MTA Says Proof of Payment May Increase Fare Evasion, History Says Otherwise

The introduction of the MTA's "Eagle Team," which checks for fare compliance on city bus routes, has resulted in a decrease in fare evasion. Image: MTA
The introduction of proof of payment on Select Bus Service routes has resulted in less fare evasion, not more. Image: MTA

Last week, transit advocates called on the MTA to ensure that its next-generation fare payment system allows for “electronic proof of payment” on buses. By enabling bus riders to board without dipping a farecard or carrying a paper receipt, such a system would simplify and speed up the boarding process, saving passengers time on every route in the city.

In response, the MTA cited the “threat of fare evasion” as a reason not to embrace electronic proof of payment. But experience suggests there’s no cause for concern. In fact, in San Francisco and right here in New York, proof of payment systems have led to less fare evasion, not more.

New York’s Select Bus Service routes rely on proof of payment via ticket vending machines and paper receipts to speed up trips. To ensure people don’t cheat the system, inspectors occasionally check for receipts on board. The MTA’s own data show that on these routes, fare evasion is lower with the proof of payment system than without — between 50 and 80 percent lower, depending on the route.

The experience has been similar in San Francisco, where the SF Municipal Transportation Agency implemented proof of payment and all-door boarding on its bus lines in 2012. A 2014 SFMTA report on all-door boarding showed that fare evasion continued to decline after the new fare system was implemented. The rate decreased from 9.5 percent to 7.9 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Fare evasion declined in San Franciscio between 2009 and 2014. The city implemented "proof of payment" in 2012. Image: SFMTA
Fare evasion declined in San Francisco between 2009 and 2014. The city implemented “proof of payment” in 2012. Image: SFMTA

The “threat of fare evasion” with proof of payment systems is not actually much of a threat. But the benefits of electronic proof of payment are substantial.

On SBS routes, proof of payment has shaved about 10-15 percent off travel times, according to the MTA. But expanding the current vending-machine-and-receipt-based system to all 16,000 bus stops in the city could cost about $1 billion, according to the Regional Plan Association. The MTA’s next fare payment system is a cost-effective opportunity to take the benefits of proof of payment systemwide, and bus riders can’t afford for the agency to let it go to waste.

  • JudenChino

    How can you evade the fare on normal buses? People sneaking in the rear door?

  • William Farrell

    With modern fare collection you can have all-door boarding, as is the case on the SBS buses.

  • qrt145

    I’ve seen plenty of people evading the fare by walking in through the front door and simply not paying. The drivers don’t confront them. I imagine they don’t consider it their problem, which is understandable Do you expect the driver to get into a fight? Perhaps the driver could refuse to move the bus, which might prompt the other passengers to get into a fight, but I don’t think we want that either. Plus, the bus would be late, which is not good for anyone.

  • J

    David,
    Did you reach out to Kevin Ortiz about this? I’d be very interested to hear his (or the MTA’s) response. Are they simply not aware of their own data and SFMTA’s data, or is there something more complex that didn’t fit into a news article?

  • com63

    I don’t understand why people in NY are so against doing things that the rest of the world does just fine.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but it could be that the extent of fare evasion on the SBS routes is an underestimate, meant to battle critics.

    Whereas the possible extent of fare evasion on other routes is an over estimate, meant to keep the system as it is.

  • JamesR

    You’re not too cynical. It’s pretty rampant on the Fordham route, though I see a broken kiosk at least once a week, contributing to the problem.

  • BBnet3000

    Look, this may work in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, but it will be a disaster on MY bus line!

    I mean I’m all for it but I have some concerns. Some of my best friends are proof of payment buses. I think we should take things slow and let the community have a say. Why wasn’t the community ever told about this?!!

  • Joe R.

    NIV (not invented here) syndrome. If NYC didn’t think of something, then we don’t want to use it. Of course, in the rare instances where we try something the rest of the world does, and it works, then we claim it was invented here!

    Bike lanes, proof of payment, open gangway subway trains, electric bikes, leaving parks open after dark are but some examples of things lots of people think won’t work here because NYC is a special, special flower.

  • bolwerk

    Not like we thought of most of the things we do use.

    Ironically, NYC’s last transportation innovation really might have been Robert Moses ideas, which are exactly what we need to move away from.

  • bolwerk

    If that is so, they’re only pissing away free money. If there are evaders, you want to successfully fine enough of them to make up the lost revenue. If there are lots of evaders, it could even be a minor windfall – which will, of course, normalize when evasion is driven back to a more natural level.

    But I guess the main concern here is making sure everyone follows rules, not having a working system. Authoritarians.

  • Jesse

    The best way to reduce fare evasion is make fares more affordable by funding the MTA.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One day you will wake up to find that so many people have beaten the system, it has collapsed. The right wingers, who never cared much about the system, will be laughing at you from Idaho.

    But at least you can have a laugh at my expense.

  • street_user

    but how many people were evading the fare on the Bx12 BEFORE proof of payment?

  • street_user

    and this is another reason for proof of payment fare collection. the driver can focus on driving the bus safely instead of worrying about riders paying their fares

  • Jonathan R

    Exactly. Take the Bx40/42 one afternoon and you will see.

  • Jonathan R

    My experience on the Q44-SBS is that the fare inspectors take one person off the 50-person bus every other time I see them, which is about once a week.

  • c2check

    Or by paying less than the required fare.

  • bolwerk

    *shrug* Good thing I have multiple citizenships I guess!

    Though I’d welcome a good fiscal catastrophe really. A lot of people would. That’s probably why some leftists are rooting for Trump.

    Here’s the kicker: I don’t think we’re going to have one. I think it’s going to be continual slow death until people actually will some change.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Vote Hillary for someone to competently manage out decline. Vote Trump to get it over with quick.

  • Anonymous

    The mta has adjusted fares based on what they want the people to pay after they have the funds they need to partially cover for the fares, let the people pay their share, and still have the system at a loss but a profit to the city in form of property tax income and other tax incomes for the city and state, etc. I think the bigger focus is to put fares on the free bridges and to allow for digital proof of payment on the new and upcoming fare payment system.

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