 riders enter the New York City subway without paying – roughly 10-15%. To combat this, the Blue-Ribbon Panel proposes replacing the existing turnstiles, which are virtually unchanged from the token era, with modernized fare arrays, increasing accessibility while allowing the MTA to remove the existing emergency gates, which are the largest single conduit of fare evasion in the entire system. Currently, more than half of all subway fare evasion occurs through the existing emergency gates.
In the immediate term, solutions to make the existing turnstile and fare gate control system more evasion proof will be explored. The MTA is also coordinating with the NYPD on precision enforcement in the subway system. In the past year, the number of summonses has increased nearly 60%, but there needs to be more focus on how to select locations for deployment. The panel calls for using new technology and data sources to pinpoint evasion hotspots. The panel also calls for a community-based approach to creating "zero evasion stations" - first, discouraging evasion by working through local organizations to promote fare payment, and following only then with targeted enforcement efforts.
The Blue-Ribbon Panel found that fare evasion on buses cost the MTA an estimated $310 million in lost revenue in 2022, exceeding the revenues lost through subway fare evasion. Roughly 700,000 bus riders do not pay the fare, comprising 37% of all bus riders on an average weekday. Bus fare evasion has increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the MTA suspended bus payment and had riders enter buses through the rear door as a temporary measure to protect bus operators.
The Blue-Ribbon Panel recommends an expanded role for New York City Transit’s Eagle Team, civil agents who currently enforce fare payment almost exclusively on Select Bus Service Routes, by hiring an additional 100 Eagle Team Special Inspectors and redeploying them to targeted local buses where evasion is highest. The redeployment of Eagle Team inspectors to local buses would be amplified with a new messaging campaign to bus riders to increase awareness of bus fare enforcement.
New strategies are also recommended for the Eagle Team to encourage fare payment, including providing access through handheld devices to the database of persons who have received TAB (Transit Adjudication Bureau) summonses, deployment outside of buses to encourage fare payment before boarding, and a “warnings first” approach for summonses which would include distribution of Fair Fares information.
An additional recommendation which would address evasion on buses and subways is doubling the eligibility threshold for Fair Fares to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level to enable an additional 500,000 New Yorkers to access half-priced transit.
"New Yorkers rely on high quality bus and subway services, and to deliver that, the MTA needs fare revenues,” said New York City Transit President Richard Davey. “The Blue-Ribbon panel gets it: well-funded mass transit is a tool for equity, and New York City Transit is ready to implement their recommendations to combat fare evasion at its root causes so we can continue delivering faster, cleaner, and safer service for customers into the future.”
Between Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, the Blue-Ribbon Panel found that fares not collected or collected incorrectly cost the MTA an estimated $44 million in 2022. Roughly 6% of passengers between the two railroads are currently not paying at all.
The Blue-Ribbon Panel identified several drivers of fare evasion on the railroads, including persistent delayed activation of e-tickets, an ineffective invoicing system for those caught not paying, and passengers simply avoiding purchasing a ticket before their journey and gambling on the conductor not checking for payment. The panel acknowledged the complexity of fare enforcement on railroads potentially imperiling on-time performance.
Recommendations to curb nonpayment on commuter rail included strategies to encourage, or even mandate, pre-boarding activation of e-tickets, a reimagined penalty system for nonpayment to replace the current invoice where recidivist offenders pay more, and exploring the feasibility of physical gating at appropriate stations.
“New York’s commuter railroads are bouncing back from the pandemic, with record numbers on both LIRR and Metro-North in recent weeks,” said Metro-North President and LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “As more and more customers return, it is all the more important that the railroads make every effort to collect every fare. We thank the blue-ribbon panel for their thoughtful consideration of the challenges of collecting fares on board our trains and welcome their recommendations on improving the fare collection process, including encouraging timely activation of e-tickets, which now account for more than 60% of all ticket sales.”
Bridges and Tunnels
The Blue-Ribbon Panel determined that between the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels, $46 million in revenue was lost in 2022 due to toll evasion. This evasion deprives the MTA of revenues critical to support the region’s mass transit system – for instance, in 2022, MTA toll revenues generated $1.4 billion to support subway, bus, and commuter rail operations. The report identified three major causes of toll evasion: license plate covers, fraudulent plates, and persistent nonpayment of billed tolls.
To combat these actions, the report recommended the MTA stay ahead of toll scofflaws by pursuing modern technology to defeat evasion tactics, working with the New York State Legislature to increase penalties and registration suspensions for toll evasion, and building on last year’s joint announcement with New York City to eliminate sales of plate covers and illegal plates through online retailers.
