MTA trials a touchless turnstile system to cut down fare evasion
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MTA trials a touchless turnstile system to cut down fare evasion

Jul 28, 2023

As means to crack down on fare evasion across New York City the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is testing out a new turnstile system. The prototype design installed in Grand Central Terminal does away with the token-era, tripod gate get-up and instead implements an automatic, touchless system that uses transparent panels that swing open to riders upon payment. In addition to trialling the new system the MTA released a comprehensive report to combat fare and toll evasion, across all its networks—subways, buses, railroads, and bridges and tunnels. The report is the work of the Blue-Ribbon Panel, a coalition of education, social justice, and law enforcement experts convened last spring to investigate fare evasion and develop a strategy to combat it.

"This report is the product of over a year of intensive work taking a fresh look at the issue of fare and toll evasion, its causes, and potential solutions," said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis and Roger Maldonado, Blue-Ribbon Panel co-chairs in a press release. "Fare evasion is a crisis that threatens the future of the MTA, and to solve it the panel believes a rigorous, comprehensive approach to tackle root causes is needed. By bringing New Yorkers together and centering education, equity, and changes to the physical entry experience along with a reimagined enforcement strategy, we can alleviate evasion and turn the tide."

The Blue-Ribbon Panel comprised of 16 New York leaders, including New York City Public Schools Chancellor David C. Banks, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizen Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC) Lisa Daglian, Regional Plan Association Executive Vice President Kate Slevin, among others. The panel found that there was a cumulative loss of $690 million across public transit in 2022 due to fare and toll evasion. By its estimates 10-15 percent of subway riders, 37 percent of bus riders, and 6 percent of railroad passengers bypass the turnstiles and evade fares each day.

"Fare and toll evasion isn't just an economics problem: it tears at the social contract that supports mass transit in New York City. New Yorkers are sick of feeling like suckers seeing their neighbors beat the fare or cheat the toll while they pony up their fair share," added MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. "The report findings address this emerging crisis with a comprehensive plan across all MTA services, while also acknowledging that enforcement alone will not solve this problem."

The strategies put forth by the panel vary depending on the transit, but are generally focused on accountability and modern advancements in technology. One of the proposed changes is the replacement of the subway turnstiles with modernized fare arrays. These updated entries would also increase accessibility and eliminate the need for the emergency gates which are the primary target for fare evasion. Other changes include expanding the role (and presence) of the New York City Transit's Eagle Team, a team of civil agents who currently enforce fare payment almost exclusively on Select Bus Service Routes, to monitor buses with the highest level of evasion.

The Blue-Ribbon Panel hopes to reduce fare and toll evasion rates and dollar losses by half within three years across the entire MTA while boosting paid ridership. The entire report can be found here.