The martini may be back, but below ground, it’s still all about the latte. At a breakfast yesterday, MTA chairman Janno Lieber said the agency is once again hoping to crack down on fare evasion — particularly among people he knows can pay because he’s seen them holding a coffee cup. “We have countless images of people in designer clothes, carrying $7 lattes, waltzing through emergency gates at Wall Street or on the Upper East Side,” he said. “Obviously it hits us in the farebox, but equally important, I would argue, fare evasion tears at our social fabric.”
Lieber said that fare evasion had become an “epidemic” and noted that, currently, one-eighth of all subway riders and up to one-third of all bus riders do not pay. They just blow through, all hopped up on espresso and steamed milk. This, he said, will cost the agency an estimated $500 million this year. It will also, apparently, destroy society: “Our New York sense of fairness and community is violated when rule-abiding, honest folks — people who tap or swipe because they know it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s a stretch economically — see others dodging the fare.”
The MTA has convened a panel of board members, transportation advocates, and community leaders (no baristas?) to brainstorm changes. But the last time the MTA tried to crack down on fare evasion, in 2019, it failed. An audit showed that the MTA, as well as other U.S. transit agencies, don’t keep precise enough data to illustrate the extent of the issue. They also noted that the things that make subways and buses efficient and accessible — emergency gates, multiple entrances on buses — are also what make it kind of easy to slip by without paying. Asking drivers to stop the bus every time they suspect someone hasn’t paid is a recipe for disaster. People would spill their coffee!