Fare Evasion

Issued Date
April 15, 2021
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - Bus Company
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - New York City Transit


To determine whether New York City Transit (Transit) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Bus Company (MTA Bus) reported accurate estimates of revenue losses from fare evasion to the MTA Board of Directors (Board), and whether the MTA has taken action through the Fare Enforcement and Worker Safety Program (Program) to ensure all riders pay the appropriate fare on New York City buses and subways. This audit covers the period January 1, 2017 to March 4, 2020.

About the Program

The MTA is North America’s largest transportation network, serving a population of 15.3 million people in the 5,000-square-mile area fanning out from New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut. The MTA has two agencies that provide bus and subway service within New York City: Transit and MTA Bus. Transit is responsible for operating the subways and the majority of public bus service throughout New York City, and the Staten Island Railway. MTA Bus provides service throughout the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn and express bus routes from those boroughs to Manhattan.

The MTA has the authority to collect fares from the riding public, pursuant to the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. Fare evaders are subject to issuance of a summons. The Transit Adjudication Bureau is an administrative tribunal established by State legislation in July 1985 to provide a forum for processing and adjudicating summonses for violations of Transit Rules of Conduct governing the public in the use of the transit system. Riders who enter the subway system or ride buses without paying the fare are subject to a $50 or $100 fine. However, MTA officials stated that it is not the MTA’s goal to give summonses to fare evaders; rather, it is the MTA’s goal to get its riders to pay the appropriate fare.

Passengers on Regular Bus Service (RBS) pay their fare on the bus. Select Bus Service (SBS) passengers pay their fare before boarding at ticket purchase machines located at SBS bus stops, except for one route in Staten Island where the fare is paid in the conventional manner. Transit’s Division of Operations Planning (OP) is responsible for generating random samples of Transit RBS bus trips and subway stations for traffic checkers (checkers) to observe and record whether passengers pay their fare. Transit’s Evasion and Graffiti Lawlessness Eradication (EAGLE) Teams observe SBS buses and share the fare evasion rates with OP. The results of these observations are used to determine fare evasion rates and revenue loss estimates that are reported to the Board quarterly. The MTA Bus Division of OP generates its own random samples of local MTA Bus trips for checkers to observe and use to develop fare evasion rates and revenue loss estimates.

In 2019, the MTA and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) combined their resources to introduce a task force to reduce fare evasion, increase revenue, and improve safety for MTA workers. The Fare Enforcement and Worker Protection Task Force (Task Force) is made up of the NYPD, Transit (including EAGLE Teams), MTA Bridges and Tunnels, the MTA Police Department (MTA PD), and other MTA divisions. According to the Program, these agencies were expected to deploy additional law enforcement officers to supplement the efforts of the NYPD and Transit to deter fare evasion.

Key Findings

  • MTA officials did not provide some of the Program information we requested. For example, we requested comparisons of budgeted versus actual Program costs, but officials provided only a summary of the actual costs. According to this summary, over $24 million had been spent on the Program as of July 30, 2020. This includes more than $8 million in MTA PD overtime costs, but it does not include base salary and fringe benefits. The MTA deployed 500 more officers (in addition to the 500 officers originally deployed). Therefore, the true cost of the Program is significantly understated.
  • MTA officials also did not provide assurance that the Program was effective in achieving its goal of reducing fare evasion losses below 2017 levels ($150 million). Instead, Transit estimated that it lost more than $300 million to fare evasion in 2019. In response to this estimate, the MTA Finance Committee Chairman expressed his concern that the Program efforts were not working. He added that progress is not being made and stated that the huge increase in estimated revenue loss from fare evasion is unsustainable.
  • We found that certain aspects of the Transit system contributed to increased fare evasion. For example, Transit designed several subway emergency exit doors to remain open for an extended period of time, providing an easy way for passengers to evade the fare. Also, much of the fare evasion and payment signage we saw was defaced, misleading, not prominently displayed, and/or not in the appropriate language for the neighborhood. We also found that fare evasion and payment signage was often missing, which was especially problematic for SBS, where passengers pay the fare before boarding the bus.

Key Recommendations

  • Improve the quality and content of the signage inside and outside the buses, ticket purchase machines, and in the subway stations.
  • Implement sufficient control activities to ensure execution of Program initiatives by establishing, and disclosing to the Board, metrics for measuring the progress and effectiveness of the Task Force and other Program initiatives, and actions being taken to correct problems/deficiencies identified.
  • Disclose pertinent details of statistical sampling methodologies and results, including confidence and precision levels, when sharing fare evasion results with the Board, the Finance Committee, and the Transit and Bus Committee.
  • Continuously assess and revise as necessary the methodologies used to calculate and report fare evasion statistics.
  • Include MTA Bus fare evasion results with Transit data presented to the Board.

Carmen Maldonado

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236