NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, at Monday's committee meetings (photo by Kate Hinds)
Fare evasion costs New York City $100 million a year. And it's worse on buses than subways.
Putting an exact number on the city's problem is difficult, officials said at Monday's New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee meeting. Thomas Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, said "I believe the number is between $50 and $75 million (annually)."
But later that morning, an MTA official said internal estimates put that number closer to $100 million a year -- with fare evasion on buses alone accounting for over $50 million a year.
MTA head Joe Lhota said he met last month with NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. The result: police are stepping up enforcement and spot checks on buses -- and the effort involves both uniform and undercover officers.
"This new effort has just started," said Lhota, "and I think we'll see the fruit of this relatively soon."
So far this year (as of 6/24), police have made 1,228 "theft of service" arrests on city buses. That's up 72% compared to the same period last year.
Thomas Prendergast said he found some of the fare evasion numbers surprising. "We have the higher end of the rates in Staten Island," he said, "where there's a lot of school service and a lot of the fare evasion may be students."
So far this year there have been 60 arrests for fare evasion in that borough.
Prendergast said he wanted to produce a thorough report on the problem, "rather than just making anecdotal comments."
One board member asked Prendergast why fare evasion occurs more often on buses. "At the front end of my career," said Prendergast, "I drove a bus for 30 days and qualified as a bus operator in Chicago. And let me tell you, it's one of the most difficult jobs."
He then painted a stark picture of a situation drivers could find themselves in. "If you want to work midnight to eight, by yourself on a bus, and challenge somebody for a fare -- we require people to challenge once for a fare -- versus sitting in a booth and calling someone if someone doesn't pay a fare -- it's a very, very complicated issue."
And not a financially insignificant one. "Every dollar we can save from fare evasion is a dollar we can spend for other things," he said.
To give that $100 million figure some context: in 2010, the MTA cut 38 bus lines -- and reduced service on 76 more -- to save $93 million a year.