Cy Vance’s Tale of Two Cities: Bus Fare Evaders Go To Court; Subway Scofflaws Go Free

PICTURED: A man who will still jail you for not having three bucks. Photo by Adam Schultz, courtesy Cy Vance for DA campaign
PICTURED: A man who will still jail you for not having three bucks. Photo by Adam Schultz, courtesy Cy Vance for DA campaign

It was the best of Cy Vance. It was the worst of Cy Vance.

The Manhattan District Attorney, who earned kudos last year by announcing he would no longer prosecute most cases of subway fare evasion because arrests seemed to be racially biased, revealed over the weekend that he has no problem prosecuting fare beaters on buses — even though the above-ground suspects are also disproportionately people of color.

The revelation came on Saturday, after a public defender tweeted about a client who was facing 15 days in jail — courtesy of Vance — for not paying for his bus ride in Manhattan. That’s when Danny Frost, Vance’s spokesperson, responded on Twitter that the DA’s “decline to prosecute policy is subway fare evasion, not bus.”

How come? Vance isn’t talking (though Frost said the case in question involved the prosecution of a recidivist pickpocketer). But if the DA is prosecuting only bus fare evaders, he’s guilty of perpetuating a racially biased form of law enforcement that he himself said he opposes. Indeed, earlier this year, Vance touted his 96-percent drop in subway fare evasion prosecutions last year as evidence that his strategy is more fair.

“The criminal justice system is not a collection agency, and when it acts like one, it criminalizes poverty and leaves New Yorkers with lifelong records that ruin their chances to escape poverty,” Vance said in the congratulatory press release.

Oh, bus scofflaws? You get swept up in Vance’s collection agency.

It’s a tale of two Manhattans. Before his “decline-to-prosecute” policy went into effect underground, Vance had correctly targeted fare evasion arrests as the wrong way to deal with the issue, citing NYPD data that black and Latino individuals made up almost 90 percent of subway fare beating arrests in 2019. Frost himself said last year that the MTA’s focus on fare evasion continued a “shameful legacy of scapegoating low-income New Yorkers.”

But on the bus, where the average commuter’s income is $28,455, which is lower than that of subway riders, and 75 percent of the commuters are people of color, the district attorney is continuing the same policy he and his spokesman repudiated.

So what’s going on? Streetsblog reached out to Frost who, this time, did not bring up race or fairness.

“In bus fare evasion cases, a bus driver is present and is responsible for interacting with riders and collecting their fares, which is a different dynamic with different implications for safety,” Frost said. “We do not prosecute this very frequently, and when we do, our standard offer for a first- or second arrest is an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or a plea to a non-criminal violation with a non-jail disposition.”

Frost also shared data with Streetsblog that shows that Vance’s office arraigned roughly 70 people for bus fare evasion over the past three years. But he also said that virtually all people arrested for bus fare evasion are prosecuted. Far more people are arrested by the NYPD for subway fare evasion, but Vance has declined to prosecute most of them.

Activist Janos Marton, who on Tuesday said he would run against Vance in 2021, told Streetsblog that it was “curious” Vance’s office still prosecutes bus fare evasion in light of the subway fare evasion policy. “While people should pay their fares, arresting people instead of ticketing them is excessive, wastes police resources, and risks discriminatory enforcement,” Marton said.

And Assembly Member Dan Quart, who’s also considering challenging Vance in 2021, also blasted Vance’s bus fare evasion policy.

“Prosecuting poor people for theft of services for $2.75 is nothing short of the criminalization of poverty that perpetuates harm against low income communities and people of color,” Quart said in a statement. “There is no justifiable, public safety reason for the Manhattan DA to prosecute fare evasion, be that on the subway or the bus, and I fail to see how prosecuting one but not the other makes any sense.”

Quart also criticized Vance’s recent decision to spend criminal forfeiture funds on anti-subway fare evasion efforts. “Furthermore, the $40 million campaign to combat fare evasion, funded by criminal forfeiture funds, is a colossal waste of resources. Instead of expanding a city program like Fare Fares, which provides half priced MetroCards for low income New Yorkers, the Manhattan DA has once again chosen a more punitive approach,” Quart said.

One criminal justice reformer said the policy is an example of having to look past the headlines of any bold promises from a district attorney.

“This policy really puts into question, are they truly believers that the DA stop stop criminalizing our most vulnerable residents?” said VOCAL-NY Executive Director Alyssa Aguilera. “It’s confusing that they would make that distinction, because when you can’t afford $2.75 to get on the subway, you can’t afford it to get on the bus either,” Aguirre said.

