The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City is cracking down on fare beaters. This crackdown is costing the city millions, damaging subway culture and disproportionately impacting a number of historically-disenfranchised groups.  

In the last six months, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo followed through with a plan to plant 500 police officers in the subway and bus systems of New York City to combat a rise in fare evasion and worker attacks. The policy will fine fare evaders $100  — but with increased police presence in public spaces, heightened surveillance from new security cameras and $249 million spent to make these changes, New Yorkers across the boroughs are protesting these changes that will disproportionately impact poor communities and people of color. This crackdown on fare evasion criminalizes these groups instead of succeeding with any greater MTA claim, costing the city more than just the millions spent to “better” it. 

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-N.Y., put it best: “Say we had $249M and we could do anything we wanted to improve the subway system, what would you want to see prioritized?” The MTA lacks funding for its programs and desperately needs infrastructure fixes that could benefit all New Yorkers. Tracks and stations themselves are defunct with constant delays and maintenance issues, causing a steady ridership decline. What residents really want is to be able to get to where they’re going quickly and safely — something that could be fixed with a dedication to upgrades and efficient construction plans. 

From the perspective of the everyday commuter, fare-beater crackdowns seem like a misinformed judgment call by authority figures detached from the subway itself. The problems most riders have with public transit are the inconsistent train times and crumbling infrastructure. Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the nonprofit Riders Alliance, when speaking with AM New York said, “The fare evasion conversation overall is a red herring. When the governor talks about fare evasion, he’s throwing the subway’s problems back on riders.” 


Further, the recent MTA fare crackdown follows a pattern of harmful policing policies, such as “stop-and-frisk” policing, which disproportionately targets Black and Latinx youth. Just like “stop-and-frisk”, the crackdown is already impacting people of color, with 84 percent of Brooklyn fare evasion arrests being Black and Latinx.

Even though nearly 40 percent of subway riders evade fares at least once a year, African-American and Latinx communities, especially those that are low income, have the greatest likelihood of arrest for fare evasion. The MTA crackdown is representative of the larger burden of policing that low-income and POC communities face all across the country. Just as other policing policies and tactics, the discretionary nature of police power leads to the unjust and racist targeting of communities of color. 

To be clear, the policing and criminalization of fare evasion is costly — and not just financially. Over-policing and policies such as “stop-and-frisk” erode trust between the police and the communities they are supposed to be serving. The MTA claims these new anti-fare beater policies will increase rider safety, but crime in the subways is actually down to around one crime per million riders — an estimated 86 percent drop from 1990. Despite arguments that criminalizing fare evasion makes transit safer, the reality is that criminalizing petty offenses destroys communities’ faith in the police to keep their communities safe. 

So far, the introduction of 500 police officers into the subway system has been a cause for concern. In a city already grappling with cases of police brutality and unreasonable arrests, the criminalization of fare evasion is furthering tensions between all parties. After videos showed young Black teenagers being tackled, tased and beaten over the $2.75 fare, riders have started a “Swipe it Forward” campaign, and movements like “Decolonize this Place” have organized mass fare evasions similar to those in Santiago, Chile. Fare evasion is not a violent crime and criminalizing it only stands to undermine any attempts of understanding and communication between the police and citizens — two vital components to maintaining a safe environment. 

It is time that we as a society learn from our past policy failures. The MTA crackdown is only one of a long-standing pattern of discriminatory police practices that have consequences for people’s individual and collective societal futures. 

The Michigan Daily Editorial Board stands with protesters and believes the New York City government should stop using tactics that do nothing to resolve the issues within the subway system and, instead, only further harass communities of color. The money being funneled into increasing police presence in subways and installing cameras to catch fare evasion should be put toward the plethora of other issues the MTA faces rather than being used to intimidate marginalized people. With the thoughts of guerrilla MTA signs in mind, we implore you, in more ways than one: Don’t snitch. Swipe.

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