By Noah Manskar
Jun 17, 2019
New York City's subways are about to get a lot bluer. City and state officials are dispatching 500 cops to combat fare evasion and other safety issues in the public transit system.
The hybrid squad of 300 officers from the MTA and 200 from the NYPD will be stationed at 100 fare evasion "hotspots" as the state-controlled transit agency grapples with growing losses to fare-beating, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
"MTA just did a fare increase and more and more people are evading the fare and getting on the trains without paying, or the buses without paying," Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news conference. "That is not only a legal violation, it's unfair to everyone."
The cops will also work to "improve public safety overall" and target assaults on transit workers, which have also spiked in recent years, the governor said.
The MTA estimates that it lost $243 million in the yearlong period ending in March 2019, up from $225 million in the 2018 calendar year, officials said. The agency has also said that roughly one in five bus riders doesn't pay the fare.
The new team of cops, known as the Fare Enforcement Task Force, will primarily be dispatched to the 50 subway stations and bus routes where fare evasion occurs the most, Cuomo said. Those stations and routes have also seen assaults on transit workers, which jumped by 15.2 percent from 2013 to 2017, officials said.
The officers will aim to deter fare evasion by being present in the transit system and issuing summonses rather than arresting straphangers for the offense, according to the governor's office. They'll be joined by 70 members of New York City Transit's Eagle Team, which works to spot fare-beaters, officials said.
"This is about deterrence, not arrest," MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. "It's about asking the people who use the system to pay their fair share."
The NYPD contingent will comprise 100 officers who will move from precincts and transit districts starting Wednesday and 100 others who will graduate from the police academy July 2, Police Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office will provide $40 million over four years to aid the effort even though his office has limited fare-beating prosecutions for more than a year. The money will go toward training and equipment for the cops and upgrades to stations, officials said.
New York City Transit, the MTA branch that runs the subways and buses, will also put more staff near subway fare areas, install more surveillance cameras in the transit system and upgrade exit gates through which fare-beaters often slip, according to Cuomo's office.
The enforcement effort was announced about two and a half months after state lawmakers passed a budget that required city, state and transit officials to develop a plan to tackle fare evasion. Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the police blitz in a press release, though he was not at the press conference unveiling the plans.
"This partnership means more eyes and ears in stations, and more officers for New Yorkers to turn to when they need help," de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement. "The additional officers we're deploying to the subway system will protect riders, prevent fare evasion and respond in emergencies."
Transit and social-justice advocates have expressed concerns that fare-evasion enforcement has come down disproportionately hard on poor people of color. But Foye noted that the city's so-called Fair Fares program has given more than 50,000 low-income New Yorkers half-price MetroCards.
But a top lawyer at the Legal Aid Society said officials should strengthen that program instead of cracking down on fare-beating.
"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," Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid's Criminal Defense Practice, 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."