Aguilera also criticized the bail and sentence request that drew the response from Vance’s office. “This is a completely outsized response to a person that’s too poor to afford to get on a bus. It’s doing nothing to advance public safety, it is such a ridiculous consequence to an action that so many of us have agreed shouldn’t be criminalized. People like Cy Vance who say they’re progressive, who say they want to decarcerate, these are the most basic cases to decline to prosecute, and this really calls into question if they’re acting in good faith,” she said.

The MTA says that one in five bus riders are evading the fares — and all fare evasion is costing the agency $225 million per year.

  • Steven Craig

    Ever see the fare ” Evaders” ? For the most part sporting designer clobber, tattoos, always with a phone and often wearing jewelry. They are simply GRIFTERS, for the most part. We have welfare in place IF they are so poor that they cannot really pay the fare and a large number of social service agencies that receive funding to help the truly needy.. Check out the BX 27 someday where by observation almost half do not pay not because the can’t but because they don’t want to. Now, with these gentlemen who are supposed to ENFORCE the law tripping over each other to condone and excuse their THEFT, Why should anyone pay !

  • darkchocolate

    Enforce the fare with tickets and fines, just like with drivers who violate traffic laws.
    But why would you want to spend your tax dollars on arresting and jailing people solely for fare evasion?

  • jposner

    Meanwhile, drivers who kill cyclists get away with it if they say the magic phrase: “I didn’t see them!”

  • Joe R.

    So you would rather spend about $200 a day of taxpayer money to jail someone who didn’t pay $2.75, plus court costs? Are these people a danger to the general public which justifies keeping them locked up? No, they’re just people who didn’t pay their fare. Sometimes they couldn’t, other times they just didn’t want to. Either way, deal with it via tickets and fines, not jail. Stop wasting my taxpayer dollars.

    And use that $200 a day for jail costs to give free bus/subway service to those who meet income guidelines.

  • Daphna

    In Harlem people line up at the gate at subway stations and wait until someone comes out and then walk in. The gate coasting behavior is rampant and blatant in Harlem and elsewhere. People do it in front of police officers and in front of MTA employees. Word has gotten out that fare evasion is no longer prosecuted, and that the NYPD often do not even issue summonses for fare evasion. Now that the threat of punishment for fare evasion is so greatly reduced, it makes me wonder if the statistics will begin to show higher fare evasion than previously.

  • Richard Presutti

    How in the world is enforcing that people pay for a service “race based”? Anyone with eyes knows that black and latinos evade fares whenever and wherever they can. Their upbringing is the problem… nothing more. Remove them (or correct it– please!) and the problem goes away.

  • Seymour Butz

    if it’s a repeat offender, yes, jail might be the only thing to wake them up

  • Ruck Fascists

    This racist post brought to you by some moron’s racist thoughts with anecdotal “proof”.

  • Richard Presutti

    typical lower form. next time something sucks look at the black or latino doing it

  • Dianna M

    I agree. But it does make me wonder – if a person is issued a fine for not paying a transit fare, why would they pay a fine? What are the consequences if one does not pay their fine?

  • Ruck Fascists

    Heh, looking back at your comment history, it seems you ONLY have an opinion when race it’s involved. You also like to call people out on grammar, which is amusing given that your childish musings are riddled with errors. Go be a dumb racist elsewhere.

  • darkchocolate

    I think it works much like with traffic tickets: they would not be
    able to renew their state or city issued IDs and there may also be a
    warrant for their arrest which could be enforced if they are stopped
    again later.

  • Steven Craig

    Disagree, jail is a deterrent. The present system of a summons which in all likely hood will NEVER be paid is simply an open invitation for others to do the same. Shop lifting is theft as well. so no charges there also ? The tickets and fines have to mean something for the current system to work and it clearly does not and is getting worse by the day.

  • Steven Craig

    Because it is clearly the ONLY real deterrent that works witness the current anarchy since only summons are issued. Most clearly CAN pay the fare but see no downside in the risk. Bus drivers in the Bronx now OPEN the backdoor to avoid damage to the bus allowing the thieves in.

  • Joe R.

    What good is a deterrent if you have to spend thousands of dollars on jail for every person you deter? A good way to think of things is to call fare-beating tickets/arrests/jail, fareboxes, MetroCard machines, token booth clerks, and so forth “collection fees”, while the fares are the monies collected. When collection fees substantially exceed monies collected few rational people will bother to pursue the matter.

    I’ve heard even when most people pay the fare on buses the costs associated with collecting it barely make it worthwhile. When you add in the costs of employees to catch fare beaters, court/jail costs, etc. it’s plainly not worth it. Maybe it’s better to just make buses free and dispense with the expense of fare collection. The MTA will likely be ahead by doing this. Since the goal here is to maximize revenue and/or minimize expenses this course of action makes the most sense.

