MTA officials said on Thursday that a strict fare evasion crackdown is coming to the city’s buses — and warned riders across the five boroughs they’d be hit with tickets if they don’t pay.
Starting next month, officials will deploy unarmed MTA guards known as EAGLE teams onto local buses. They’ll issue tickets between $50 to $100 to those who can’t prove they swiped a MetroCard or tapped to pay on the agency’s OMNY readers.
The agency will also be sending NYPD officers to 20 bus hubs around the city to help support enforcement by the EAGLE teams, officials said.
The EAGLE teams have in recent years primarily been used to enforce the fare on the MTA’s select buses, which allow riders to swipe MetroCards at boxes on sidewalks and board at any door.
“This is the first time that we’ve really gone all out on all the different types of MTA buses to start bringing fare evasion enforcement, for real,” said MTA Chair Janno Lieber. “Everybody has to feel like they’re playing by the same rules for our public space to work…We need to act now, and we need to act quickly, because fare evasion on buses has really gone crazy.”
The crackdown comes as transit officials report 30% to 35% of bus riders skip the fare. A report released by the MTA earlier this year estimated the agency lost $700 million last year to fare evasion — $315 million of which was on buses.
Before the agency deploys the EAGLE teams to local buses next month, officials pledged to embark on a 45-day education campaign.
Officials said the campaign’s primary goal is to help people sign up for the city’s Fair Fares program, which provides half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. The City Council earlier this year increased funding for the program in a move that allows roughly 50,000 more New Yorkers to qualify for the discount.
David Jones, CEO of the Community Service Society of New York, said he wants the MTA to be more aggressive about advertising the program.
Jones — who also sits on the MTA board — has long criticized the lack of fare evasion enforcement on buses. His group has also bemoaned data that shows the NYPD primarily issues tickets for subway fare evasion to people of color.
“They put all the enforcement on subways and yet buses in Staten Island and other neighborhoods are never touched,” Jones said. “I’ve been pushing for this as an equity issue that we have to really go where the fare evasion is rather than always defaulting to poor neighborhoods in subways.”