“The fine is $100 and there is no way, no how, that I can pay that,” she said. “So I don’t know what to do. Try to borrow the money and pay it, or try to fight it.”
It wasn’t the first time Kozikowski had a run-in with transit cops. In July of last year, she said, she swiped through the turnstile using a 7-day Metrocard at the 149th Street and Third Avenue station in the Bronx while her then-13-year-old daughter ducked underneath. A cop stopped her daughter for fare-beating.“She was so scared. The color drained from her face,” Kozikowski said. “I told him, ‘She’s not 18, she’s 13, and if you want proof, come to my apartment and I’ll show you her birth certificate.’ He said, ‘No, no, I’m sorry, she looked older.’”Kozikowski, who is white, thinks her daughter’s race played a role in the interaction. (Her daughter, like her other children, is biracial.) She said the people in her community are mostly Black, some are Caribbean, and that she thinks this affects how her neighborhood and neighbors are policed.“And now the AG is investigating,” Kozikowski said.New York State Attorney General Leticia James announced on January 13 that her office will be looking into whether the NYPD’s fare-evasion enforcement policies have been disproportionately aimed at low-income areas and people and communities of color. Transit and civil rights activists have applauded the move; David Jones, MTA board member and the president of the non-profit Community Service Society of New York, said, “Mayor de Blasio has said he supports the AG’s inquiry. That’s good. It would be even better if the mayor directed his police department to [end] its longstanding practice of aggressive fare evasion enforcement in communities of color.”
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Now, though—and only after the NYPD was dragged kicking and screaming through the court system—people outside the department have comprehensive data on every arrest and summons for each of the 423 subway stations in the MTA system over a period of six months. The benefit of such information is that the public can see what their paid servants are doing. The utility of it is that it can be analyzed, and a preliminary read by Stolper confirms the obvious: Fare-evasion enforcement rates are higher in high-poverty neighborhoods, and there is far more fare-evasion enforcement in high-poverty neighborhoods that are predominantly Black and Latinx compared to high-poverty white and Asian neighborhoods. In a CSS report titled “The MTA’s False Fare Evasion Narrative,” Stolper writes:
"We used this new data to analyze the subway stations—and by extension surrounding neighborhoods—where fare evasion enforcement occurred during the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018. While this period is before the public face of any fare evasion crackdown began, this data allows us to identify 24,788 subway fare evasion enforcement actions over this period. This includes 19,512 summonses and 5,276 arrests. (The NYPD has yet to release any data on bus fare evasion enforcement.)"
With this knowledge in mind, VICE caught the A train.
"I hop the turnstile, and I’m not a criminal."On a chilly Thursday in January, just before noon, two police officers entered the 80th Street subway station in Queens, the first stop in Transit District 23. About 10 minutes later, they boarded a Lefferts-bound A train, where they roused a man with blue sneakers without laces, who was laying down across several seats. (“You gotta get up, buddy. You have to sit up or I’ll have to give you a summons. I don’t want to do that,” one officer said, before handing him a granola bar.) The cops rode the train until the end of the line at Lefferts, at which point, having picked up on the fairly obvious fact that they had a notebook-toting tail, one officer, whose badge read “Saha,” politely asked where I was headed. Explaining that I work for VICE, I said I was interested in seeing how transit policing worked in District 23, and outlined the findings of the new data, which show that the district had, over a given period of time, the highest rates of fare evasion arrests and summons in the city. What, I asked, could account for that?
Not everyone agrees. At Far Rockaway-Mott Ave., an MTA employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because MTA workers are not allowed to talk to the press, said the MTA needs more police in the system.“The MTA is losing a lot of money because people are jumping the turnstiles and police don’t give tickets,” the worker said. “If people work, they can afford the fare. If they can’t, then stay home.”“Many people have half-fare cards,” the person added. “They’re spoiled.”
A convenient set of argumentsThis argument, distilled by one chatty worker, neatly sums up the bulk of the MTA’s position on fare evasion. As the official narrative goes, the data show that fare evasion is increasing and costing the MTA hundreds of millions of dollars, and that more police are therefore needed to crack down on the freeloaders.There is no credible evidence to support these claims. In late 2018, the MTA put out a PowerPoint presentation showing that fare evasion was rising to historically high levels, hitting $215 million that year. However, the MTA’s own inspector general questioned the data’s validity, citing numerous methodological flaws. In her report about the data, she said that an MTA analyst who worked on the fare evasion survey suggested that the city’s Transit Operations Planning division “saw the project as an internal management tool to get an estimate of the problem, not an official analysis whose results would be formally reported to the MTA board or considered a robust and reliable estimate of revenue loss.” Perhaps predictably, the data were then presented as an official analysis, the results of which were formally reported to the MTA board to create an estimate of revenue loss. (According to a spokesperson, the “MTA has brought on an independent expert to evaluate and build upon our existing methodologies for estimating the rates of fare evasion across the system.“)