  • Steven Craig

    Well that is what it is all about another entitlement. Sorry the thieves seem to pay their cell phone bills, all seem to have them. No excuse for in a civil law abiding society to not pay your fare. And YES the cost of a week in jail is well worth it for those who receive a second summons and longer periods for those who have more. Cheap at the cost,

  • Started off your comment convincing people you’re one of those wilfully blind folks who pretend that racial bias isn’t a thing, and then you slammed me face first into racism.

    Honestly, you’re more believable as a troll…yet sadly in todays world…probably not.

  • When is the last time a New Yorker went to jail for a parking ticket (which by the way is the identical crime as fare evasion).

  • Joe R.

    How do you know that other people aren’t paying for their cell phones, fancy clothes, etc? A lot of the farebeaters tend to be high school age or younger. Their parents might give them money for bus fare, but kids being kids they would rather spend that money on other things.

    You have a strange definition of the word entitlement. I’m just looking at it as cost cutting. If you have a service you’re legally obligated to provide, regardless of whether or not people pay for it, then you try to cut the overall cost as much as possible. That describes the MTA in a nutshell. They have to continue to serve all bus routes. They can’t eliminate any bus routes because of failure to collect fares, only because of poor ridership. Therefore, they have to cut other costs. Fare collection is a cost. Whether or not the fares collected as a result offset those costs should be the sole determinant as to whether or not it makes sense to continue trying to collect fares. In the case of NYC bus service it doesn’t. The majority of riders on many bus lines are transfers from the subway. The MTA gets no additional fare revenue from these people. The smaller number who ride the bus only don’t even pay enough to support the fare collection apparatus.

    Keep in mind also even if every pays the fare the act of collecting fares increases boarding time. That means you need more buses for any given frequency of service since it takes buses longer to go along the route. Not collecting fares saves the MTA money by allowing them to have fewer buses and bus drivers.

  • Steven Craig

    A thief IS A THIEF.

  • cjstephens

    “How do you know that other people aren’t paying for their cell phones, fancy clothes, etc? ”
    How do you know that other people aren’t also giving them the money to pay for their bus fare. Stealing is stealing. Quit defending it.

  • cjstephens

    I’m pretty sure that the statistics already show that fare evasion has gone up.

  • cjstephens

    Jail time for recidivist illegal parkers? Sounds OK to me.

  • Joe R.

    I’m defending minimizing the use of taxpayer dollars. If the MTA is required by law to provide bus service, their costs are at least the cost of buses and drivers. Those costs are partially offset by fares but it costs money to collect fares regardless of fare evasion levels. Collecting fares slows down boarding. Buses take longer to get across the line. As a result, you need more buses and drivers for any given level of service due to the delays caused by fare collection.

    Fare collection also has additional costs. You have to install and pay for fare collection apparatus. You have to pay people to enforce fare evasion. You have to pay for court costs and possibly jails for fare evaders. If all these costs exceed the fare collected, does it even make sense to collect fares, much less put people who don’t pay in jail?

    I want my taxpayer dollars used as efficiently as possible. If that means we don’t charge fares on buses, that’s fine.

    How do you know that other people aren’t also giving them the money to pay for their bus fare.

    That may well be the case but kids often spend carfare or lunch money on other things. Most of this farebeating is either by teenagers. The rest is mostly by adults who truly can’t afford to pay. Of course for the latter bikes often offer a good alternative but with 17 cyclists dead already this year I don’t think we’re going to attract a lot of new riders.

  • Joe R.

    Sounds OK to me as well but it doesn’t happen in practice. Heck, motorists generally don’t even go to jail when they’re at fault for killing people.

  • cjstephens

    I’m pretty sure the MTA isn’t required to give its services away for free, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not legally bound to let people ride if they won’t pay. And your argument that collecting fares costs more than the revenue generated from them simply doesn’t hold water.

    You’re still defending people who are stealing services that most people are paying for. It’s not OK for adults OR teenagers. Do you think it’s OK for teenagers to steal candy bars from a store? Sure, it costs taxpayer money to prosecute shop-lifters, but we still do it. If we didn’t, there would be no reason to stop kids from stealing.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll only defend people stealing things they really need and can’t afford. Candy bars aren’t a necessity, so no, I can’t defend anyone stealing them, even a poor person.

    And your argument that collecting fares costs more than the revenue generated from them simply doesn’t hold water.

    I don’t think the MTA or anyone else has added up all the costs involved. Police and court costs are off the MTA’s books, but they’re costs nevertheless.

    We already have foolproof ways to prevent farebeating, like full-height turnstyles. Install them on both the front and back doors of buses if people absolutely are going to insist on everyone paying their fare. My guess is the cost of doing this will greatly exceed any revenue collected.

