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In June, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) upped its estimate of what it loses in revenue each year from bus fare evasion from $14 million to $50 million and may increase police enforcement. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) recently discovered that riders are often not tapping fare cards and moving ahead through the turnstiles without paying. An age-old problem, fare evasion prompts an ongoing struggle to stay ahead of people who are trying to beat the system, says Kim Green, president, GFI Genfare.Evasion tactics
The most common fare evasion method, says Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), is piggy-backing or tailgating: following somebody who has paid the fare through the gates.
Other fare evasion tactics MBTA has encountered include jumping on the gates and climbing over them; pulling the gates apart; forcing them open and squeezing through, which often damages the gates; and blocking the outgoing sensor, causing the fare gate to open so people can slip through.
What complicates the problem is that fare evasion is difficult to assess through data, since there’s not a reliable metric to adequately determine if you have a good fare evasion rate, Green adds.
“Does your [rate] look good if it’s based on total ridership divided by the number of people you issue citations to?” Green asks. “If that’s the case, all you have to do to have a low fare evasion rate is put one inspector on [one out of] your 200 trains. You haul 200,000 people, issue three citations a day. It will look like you had no fare evasion, but there are a lot of people on those other 199 trains that are riding for free. You just don’t know it.”
Green adds that there are also jurisdiction issues with proof of payment. Many cities treat fare violation the same way they handle unpaid parking tickets, which brings up the question of how to make them pay the fine.
“Let’s assume you catch an offender,” he explains. “What do you do with them? Across the nation they have all kinds of different laws, and some of the fines can be really high.”
Proof of payment generally is based on the honor system and overall works well for most transit systems, Green says. There may be occasional fluctuations in compliance rates because of increased ridership, but most people are honest and pay their fares. “There always has been debate about how much to spend and what kind of a system to [use] to make sure you get most of the people to pay most of the time,” Green says.