Expanding Gate Guards in Subways and EAGLE Teams on Buses; Making Physical Changes to Subway Fare Arrays
Supporting Governor Hochul’s Legislation to Strengthen Penalties for Drivers who Evade Tolls with Obscured or Forged License Plates
Promoting Fare Payment on Commuter Railroads with TrainTime App Messaging and New Approaches to Ticketing
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today reported to the MTA Board and the public on how the Authority is moving to implement the recommendations of the Blue-Ribbon Panel Report on Fare and Toll Evasion. The report, released 60 days ago by a group of education, social justice, transportation and law enforcement experts, outlined dozens of actionable recommendations for how to address rising fare and toll evasion across the transit system. The MTA has committed to assess and execute the recommendations, and to keep the Board and public informed. Today’s update was the first in what will be a series of ongoing progress reports.
According to the report, fare and toll evasion 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 “Four Es” strategy: combating fare and toll evasion through Education, Equity, Environment (design and technology), and Enforcement. Key recommendations include 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 – turning fare evaders, whenever possible, into paying customers. The Blue-Ribbon Panel set a goal for the MTA of reducing fare and toll evasion by half within three years across the entire system.
“By combining education, enforcement and infrastructure improvements, we can tackle the root causes of evasion – increasing paid ridership and equity at the same time,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis and Roger Maldonado, Blue-Ribbon Panel Co-Chairs. “We are glad to see that MTA leadership has embraced our panel’s report and look forward to supporting the implementation efforts.”
“Fare evasion is more than just a budget issue, it’s a social issue that tears at the spirit of fairness and mutual respect that New Yorkers need and expect,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Making some of the panel’s key recommendations a reality is going to be an all-hands effort and I’m looking forward to working with New York City public schools, community groups, the courts, District Attorneys, NYPD, the state legislature, and other partners to make progress in reducing fare evasion.”
“Taking on fare evasion requires both immediate action and long term vision,” said MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer. “Our efforts to modify fare arrays in the subway system will include short-term modifications to turnstiles and exit gates as well as looking to the next generation of the fare array. The benefits of this work will go beyond reducing fare evasion, also improving customer flow and helping move the MTA towards our goal of a fully accessible transit system.”
“The entire team at NYC Transit has moved swiftly to advance recommendations of the Panel, addressing fare evasion at its root causes,” said NYC Transit President Richard Davey. “On buses, that means a historic expansion of our EAGLE team at local bus hubs with high rates of evasion with support from the NYPD, and in the subway system, we are addressing core drivers of fare evasion by limiting evasion at emergency gates and implementing an innovative back-cocking solution on turnstiles.”
“Adding new technology to our fleet and collaborating with local elected officials will further allow us to ensure all drivers who cross facilities are paying their fair share,” said MTA Bridges and Tunnels Interim President Catherine Sheridan. “This is a warning to motorists that if they try to evade paying the toll, they will get caught.”
“While customers have high praise for our TrainTime app and mobile ticket sales are booming, the railroads need a way to address customers who do not activate their mobile tickets before they board the train,” said Metro-North President and Long Island Railroad Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “To put an end to free rides, the railroads are pursuing changes to ticket validity periods and mobile activation policies.”
Subways and Buses
Most customers who evade the fare on the subways do so by walking through an open emergency gate. Evasion also happens by customers jumping over, ducking under, back-cocking, or doubling up through the turnstiles. In 2022, the MTA lost an estimated $285 million to fare evasion on subways.
Taking an equitable approach is essential to solving fare evasion. The panel report called for an expansion of the City of New York’s Fair Fares program, and the MTA was pleased that this year's City budget included greater Fair Fares eligibility and funding. The MTA also is working to enroll more customers in its own Reduced-Fare programs for seniors, disabled riders, and veterans. Moving quickly to implement a key panel recommendation, the MTA now accepts the IDNYC card as an official form of identification for these Reduced-Fare programs. MTA station agents and representatives at Customer Service Centers hand out flyers advertising Fair Fares and the Reduced-Fare programs, and representatives from the NYC Department of Social Services regularly attend NYCT Transit Talk events in stations and assist with Fair Fares enrollment.
