MTA CEO touts anti-fare evasion plan to curb subway crime

The head of the MTA on Tuesday promised to tackle soaring subway crime partly by setting up a review panel to figure out how to curb fare evasion — two weeks to the day after a mass shooting on a Brooklyn train.

Agency leaders have been focusing on fare-beating as an anti-crime strategy since at least 2018 — including since the COVID-19 pandemic, when subway-system evasions have doubled.

“Fare evasion tears at our social fabric,” said MTA CEO Janno Lieber, speaking in Manhattan at a gathering of business hosted by the Association for a Better New York. “People who commit robberies and violent crimes generally don’t bother with MetroCard swipes or OMNY [contactless] taps.”

Lieber said he would form a “panel of distinguished New Yorkers” to come up with enforcement, infrastructure and education-based strategies to increase fare compliance.

“What we want all of us to deter crime before it happens by keeping the bad actors out of the system in the first place,” Lieber said.

The rate of underground crimes per rider remains above pre-COVID levels.
Christopher Sadowski

After the event, the MTA chief praised Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell for increasing the NYPD’s presence patrolling trains, platforms and turnstiles — and called on them not to relent.

“Thank you, Mayor. Thank you, Commissioner Sewell. We may need those cops, that surge, that increase in police presence in numbers, to continue for some time,” Lieber told reporters.

“Because to give people comfort, sense of safety and to achieve safety, it may be we need more cops to be on the platforms, on the train and in all parts of the station.”

fare pay subway
Farebeating rates currently stand at over 30 percent on buses and 12 percent on subways, according to Lieber.
Christopher Sadowski

Lieber’s comments came after alleged madman Frank James fired shots into a crowded Brooklyn subway car during morning rush hour April 13, striking 10 people with bullets and leaving another 19 injured in the mayhem.

The rate of underground crimes per rider also remains stubbornly above pre-COVID levels, despite being down overall because of lower ridership. Meanwhile, felony assaults in the system specifically are surging — and last month reached their highest total since the NYPD began increasing its transit presence last May. The year 2021 marked the highest number of felony assaults reported by NYPD on the subways in at least 25 years.

Farebeating rates currently stand at over 30 percent on buses and 12 percent on subways, Lieber said — the latter a two-fold increase compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

subway shooting Brooklyn
On April 13, 10 people were hit with bullets during a subway shooting, and another 19 were injured in the mayhem.
ARMEN ARMENIAN via REUTERS

As a result, the MTA is on track to lose more than $500 million this year to turnstile jumpers and bus fare evaders, according to authority estimates.

Lieber, an appointee of Gov. Kathy Hochul, acknowledged that farebeating is “engaged in across all demographics” but insisted that tackling the problem would also positively impact public safety.

A report last year by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office dinged the authority for spending $24 million per year on a crackdown pushed by ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, only to see evasion rates increase.

subway assault
Felony assaults last month reached their highest total since the NYPD began increasing its transit presence last May.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The renewed push to cull the number of riders who don’t pay their fair share comes as the NYPD reportedly revives elements of “broken windows” policing, which was widely credited with reducing crime in the Big Apple during the 1990s.