June 18, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that would add 500 officers to the city’s transit system to crack down on the increasing number of fare evasions and assaults on transit workers.
“This year we succeeded in making historic reforms to the MTA and provided significant new funding streams that will overhaul the system,” Cuomo said. “But the MTA is still plagued by problems of public safety, attacks against transit workers and persistent fare evasion—issues that have only worsened in recent years.”
The new Fare Enforcement Task Force will consist of 200 MTA officers, 200 NYPD officers and 100 Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority officers, who will be deployed to 100 fare evasion “hot spots” across the city. Cuomo did not disclose these locations.
Fare evaders will be issued with a summons. They will not be arrested.
Monetary losses from fare evasion are estimated to have increased from $105 million in 2015 to $225 million in 2018. The agreement, also signed off on by Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, and MTA Chairman Pat Foye, includes additional measures to deter fare evasion including enhanced exit gates and additional cameras.
The MTA board recently approved full-fare MetroCards for New York City students, which the transit authority hopes will curb fare evasions among younger riders.
According to Cuomo, many of the hot spots correspond with stations and routes where assaults on MTA workers have occurred.
From 2013 to 2017, assaults reported by MTA workers increased by more than 15 percent, according to the Governor’s office. Just last year, there were reportedly 101 assaults against transit workers, as well as 26 incidents where workers were threatened and 2,318 incidents of harassment against transit workers, ranging from verbal abuse to contact without injury.
The New York County District Attorney will be providing $40 million over four years to fund the costs of both personnel and construction modifications.
“Our office is proud to invest in New York’s shift from a criminalization model to a prevention model for fare evasion,” said Vance. “This is a movement that began in Manhattan, where we’ve used our discretion to reduce criminal prosecutions for subway fare evasion by 96 percent. Today’s investment in design improvements and other prevention and deterrence measures will mean that more fares get collected while fewer New Yorkers end up in the criminal legal system, with life-altering consequences, for this low-level offense.”
Despite Cuomo’s optimism for the task force, the new program was not well-received by a number of organizations, with the Legal Aid Society calling it “wrongheaded and cruel.”
“The further criminalization of low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford MTA fare erodes the progress we have made to make New York a more fair and just city,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement.
“More officers patrolling subway stations and bus stops will deter our clients from meeting their court obligations and accessing employment, education, or other critical services. This is simply wrongheaded and cruel policy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others should bolster the current Fair Fares program to address fare evasion instead of preying pointlessly on the neediest New Yorkers.”
Vance, however, insisted that a focus will be placed on deterrence rather than criminal enforcement.
Cuomo did not state when the 500 officers will be deployed.