The MTA is taking steps to minimize unauthorized use of emergency gates, which the panel report confirmed have become the superhighway of fare evasion. MTA’s Subways team has replaced all 1,620 access key locks on the gates with new highly secure locks, which promises to eliminate the problem of unauthorized persons unlocking the gates.
More civilian gate guards are also being deployed throughout the system. MTA data confirms that these guards continue to pay for themselves, increasing the level of paid fares simply by standing in front of the emergency gates on the paid side and encouraging customers to exit through the turnstiles rather than the gates. The more the gates stay closed, the fewer opportunities there are to use them for unauthorized entry.
The MTA is committing to release a Request for Information later this year for the next generation of fare arrays – seeking industry’s best ideas for new gates that will be easier for all customers to use, and harder for anyone to evade. At least two additional Wide Aisle Gates will be installed later this year, building on the success of the gates already operating at Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center and Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue–JFK Airport stations. Lessons learned from these Wide Aisle Gates will inform design of gates in the future both to increase accessibility and to deter fare evasion.
Customers evade the fare on buses by walking past the farebox without paying, boarding through a back door, short-changing the farebox, or failing to purchase a ticket for Select Bus Service. In 2022, the MTA lost an estimated $315 million to fare evasion on buses.
A key panel recommendation was to change the approach of the EAGLE Teams that handle fare evasion enforcement on buses – redeploying the EAGLE Teams to increase their focus on local bus service (non SBS) and giving the EAGLE Team members a new role as educators on the availability of fare payment assistance programs such as Fair Fares. This summer, the MTA will implement a new “Bus Stop Hub” approach at selected Local and SBS bus stops with high rates of fare evasion, where EAGLE Team members (with NYPD support) will both issue summonses and educate members of the community on fare payment options.
Bridges & Tunnels
Drivers evade tolls by obscuring their license plate, displaying fraudulent plates, and failing to pay the toll when billed by mail. In 2022, the MTA lost an estimated $46 million to toll evasion.
The MTA is pursuing reciprocity agreements with other states so non-New York drivers caught evading tolls would be penalized in their home state (e.g., by blocking registration or license renewals) until tolls are repaid and working with District Attorneys throughout the region to pursue more complex, multi-jurisdiction toll evasion cases.
The MTA will also continue to advocate for legislation proposed in Governor Hochul’s FY24 budget that would allow the DMV to block registration renewals by vehicle identification number, strengthen the ability to suspend registration for vehicles with unpaid tolls, allow police officers to confiscate devices used to obstruct license plates, and increase fines on B&T crossings for intentionally obstructing license plates. Legislation proposed by the New York City Council would allow the NYPD and NYC Department of Sanitation to tow cars with fake license plates within 24-72 hours.
MTA Bridges & Tunnels is also moving forward with the use of portable License Plate Readers that allow Bridges & Tunnels Officers to expand evasion detection efforts across its facilities.
All these efforts to reduce toll evasion will also be a critical part of the MTA’s program for collection of congestion pricing tolls in Manhattan’s Central Business District.
A major source of evasion on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro-North Railroad is riders taking a free ride by failing to activate a mobile ticket or via a paper ticket that is not collected. In 2022, MTA lost an estimated $40 million to fare evasion on LIRR and Metro-North combined.
Responding to the panel’s recommendations, both railroads are releasing messaging campaigns to customers that focus on the importance of fare payment with an emphasis on the importance of activating mobile tickets before conductors undertake their ticket checks.
The railroads will also continue to leverage the use of the increasingly popular TrainTime app, which allows railroad customers to buy their tickets before boarding the train. 94% of daily customers use the app, which now represents over 60% of ticket sales. Other panel recommendations being pursued by the railroads include a study of how to possibly reduce the number and complexity of ticket types, a review of the fare evasion measurement process, and a review of policies and procedures for the issuance of on-board invoices to customers who board without tickets.