  • Joe R.

    I guess you’ve never seen a redneck trailer park where you have lots of kids whose father is also their uncle, or maybe even their grandfather? No race has a monopoly on making things suck.

  • Joe R.

    Just wondering if the NYPD was directed to do this from the higher ups? As for why, with the decline in subway service over the last few years, I’m sure lots of people don’t feel the subway is worth $2.75 any more. Allowing fare beating could be a roundabout way to ease people’s pain. Or it could be deBlasio and others implementing their own defacto version of “lower” fares.

    By the way, fare evasion wasn’t really prosecuted much back when I was in high school, either. Groups of kids would just jump through the turnstile, even in front of cops, and nobody would do anything. Sometimes the token clerk on duty might yell at them to stop but that was it.

    If the MTA truly wanted to end fare beating, it just needs to install those high-level turnstyles everywhere. It’ll slow things down a bit, but nobody will easily be able to beat the fare.

  • Joe R.

    And most of the thieves on Wall Street steal more in one millisecond than fare beaters, yet they never seem to go jail.

    Maybe we should just chop off the fingers of fare-beaters while we’re at it since you think it’s such a horrible crime. Here’s my proposal:

    1) 1 finger for the first offense
    2) 2 fingers for the second offense
    3) 3 fingers for the third offense
    4) 4 fingers for the fourth offense (in case you’re counting we’re out of fingers at this point
    5) 1 hand for the fifth offense
    6) The other hand for the sixth offense

    Maybe we could move on to arms, feet, and legs after this. Assuming the person is still able to beat the fare as a limbless torso then next offense we chop off the head and permanently put an end to their career as a major criminal.

    Sounds good to you?

  • Joe R.

    Jail never wakes anyone up. It functions more as a criminal education school. They’re worse when they come out. In fact, for a lot of these people doing time is a badge of honor.

  • Andrew

    Just curious, what do you think is an appropriate penalty for motorists (including many police officers) who deliberately damage, mutilate, or obscure their license plates in order to avoid tolls and automated traffic enforcement?

  • Daphna

    With traffic tickets, the punishment for non-payment revolves completely around one’s driver license. Due to non-payment of moving violation fines your license is suspended and extra fees are added on if you want to re-instate it. For people who do not have a license, and do not intend to have one, such as a bicyclist who gets a moving violation ticket while riding but does not have a driver’s license, that person would not have penalties for non-payment that affect them, other than they’d have a lot of fees to pay if and when they decide to get a driver’s license.

  • qrt145

    Throwing people in jail because of unpaid debt (including fines) is unjust, and is illegal in civilized countries. The way to collect debt is through civil law, for example through forfeiture of property or garnishment of wages. If neither is possible because the debtor has no property and no job, tough luck.

  • Steven Craig

    You are being absurd. Apples and oranges. Fare beaters ARE thieves, they should pay a penalty which is meaningful. A week on a work detail would be more than fair for a first offence, fines simply do not work as most are never paid. The thief would think twice if facing a real consequence. You obviously feel that these folks are justified, I do not and find the pandering of our political leaders disgusting.

  • Michael K

    Even non-drivers will often have a need to get a non-driver (state or NYC) ID at some point. They might avoid consequences if they live in another state which doesn’t coordinate with NY, but then they may risk arrest if & when they return to NY.

  • Joe R.

    If beating a $2.75 fare should be punished by a week on a work detail then the stuff people on Wall Street do should result in beheading. The punishment should fit the crime. Most people will be deterred even by a $25 fine. Maybe the problem is the city doesn’t aggressively collect fines. Perhaps it should collect fines on the spot. If the person doesn’t have the money on them, take their phone or some other object as collateral. When they pay the fine, they get it back.

  • darkchocolate

    Even non-drivers will often need a non-driver state (or NYC) ID at some point. If they reside in a different state that doesn’t coordinate with NY they may get around this but they may risk arrest when they visit NY in the future.

  • Richard Presutti

    make sense next time tool

  • Richard Presutti

    I’ll pass on your faggot based suggestion

  • Richard Presutti

    so it is racist to point out that you are wrong now? Do you have 5 or 6 kids you cannot afford Tico?

  • Richard Presutti

    being an idiot who is trying to look prolific is not working for you. In your book blacks can break the rules because you feel sorry for them? The reason why they are stopped more than others is… wait for it. THEY BREAK THE RULES MORE

  • Richard Presutti

    is is the only reason I am here. you only exist due to our benevolence. write that down homo

  • Richard Presutti

    you do not need to be a Nobel prize winner to know that a bird might be able to fly…. same logic fucktard

  • Definitely believable as a troll.

  • Richard Presutti

    You had us at “In Harlem….”

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