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Watch the closing doors, and the broken windows


Largely unnoticed in the recently enacted state budget is a short passage that in essence bars the MTA from using facial recognition software to catch fare evaders.

“There has long been a concern [facial recognition] could invade upon people's lives through expanded surveillance and through the criminalization of just existing within the public sphere,” Queens Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani told media outlets in days following the budget’s passage. 

Is such Orwellian infringement necessary to decrease fare evasion in NYC, or can fare beating be effectively reduced without an intrusive invasion of every rider’s privacy?  

In 1990, in the midst of a crime wave, NYC Transit Police Chief Bill Bratton and Transit Lieutenant Jack Maple implemented the “broken windows” theory as part of their crime-fighting strategy. The theory held that proactive law enforcement against minor crimes and infractions underground would deter and ultimately reduce serious crime and, equally importantly, cultivate confidence in the police and allow straphangers to feel safe in the transit system. 

Some consider fare evasion the quintessential “broken windows” scenario in that reducing fare evasion through police enforcement also reduces other subway crime, and thereby makes the subways safer for the riding public.   

Bratton, recalling what he wrote in his first book, recently tweeted about fare evaders and subway safety: “1 out of every 21 was carrying a weapon, and 1 out of every 7 was wanted on a warrant.... [W]ithin two years, we made the subways safe and kept them that way for over 25 years until the politicians undid all the good work with their criminal reforms.” 

“As an original practitioner of Broken Windows — I know it works.”  

Instead, the present laissez-faire law enforcement philosophy of many state and city politicians has failed and prompted more fare evasion and more transit crime. 

In 1990, 7 percent of straphangers evaded the fare, resulting in $60 million in revenue losses. In 2015, lost revenue reached $105 million, in 2018 it reached $215 million, and in 2021 upward of $500 million. Is it any surprise that in 2023, 15 percent of riders failed to pay to ride the train and 41 percent evaded bus fare, the result being a $700 million loss in revenue? And 2024 will see a similar loss in revenue if nothing is done. 

Will the MTA again throw law-abiding citizens under the city bus and raise the fare to mitigate the loss or will it get everybody on board and stop the egregious amount lost to fare evasion and crime?   

Fare-beating is contagious and the problem has become so overwhelming that now more riders than ever don’t pay the fare simply because they witness so many jumping turnstiles. MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said that New Yorkers, “want to be able to feel like they’re not suckers when they do pay.” 

And although transit crime is down in the first quarter of 2024, according to the Mayor’s Management Report the transit system was plagued with 1,452 major crimes in Fiscal Year 2021, increasing 50 percent to 2,185 in FY 2022 and increasing another 5 percent to 2,287 in FY 2023. During those same years fare evasion also rose showing a direct correlation between the increase in fare beaters and the increase in transit crime.  

On April 1, NY1 reported that Mayor Eric Adams “feels the real problem with subway safety is perception.” Yet, NYPD Transit Chief Michael Kemper said, “we are engaging in these acts of lawlessness at or near historic highs in the subway system.” 

Yes, perception is in the eye of the beholder, but perception is not the problem. Crime is the problem; straphangers are not paranoid.  

But I will concede that the subways are safe, if you travel with a police escort.  

Although fare beating in NYC can be significantly reduced, it continues because it’s a political issue in addition to a law enforcement issue. Fare evasion fines and arrests disproportionately affect minority riders and aggressive enforcement would bottleneck the court system.  

Michael Sisitzky of the NY Civil Liberties Union, said “imposing harsher fines for fare evasion criminalizes poverty and puts vulnerable New Yorkers at risk.”   

Some say patrolling the turnstiles with NYPD officers is not cost effective. But reducing fare evasion decreases crime and the police presence provides not just a sense of safety but also real safety, which in turn increases ridership and revenue. 

The failure to effectively address this issue is just another example of the absence of government in New York, which also has a domino effect and leads to other quality of life crimes not being addressed. Law enforcement in Gotham is handcuffed due to the anti-police and anti-law-and-order philosophy of many state and local politicians. As a result, MTA leaders have also considered other options, such as the installment of modern turnstiles they claim are evasion resistant.  

There should be a reasonable fine imposed and arrests for repeat offenders. Imposing fines will reduce fare evasion just like fines stop the majority of people from parking illegally.  

If paying the fare was enforced as it was under Bill Bratton, crime would decrease, riders would be safer and the MTA would be on track to receive an additional $700 million in revenue in 2024. Further,  it could conceivably prevent fare increases for the riders that do pay.  

For now, though, law-abiding New Yorkers have been forsaken. 

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  • Bring back broken windows. Regain common sense law and order. Civil liberties has taken the side of criminals regardless of the issue.

    Thursday, May 23 Report this