Shocker: Decriminalizing NYC bus fare skipping leads to fewer people paying fares

Prison reform (or justice reform) is a big ticket item for all of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and that includes all manner of decriminalization. POTUS candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a big proponent of such things and the theory extends far beyond just legalization of marijuana. In the Big Apple, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance was urged last year to end criminal prosecutions for people who board buses without paying the fares or jump the turnstiles in the subway. This was supposed to end the “harassment” of poor people and end needless court appearances for such low-level scofflaws who are frequently economically disadvantaged people of color.

Sounds good, right? A nice little gift for those who are struggling. But to the shock of absolutely nobody outside of the city government, no sooner had they enacted the policy than many people just stopped paying the fares entirely. And by “lots” I mean as many as 24% of bus riders. Turnstile jumping is on the increase as well and it’s costing the transit system millions. (NY Post)

More and more riders are boarding city buses without paying the fare, according to new MTA data for the first quarter of 2019.

The cheapskates run most rampant on local bus routes, where one in every four riders skirts the fare, representing a 35-percent spike from the same time period in 2018.

Turnstile-jumping on the subways is also on the rise, though it remains far less frequent at approximately 3.9 percent of riders, the data, released ahead of the agency’s Monday board meeting, shows…

Fare-beating is a growing strain on the coffers of the $17 billion agency — which hemorrhaged $240 million, or 1.5 percent of its annual budget, over the 12 months ending in March.

The same people who thought this was a great idea (specifically Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio) are now struggling with how to fix the system they just finished fixing. They just announced plans to reassign as many as 500 NYPD officers to monitor bus and train routes “as a deterrent to fare-beaters.”

Seriously? You’re going to pull 500 cops off of other duty to make sure people are buying and using tokens for mass transit? You know, guys, we actually already had a “deterrent to fare-beaters.”It was the knowledge that if they were caught doing it they would be dragged into court and have to pay a fine. If they did it too many times, they might wind up cooling their heels in a jail cell for a little while. And it worked fairly well.

What we’re seeing here is yet another example of the negative results we’ve experienced since moving away from the previous “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement. By acting aggressively to prevent smaller crimes, you create an environment where escalation to larger crimes is less likely. But now, this compassionate approach seems to be relying on the idea that if Big Brother is seen as more of a friendly fellow who won’t punish you when you color outside the lines, everyone will just behave well and march off into the rainbow-colored sunset.

So you decided to stop prosecuting fare-jumpers. And then people stopped paying the fares. If only there had been some way to predict that this would happen.