The New York Times ran an article this week on increasing levels of fare evasion on New York City transit.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to lose about $215 million this year from fare evasion on the subway and buses, officials said during a presentation to the agency’s board. About 208,000 people ride the subway each day without paying — nearly 4 percent of all subway riders during the fourth quarter of this year.
Fare evasion has accounted for about one-third of the drop in subway ridership since 2015 and about half of the bus ridership decline during that period, officials said.
Lost revenue is a problem for the transit agency, which is facing a budget crisis. Without new revenue sources, subway officials said they will have to approve huge fare increases or cut service.
Too many so-called transit or “livable streets” advocates practice a form of denialism when it comes to fare evasion. I personally see people evading fares – typically by entering through the emergency exit after passengers exit from a recently departed train – all the time. Sometimes crazy numbers of people are doing it. Yet when I’ve tweeted about this I have people claim to never have seen anyone evade fares.
I saw more of the same on Twitter after this article. People critiqued the MTA’s methodology, or claimed that if people are evading fares they are only doing so because the Metro Card machines are broken.
There’s a set of transit issues that the advocate community doesn’t want to face up to. People who post shrieking articles whenever somebody blocks a bike lane can’t seem to say much about fare evasion. Nor do they want to take on the degradation of behavior on NYC subways (such as people now sometimes smoking pot inside the subway, increasingly playing loud radios, or other obnoxious behavior). Speaking of pot, they also don’t want to talk about the increasing pedestrian deaths in Colorado after pot was legalized and the threat that the legalization movement poses to pedestrian and bicycle safety.
If people want to argue that there are policy tradeoffs to be made, that’s great. Maybe they are willing to accept increasing pedestrian deaths in the name of reducing marijuana arrests. Or explicitly state that fare evasion should be de facto ignored. Those are choices that can be made.
But just remaining either radio silent or attacking the people and media outlets who point out that fare evasion is a big deal – while going crazy about comparatively minor problems elsewhere – is ridiculous.