Let’s be honest.
Gov. Hochul’s proposal to reduce farebeating will do next to nothing.
First, let’s look at the scope of the problem.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it loses $690 million a year from people jumping the turnstile or boarding buses without paying.
At $2.90 a pop, that is more than 238 million fare beats a year — or 652,000 each day.
The NYPD issued around 120,000 civil summonses for farebeating last year, the most since it started publishing records on its website in 2018.
That means there’s only about a 1 in 2,000 chance of getting a summons.
So of the more than 652,000 fare beats every day in New York City, just 329 result in a summons.
The NYPD in 2023 arrested about 4,400 people for fare evasion — 1 arrest for every 54,000 evasions.
Now the governor wants to give them a pass the first time they get caught.
Under her plan, they’ll be issued a “warning” and told not to do it again, instead of receiving a $100 fine.
This is getting tough?
Right now, there are 652,000 fare beats every day with a 1 in 2,000 chance of the evaders getting a $100 fine.
How many will try to beat the fare when the only consequence is a “warning”?
Under the governor’s plan, if they get caught a second time, they get a $100 fine — but half of that goes to an OMNY card for the farebeater.
So the new penalty for a second offense is really only a $50 fine, half the current $100 fine.
On the third offense, the fine goes to $150, and the fourth is $200.
It’s not until the fifth time they face arrest, only for the district attorneys’ offices to decline prosecution.
And remember, there is only a 1 in 54,000 chance of even getting arrested.
The attack on farebeating arrests was always a phony one.
NYPD policy for decades has been that the first and second time people get stopped for farebeating, they get a civil summons and a $100 fine.
They do not get a criminal record.
Only the third time do they face criminal prosecution, and then it is by desk-appearance ticket, which is a summons returnable in criminal court.
Most of those are disposed of with no criminal record attached.
Our elected officials continue to treat “minor” crimes as “crimes of poverty.”
They paint farebeaters as poor people on their way to work who jump a turnstile because the fare is too high.
To deal with that, the city in 2019 started the Fair Fares NYC program offering half-price metro cards to low-income New Yorkers.
More than 300,000 New Yorkers are enrolled.
Yet fare evasion has doubled since the program began.
Poverty went down in the Big Apple even as farebeating surged.
The politicians claim people shoplift to feed their families, in spite of hundreds of food pantries and soup kitchens, nutrition grants, free lunches and breakfasts for schoolchildren and numerous other programs around the city — and despite the fact just 327 people are responsible for one-third of all New York City shoplifting arrests.
The problem is our city politicians do not take farebeating seriously, and if they don’t, why should citizens?
Legislators treat farebeaters as victims of an unfair system rather than the petty thieves they are, with predictable results.
Cyrus Vance, then Manhattan district attorney, started the avalanche of farebeaters in July 2017 when he announced his office would no longer prosecute farebeating as a crime.
In the last three months of 2017 (the earliest numbers on its website), the NYPD made 3,296 arrests for fare evasion, again arresting only those people who had been given two prior civil summonses.
In the last three months of 2018, as Vance’s policy became more public and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez joined in, the number of farebeating arrests went down almost 75%, to 858.
In all of 2022, the NYPD made just 1,897 arrests for fare evasion.
In 2023, arrests rose to about 4,400 a year out of 238 million offenses, still far below 2017 numbers.
The result of these policies?
Losses from fare evasion doubled from $150 million in 2017, before the no-prosecution policies, to $300 million in 2019, and then soared to a $690 million loss last year.
I’m not saying arresting people will stop fare evasion.
But it has to be part of an overall policy that is designed to discourage, not excuse, fare evasion.
As a paying transit rider, it is both infuriating and disheartening to see people — obviously not “poor and downtrodden” — walking through emergency exits or jumping over turnstiles to gain entry without paying.
It adds immeasurably to the sense of disorder and chaos that is starting to engulf this still-great city.
And that is ultimately far more damaging than the loss of “a mere” $690 million.
Jim Quinn was executive district attorney in the Queens DA’s Office, where he served for 42 years.