Will Ronnie Hakim Go to Bat for Bus Riders? So Far, the Answer Is “No”

Without a fare system that facilitates proof of payment, bus riders will be stuck with the same slow boarding process for another generation. Photo: Ben Fried
Without a fare system that facilitates proof of payment, bus riders will be stuck with the same slow boarding process for another generation. Photo: Ben Fried

Don’t count on MTA interim chief Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim to inject a sense of urgency into the task of turning around the agency’s sputtering bus system. In testimony to state legislators this afternoon, Hakim repeated the same excuses the MTA has given for months to justify stonewalling on fare technology that promises to speed up bus trips.

Interim MTA chief Ronnie Hakim.
Interim MTA chief Ronnie Hakim. Photo: Marc Hermann/MTA via Wikimedia Commons

Advocates are calling on the MTA to adopt a fare payment system that enables all-door boarding on all MTA buses, which would reduce the time buses stand still at stops. MTA officials have repeatedly refused to commit to such a system, citing the “threat of fare evasion” as an obstacle to system-wide implementation.

Hakim, who replaced the recently-retired Tom Prendergast, repeated the fare evasion line today after Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz asked about the feasibility of all-door boarding. Hakim told Dinowitz that the practice “presents some concerns about fare evasion.”

But those concerns are not borne out by the MTA’s own experience. On Select Bus Service lines, all-door boarding has actually correlated with substantial decreases in fare evasion.

The introduction of proof of payment on Select Bus Service routes has resulted in less fare evasion, not more. Image: MTA
The introduction of proof-of-payment on Select Bus Service routes has resulted in less fare evasion, not more. Image: MTA

And when San Francisco switched to systemwide all-door boarding in 2012, there was no increase in fare evasion:

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

Ultimately, the MTA has to start worrying more about providing good service that attracts riders and stop fretting about fare collection.

New Yorkers are abandoning the bus in large numbers. To get bus ridership trending in the right direction again, the MTA needs to take a page from agencies like Transport for London and prioritize the rider experience.

“You can sit there and go through all the revenue protection measures you like, but [some] people are not going to pay,” TfL Head of Business Development Matthew Hudson told Streetsblog in November. “Even if you, for instance, gated all the bus entries or something, they’re probably not going to travel then. Have you really missed out on revenue?”

  • Eric McClure

    Question: whose transit system is considered to be on the leading edge of fare collection?

  • Her email address is veronique.hakim@nyct.com. Send her an email and tell her how you feel about her testimony today.

  • Alon Levy

    Different cities are innovative in different areas. The best practices for surface transit are generally in the German-speaking world, which using paper tickets, POP, and inspectors working on consignment manages 2% fare evasion in some cities (e.g. Zurich) and low fare collection costs. In those cities, there’s no such thing as SBS – what New Yorkers call “SBS,” Europeans call “the bus,” with all-door boarding and POP citywide.

  • ohnonononono

    Probably transit systems in Germany and elsewhere in Europe that are completely “frictionless” with proof-of-payment and no turnstiles anywhere. Many of these systems are also largely mode-agnostic: take any transit vehicles you wish (subway, “commuter” rail, bus, tram, etc) within the certain geographic zone with as many transfers as you like. Extensive discounts are given for yearly passes — e.g. 365 euros a year in Vienna.

  • Eric McClure

    Thanks, both of you.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t get the TWU not going to bat for driver-agnostic fare collection. Bus drivers can’t safely do collection work no matter what.

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All-door boarding could significantly speed up bus rides for millions of New Yorkers, but MTA officials have refused to endorse it as citywide practice, citing “the very real threat of fare evasion.” Transit agencies in other cities, meanwhile, aren’t hiding behind that excuse. Speaking at TransitCenter last night, transportation officials from Boston, San Francisco, London, and Oslo shared how their […]