MTA loses an estimated $690 million due to fare and toll evasion

May 18, 2023
The authority’s Blue-Ribbon Panel issued a final report with recommendations surrounding civil rather than criminal enforcement, better support of low-income riders and modern subway gates.

The final report from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Blue-Ribbon Panel outlines practices to help remedy the authority’s estimated $690 million problem related to fare evasion and unpaid tolls.

The panel included some useful visuals in its report to help illustrate how rampant of a problem fare and toll evasion is for the MTA. In Q4 2022, subway evasion was 13.5 percent, which means about 400,000 riders did not pay on an average weekday. That’s enough to fill Yankee Stadium eight times. On buses, the rate was a staggering 37 percent in Q4 2022, which means an average weekday saw 700,000 bus riders not pay their fares. This would fill Citi Field, where the New York Mets play, 16 times.

“Fare and toll evasion isn’t just an economics problem: It tears at the social contract that supports mass transit in New York City. New Yorkers are sick of feeling like suckers seeing their neighbors beat the fare or cheat the toll while they pony up their fair share,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “The report findings address this emerging crisis with a comprehensive plan across all MTA services while also acknowledging enforcement alone will not solve this problem. The MTA will look to implement some of the panel’s key recommendations, and we thank them for their tremendous work.”

The “Fareness” Blue-Ribbon Panel was created in 2022 to evaluate innovative ways fare and toll evasion could be addressed through education, equity and enforcement. The 16-member panel, which was co-chaired by Roger Maldonado and Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, issued its final report with recommendations that include modernizing subway fare gates, better supporting low-income transit riders and instituting a generational refresh of enforcement that commits to precision policing and civil enforcement for most evaders. The recommendations will target reducing fare and toll evasion rates and dollar losses by half within three years. The revenues from fares and tolls account for 40 percent of MTA’s operating budget.

“Fare evasion is a crisis that threatens the future of the MTA, and to solve it, the panel believes a rigorous, comprehensive approach to tackle root causes is needed. By bringing New Yorkers together and centering education, equity and changes to the physical entry experience along with a reimagined enforcement strategy, we can alleviate evasion and turn the tide,” Pierre-Louis and Maldonado said.

The panel’s work focused on what it described as the four “Es”: Education, Equity, Environment and Enforcement.

Panel recommendations

The panel called paying fares and tolls a civic duty in the report and explained the time for action is now before the impacts of fare and toll evasion become irreversible. The panel is urging investment in several key areas:

  • Modernizing faregates: A long-term capital project the panel says will make it both easier to pay the fare and harder to evade it while increasing accessibility and ease of use for all New Yorkers.
  • Better supporting low-income bus and subway riders by expanding and improving the Fair Fares program. The panel wants to see the city of New York double the income standard to make another 500,000 New Yorkers eligible.
  • Committing to “precision policing”: New data sources and technology tools can help focus criminal justice resources on the limited number of fare evaders who either pose serious threats to public safety (fare evaders who also commit serious crimes) or who act as evasion enablers (vandalizing MetroCard machines and running fare collection schemes at the exit gates).
  • Reducing the well-documented impact of fare evasion enforcement on New Yorkers of color. A new commitment to more equitably distributing enforcement efforts can reduce this. Together, precision policing and more equitable enforcement can build public confidence in and support for the necessary enforcement efforts.
  • Shifting to civil enforcement for most evaders – training and deploying more civilian personnel and moving to a new paradigm. For offenders who do not present a public safety concern, enforcement generally should begin with documented, formal warnings on first offense, followed by summonses and fines on subsequent offenses, with enforcement agents using handheld technology to track repeat offenses.

The Blue-Ribbon Panel’s full report can be found on MTA’s website.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.