Fare Evaders Defend Actions

By Elena Johnson

A version of this piece first appeared in Harlem View.

CITY COLLEGE OF NEW YORK–Late last year the MTA announced it would spend $245 million to hire 500 more police officers for train station. Officials pointed to increased fare evaders and safety concerns as the reasoning behind the decisions, according to Newsday.

But many riders see the decision as misguided. After incidents of police brutality on young train riders who evaded the fare, protests erupted throughout the city to fight against the NYPD and the MTA’s efforts to criminalize poverty. In October, an unarmed African-American male named Adrian Napier, 19, was held at gunpoint, frisked, and arrested by several police officers for hopping a turnstile, according to the Washington Post. The arrest seemed over-the-top to many. An “Emergency Action Against the NYPD and MTA” protest took place in November in McLaughlin Park in Brooklyn. Three weeks later 58 people in Harlem were arrested for protesting police in subway stations.

Some commuters, who wanted to be addressed by their first names, shared their experiences and thoughts of fare evasion.

“The MTA steals our money by forcing us to pay for a crappy service,” said Sarah D., one New York commuter. She doesn’t bother to pay the fare and says she always sneaks through, unless she sees a police officer nearby. The “crappy service” Sarah refers to is the overcrowded cars, delays, dimly lit stations, platforms lined with homeless people, and rats running around the tracks and platforms. 

Solomon D., a 21-year-old college student, commutes from the Bronx to Brooklyn on the 4 line. He said he used to hop the turnstile in high school when he either forgot his school MetroCard or couldn’t afford to pay. He pays the fare now, but only if he wants to. He thinks the subway has been “an innovative system” since it was first built in 1904, “but it has a lot of faults, so sometimes it’s fair and sometimes it’s not,” Solomon said. 

In response to Gov. Cuomo’s decision, Solomon said, “I feel like they target black people and low socioeconomic status, and kids too. It’s always a teenager skipping. Very rare you see a white person.” Some kids and teenagers who evade the fare claim they either left their student MetroCard at home, lost it, or simply felt like hopping.

“The NYPD continues to arrest and issue summons to people of color (Blacks and Latinos) at staggeringly high rates: nearly 89 percent of arrests and 81 percent of summonses,” said Community Service Society of  New York’s Vice President, Jeffrey Maclin, via email. “The numbers themselves raise the question of biased enforcement. The term we used to describe it is ‘broken windows policing at the turnstile.’ It’s a form of institutional racism.” He explained that a more effective plan for decreasing fare evasion would be to fully implement the Fair Fares program and provide reduced fares for low income people. It would he said help “NYC residents with incomes at or below the poverty level” obtain half-priced subway fares.

Another 21-year-old commuter, Atef M., said, “I don’t mind the increase of police in stations, because at the end of the day you’re the one doing the crime. They’re just doing their job.” But he believes the $100 ticket for fare evasion should be reduced to a little over $20 for teenagers. “They don’t have the money,” Atef said. “If they can’t afford the fare, then they definitely can’t afford a hundred dollar ticket.”