Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Janno Lieber says the answer to the agency’s $500-million-a-year farebeater problem is jumper-proof turnstiles.
That figures. Anything but enforcing the law is everybody’s go-to answer to the crime dragging down New York’s cities these days.
Thus it’s too much to expect the head of New York’s sprawling, on-the-verge-of-going-broke mass-transit system to prescribe prosecuting farebeaters to crush farebeating. Much better to demand fare increases and then spend God-only-knows-how-many-gazillion-dollars re-engineering the MTA’s 472 subway stations.
And what Lieber plans to do about the 23% of MTA bus riders who don’t dip a MetroCard each day remained a mystery following his talk at a Manhattan Institute policy breakfast Monday.
Lieber had plenty to say, of course. Yes, he wants those jumper-proof turnstiles — if such a thing is even possible. He called for permanently banning dangerous individuals from the system, and why not? He even wagged a finger at soft-on-crime district attorneys — like Manhattan’s Alvin Bragg — who refuses to take farebeating seriously. (To say nothing of subway disorder generally.)
But the agency head left unaddressed the fundamental problem. While he’s a serious guy and more than qualified for the job, the same seems not to be true of his boss, Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Or maybe she’s just afraid to do it.
Certainly she needs to speak competently to the fiscal stability and operational integrity of one of the world’s most complex mass-transit systems. Instead, Hochul stands by while a moral crisis is redefined as a tricky technical challenge.
That is, perps aren’t the problem — turnstiles are.
Some days at the MTA are better than others, of course, but it seems like each new one brings another slashing or track-shoving — one more random assault on civility that in the aggregate undermines public confidence in mass transit generally. (And that’s not counting the vagrants.)
Millions of subway riders swipe their way into the subway system every day, only to watch countless others — at least 10% of total ridership — swarm through slam-gates or hop turnstiles with impunity. Meanwhile, woke DAs and their fellow travelers in the Legislature prattle on about inequitable law enforcement and “crimes of poverty.”
Lieber correctly noted that free-riders are responsible for much of the crime in the system — which, by the way, is up some 40% from last year. It’s also no secret that farebeaters, now largely unmolested by police, are much more likely to be traveling while armed than they might otherwise be. And this speaks to rising violent crime elsewhere in the city.
Still, this seems to be news to Hochul. Certainly she ignored it as she ran for a full term — but safely elected in her own right, will she change her tune?
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Probably not. At least Hochul is OK with Lieber’s preposterous proposal to rebuild thousands of turnstiles — when she really needs to go to the heart of the problem and let Bragg and his fellow DAs know that she’s done with their fantasyland approach to subway chaos.
In a grown-up world, prosecutors don’t get to decriminalize anything — legislatures do that. And while New York’s has contributed mightily to the state’s urban-crime crisis through bail “reform” and related insanities, it remains that the refusal of local prosecutors to target so-called petty crime goes to the heart of civic disorder.
Bragg won’t prosecute farebeating, considering it small potatoes. In fact, as Lieber noted Monday, it’s responsible for a half-billion-dollar shortfall in MTA revenue this year alone. And if that’s not grand larceny, nothing is. Certainly it’s a driver in the agency’s demands for multi-year fare increases.
Lieber, an engineer, is proposing an engineer’s solution to what is fundamentally a political problem. One that Hochul, a politician, is best situated to solve — and who is, in fact, the person responsible for solving it.
If she can summon the courage to try, she won’t lack for allies; Mayor Eric Adams has made that clear for months. Between the two of them, embarrassing Bragg et al. into doing their jobs might not be easy, but it certainly should be doable.
Eradicating farebeating is impossible, to be sure. But normalizing it, as is now all but the case, is just bonkers. Those who swipe their cards and then watch so many others simply skip through are being played for suckers — and they know it. But not for much longer, many must be thinking.
Kathy Hochul, by law and by custom, is the responsible party here. Time for her to report for duty.