By Jake Offenhartz
June 25, 2019
Criminal justice advocates are sounding the alarm about a proposed crackdown on bad subway behavior, after MTA board members voiced support for a lifetime ban on repeat transit criminals and floated the idea of publicly shaming fare evaders online.
On Monday, a subset of the agency's board voted on a resolution that would prohibit transit recidivists from riding the subways. Sarah Feinberg, a recent Cuomo appointee, called for the vote during the Transit Committee meeting, warning of "folks who are literally using our system to prey upon people."
The subcommittee passed the resolution, and it will go before the entire MTA board on Wednesday. The potential policy shift comes less than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to add 500 cops to farebeating “hotspots” across the city.
The ban would apply to those who have been arrested at least twice in the transit system for a felony or sex crime, and would require a state law before it could go into effect. Following the resolution, Cuomo—who has previously backed a subway ban for serial sex offenders—called on lawmakers to pass the relevant legislation during the next session. In a statement, he said it was a "common sense issue."
But some board members were less sanguine about the proposal. David Jones, a de Blasio appointee who also leads the Community Service Society of New York, cautioned during the meeting that "unless we characterize this extraordinarily narrowly, we’re going to end up sweeping in people and make it almost certain they’re going to return to the life of crime because they won’t have any transportation options."
It's unclear how the law would be enforced, and a spokesperson for the MTA did not respond to Gothamist's inquiries. In a statement on Tuesday, Tina Luongo of the Legal Aid Society noted that the policy could be ripe territory for surveillance overreach.
"Controversial facial recognition technology being piloted by the MTA should forewarn the public that enforcing a ban on anyone from the subway will result in privacy violations of us all," said Luongo, the Attorney-In-Charge of the legal organization's Criminal Defense Practice. "In addition, research has shown, that there are huge racial disparities in the accuracy of facial recognition technology that oftentimes leads to the misidentification of people of color."
Luongo continued, "This proposal is tantamount to locking someone away and it will deny their right to movement. Yet again, the MTA Board and President are exiling the poor. This is not [the] answer."
In addition to the ban on repeat offenders, Feinberg suggested on Monday that turnstile jumpers should be "publicly embarrassed" by the agency.
“I would like to see us capture this behavior on camera and then posting it publicly...on our YouTube channel," she added. "That is important to me because when people are publicly embarrassed by this kind of behavior, it helps address it."
In the first eight months of last year, 89 percent of those arrested for jumping a turnstile were black or Hispanic individuals. The MTA has increasingly blamed farebeaters for the system's financial woes, despite the fact that the estimated lost revenue ($216 million) is just a fraction of the agency's $16.6 billion budget.