New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released its 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, according to MTA's news release.
How to Combat the Trend
The report recommended a plan to combat fare and toll evasion, including modernizing subway fare gates, better supporting low-income transit riders, and instituting a 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.
“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 Janno Lieber, MTA CEO. “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.”
The Blue-Ribbon Panel Origins
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 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 Enforcement.
Subway Fare Evasion
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.
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%.
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.
Fare Evasion on Buses
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 that 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.
Evasion on Commuter Railroads
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.
Evasion on 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.