Amid a surge in felony assaults not seen in a generation in New York’s subway system, the head of the MTA Janno Lieber has decided to tackle the problem by forming a review panel tasked with finding solutions to fare evasion.
“Fare evasion tears at our social fabric,” Lieber said at a recent meeting of business leaders in the city hosted by the Association for a Better New York. “People who commit robberies and violent crimes generally don’t bother with MetroCard swipes of OMNY[contactless] taps,” he said.
“Agency leaders have been focusing on fare-beating as an anti-crime strategy since at least 2018,” the New York Post reported.
The rate of crime on New York’s subway system remains above pre-pandemic levels despite lower ridership and felony assaults in the system are surging. Last month the rate of felony assault reached its highest level since the NYPD increased its presence in the system last May.
“The year 2021 marked the highest number of felony assaults reported by [the] NYPD on the subways in at least 25 years,” the New York Post reported.
Increasing fare compliance is what Lieber believes can partially address the matter.
Lieber says, “A panel of distinguished New Yorkers” will come up with enforcement, infrastructure and education-based strategies to increase fare compliance asserting that “What we want, all of us, is to deter crime before it happens by keeping the bad actors out of the system in the first place.”
Following the event Lieber praised Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell for increasing the number of NYPD officers patrolling the system’s trains, platforms and turnstiles and asked that they continue providing an increased presence.
“Thank you, Mayor. Commissioner Sewell. We may need those cops, that surge, that increase in police presence in numbers, to continue for sometime,” Lieber said adding that, “Because to give people comfort, sense of safety and to achieve safety, it may be we need more cops to be on the platforms, on the train and in all parts of the station.”
The comments follow a terror attack by Frank James who randomly fired into a crowded Brooklyn subway car during morning rush hour on April 13, hitting 10 people with bullets and leaving another 19 New Yorkers injured in the chaos that ensued.
Currently, the level of fare evasion on the city’s buses stands at roughly 30 percent and on subways around 12 percent Lieber said while pointing out that fare evasion on the subway has experienced a two-fold increase compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MTA says that if these levels of fare evasion continue at their current pace the MTA will lose more than $500 million in revenue this year alone due to turnstile jumpers and bus fare evaders.
Lieber acknowledged that farebeating is “engaged across all demographics” however insisted that addressing the problem would positively impact public safety.
Last year, the MTA was criticized by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office for spending $24 million per year on a crackdown on farebeating — an initiative championed by ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — that resulted in evasion rates increasing.