“Not So Fare”: Cuomo on Fare Evasion

People rushing through the subway turnstiles at Union Square

In a New York Times  article released on June 19th 2019, titled “How Cuomo Plans to Crack Down on Subway Fare Evasion,” it was reported that the Governor of New York was planning to increase police enforcement and camera use inside of New York City subway stations with the goal of deterring fare evasion. As someone who has lived in the city only a short time and seen hundreds of turnstile-hops, it’s clear me — and any New Yorker paying attention — that fare evasion is a real problem. How the city goes about solving it, however, is becoming a serious point of contention. Governor Cuomo said that he hopes the new practices do not create arrests, but instead act as a scare tactic that will discourage fare evasion. Cuomo rolled out three major initiatives detailed in the article. The first was the immediate stationing of 500 police officers in 50 subway stations where evasion was a large issue. He refused to name which stations because “doing so would undermine the effort” (Paybarah 2, “How Cuomo Plans to Crack Down on Subway Fare Evasion”, 2019). The second was the redesign of exit gates to make entering without swiping more difficult. The third was the installation of video cameras to curb fare evasion, or to track down those who may be successfully riding the public transportation free of charge. 

Cuomo plans to use the police officers to dissuade evasion through both their powerful presence and the use of civil summonses, which are pricey fines that go on administrative records, threatening the likelihood an evader could easily get a driver’s licence or register a car. Cuomo’s plan fails to account for the roles of race, segregation, and wealth inequality on fare evasion. In my opinion, this constitutes a major flaw in Cuomo’s plan..

Looking closer at the plan, it is apparent to me that the promise to focus on deterrence and avoid arrests is empty. If the goal is to deter fare evasion, why not publicize the stations in which officers will be stationed? If the aim is not to catch evaders in the act and punish them, it seems amiss that the plan would lack transparency about where authorities are stationed. Furthermore, expensive fines ignore the root cause of fare evasion, which is poverty. 

The, N. Y. T. (2015, July 8). Mapping Segregation.

In demographic data compiled from the MTA’s collected Customer Travel Surveys (North, et al., “MTA demographics: A glimpse at who rides and how we pay”, 2010), we can see that 46% of those who ride the subway make less than $50,000 a year, falling under the category of low-income New Yorkers (US Department of Housing and Urban Development, “FY 2019 Income Limits Documentation System”, 2019, p. 1). Furthermore, although 43% of subway riders who are paying fares are white, they are more often buying monthly passes, meaning they have enough fiscal liquidity to  spend $120 on a MetroCard. White subway passengers are more likely to have unlimited rides for the month, and therefore have no reason to evade the fare because they have paid the month in full already. Hispanic riders opt for a single ride card 41% of the time.. For riders of other races—who make up 64.8% of the lowest income New Yorkers—public transportation isn’t accessible because it is not affordable.  

According to the New York Times’ segregation map from 2015 (The New York Times, “Mapping Segregation”, 2015) data shows that minority groups tend to live further away from economic centers, making commuting to work a necessity. There are many for whom the choice between paying $2.50 to and from work and hopping the turnstile is actually a choice of whether they will be able to feed their family that day. They do not have the ability to opt out of  commuting to work.

Although only 50% of subway funding comes from fares, the people who end up paying fares are those who can afford to fund the subway least, and need to use it the most. One may view the subway fare as a sort of “ghetto tax” that must be paid by those who have been forced out by housing policy, rising rents, and gentrification but without the ability to afford to get to work in their old neighborhoods. The subway becomes a system that is avoided by those with power and essential to those who it extorts. 

The racial tensions that have been exacerbated by the crackdown on fare evasion have been exponentially aggravated each day. Just the other week, a video surfaced of four NYPD officers entering an L train car at the Franklin Avenue station, and pulling their guns on an unarmed, Black, 19-year-old named Adrian Napier (Shepherd, “‘Putting dozens of lives at risk over $2.75’: NYPD slammed for pulling guns on fare-hopping teen”, 2019). The officers then proceeded to handcuff and arrest Napier, who did not struggle. Regardless of Cuomo’s statements that deterrence is the intent of these newly implemented policies, it seems that the impact has only been further surveillance, policing, and punishment of marginalized people. Throwing money and violence at solving fare evasion detracts from the real issue, which is that too many New York City residents are stuck in  poverty. 



FY 2019 Income Limits Documentation System. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il/il2019/2019summary.odn.

Mapping Segregation. (2015, July 8). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/08/us/census-race-map.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=0967444797BF0CA68B72E6BCC82E6D0A&gwt=pay&assetType=REGIWALL.

North, B., Avi, Sharon, Kabak, B., G, C., Komanoff, C., & Feisty Green Party Candidate Waging Spirited Campaign. (2010, October 21). MTA demographics: A glimpse at who rides and how we pay. Retrieved from http://secondavenuesagas.com/2010/10/20/mta-demographics-a-glimpse-at-who-rides-and-how-we-pay/.

Paybarah, A. (2019, June 19). How Cuomo Plans to Crack Down on Subway Fare Evasion. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/19/nyregion/newyorktoday/nyc-subway-fare-evasion.html.

Shepherd, K. (2019, October 28). ‘Putting dozens of lives at risk over $2.75’: NYPD slammed for pulling guns on fare-hopping teen. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/10/28/nypd-video-guns-pointed-subway-train-unarmed-fare-hopper/.

The, N. Y. T. (2015, July 8). Mapping Segregation. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/08/us/census-race-map.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=0967444797BF0CA68B72E6BCC82E6D0A&gwt=pay&assetType=REGIWALL.