In addition, the panel endorsed a continuation of Bridges & Tunnels stepped-up enforcement operations to target persistent toll evaders and seize their vehicles if necessary.
“MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ nine crossings connect the five boroughs of New York City and serve as critical links in the transportation network, moving the region and also providing toll revenue which helps support the MTA’s mass transit,” said MTA Bridges and Tunnels Interim President Catherine Sheridan. “Drivers who seek to evade paying tolls by covering or altering their license plates or simply neglecting to pay, should know they risk serious penalties and fines. We support the recommendations in the Blue-Ribbon Panel’s report to combat toll evasion.”
All five New York City District Attorneys have told the panel that when the facts support it, they will continue to bring criminal cases for those who commit serious crimes and also against those who encourage or profit from evasion through activities like vandalizing MetroCard machines or selling license plate blockers.
The panel also recommends that, on a case-by-case basis, the district attorneys should exercise their discretion to consider cases of significant evasion recidivism for prosecution.
“The MTA is the lifeblood of the City and driving down transit crime and making sure everyone feels safe when traveling continues to be a top priority,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. “We commend the MTA and all the partner agencies that developed this in-depth report. We look forward to continuing to work with our government partners to reduce crime in our transit system.”
“Millions of riders depend on New York’s subways and buses every day, and the safety of our transit system is a top priority for my office,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “I commend the MTA for its comprehensive plan to prevent fare evasion which draws on proven strategies that have delivered promising improvements in other jurisdictions and new ideas tailored to the MTA’s unique needs. We are committed to working with our partners to help ensure New Yorkers have the safe and sustainable transit system they deserve.”
“The millions of riders on MTA buses and subways who pay their fare deserve to commute safely,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark. “This detailed blue-ribbon panel report highlights the economic and security issues the agency is facing and offers sound ideas to decrease fare evasion. I commend the MTA and the panel for their diligent study. I will continue to work with all stakeholders to curb the persistent problem of fare evasion.”
“Our transit system provides a crucial lifeline to millions of New Yorkers. It must be safe and accessible for everyone,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “The panel’s report lays out thoughtful solutions to the issues facing our transit system to better educate riders about resources available and provide accountability in instances of fare evasion that costs the MTA hundreds of millions of dollars. My office will continue to support the MTA in addressing the challenges faced by our transit system.”
“From the time I stepped into the role of District Attorney, my office has fought tirelessly to ensure the safety of New Yorkers, on the streets, in our stores, on our trains and buses, and on our highways,” said Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon. “Despite the difficulties that arose out of so-called criminal justice reforms, my office has dedicated all our resources to ensure public safety and protecting our workers in order to keep Staten Island the safest neighborhood of its size in the nation. Staten Islanders rely on the services provided by the MTA to move about the city, and it is our continued commitment to ensure Staten Islanders can do so safely. We are pleased to see that the MTA is joining us in that commitment with the findings and recommendations contained in the blue-ribbon panel report, which places a premium on the safety and experiences of our Staten Island MTA riders. We look forward to working with the MTA and law enforcement to implement and support these recommendations.”
“We are proud to partner with the MTA on this important issue and to, together, tackle the issues that contribute to fare and toll evasion,” said Blue-Ribbon Panelist and New York City Public Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. “We look forward to sharing feedback from our school communities and to partner on the necessary education and outreach efforts to prevent this from happening.”
“Fare evasion is a bigger and more complex issue than it seems on the surface, requiring a nuanced approach to addressing it,” said Blue-Ribbon Panelist and Executive Director of the Permanent Citizen Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC) Lisa Daglian. “Looking at the four main pillars of equity, education, enforcement and environment provided a holistic overview with substantive recommendations that are realistic, rational and reasonable. It’s critical that we let people know that continuing fare evasion could potentially deprive transit-dependent communities of the service they need and depend on. Increasing the Fair Fares threshold to 200% of the poverty level could be done immediately and would have a tremendous effect on countless families. It’s a key strategy in the report.”
“It was an honor to serve with the distinguished, thoughtful members of the Blue-Ribbon Panel,” said Blue-Ribbon Panelist and Regional Plan Association Executive Vice President Kate Slevin. “The recommendations released today offer equitable, fair, and effective approaches to address the challenge of fare and toll evasion. Along with the increased funding from the recently passed New York State budget, these solutions should help the MTA have the vital operating revenue it needs to provide efficient and reliable transit service and keep fares affordable.”
Blue-Ribbon Panel Unveils Multi-Layered Plan with Cutting-Edge Tech to Reduce Fare and Toll Evasion as Annual Losses Approach $700 Million
Updated May 17, 2023 8:30 p.m.