I have recently noticed the signs on my subway commute warning riders that “Fare evaders will be prosecuted” if they are caught not paying their $2.75 fare. These signs absolutely infuriate me. Essentially, the MTA has framed their gross mismanagement and ineptitude as a problem cased by marginalized communities who jump a turnstile. Really? The MTA is millions of dollars in debt because a few teenagers possibly skipped out on their fare. I think not. What is missing in the conversation are the ways in which the MTA has spent decades paying corporate executive level salaries to individuals who did not fundamentally understand public transport or the riders who use it. As they padded their own pockets, they mismanaged one of the most complex and robust transportation systems in the world, delayed necessary construction, put Band-Aids on projects that should have been rebuilt, started unnecessary vanity projects to nowhere, and refused to look to other U.S. and international cities for innovative and environmentally friendly alternatives to their antiquated proposals.
What is also missing in this very important conversation is the reality that the real consistent fare evaders are not solely Black and Latinx youth, but wealthy elderly white New Yorkers who consistently use the subways. I would implore our readers to go to the 1 train at 66th Street after a show at the Lincoln Center theater, the Metropolitan Opera, the Ballet, or the Philharmonic lets out and see just how fare evaders are crippling the MTA. It is a completely common occurrence to see theatergoers enter the subway through the emergency exit door, often times while a police officer watches with disinterest. There is absolutely no fear of a ticket or worse. Fare evaders at their most comfortable. It is truly a sight.
The MTA recently announced it would be assigning hundreds more police officers to patrol stations to prevent fare evaders. This is a gross waste of taxpayer money. If the MTA was serious about “catching” fare evaders, they should target the stations with the most notorious offenders, but we know they will not. Instead, they will unfortunately continue to target Black and Latinx youth and for the unlucky targeted individuals, a minor infraction can actually lead to a negative life-altering event. Several months ago I witnessed a teen skip a fare and end up aggressively and quite violently arrested in under ten minutes on an early evening in Brooklyn. I have no idea how her life was altered after being arrested by two male police officers who took her away with no parental supervision or witnesses. What I do know is the additional police and glossy campaign advertising fare evaders are indicative of MTA waste, and all New Yorkers deserve better.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC, and the host of The Aftermath and The Counter on Ozy.com.