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Prosecuting subway-fare beaters is only fair

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Looking to save some cash this holiday season?

Here’s a suggestion: Ditch your MetroCard and simply jump subway turnstiles when you are in Manhattan, where that borough’s District Attorney, Cy Vance, continues to uphold his lunatic policy of not criminally prosecuting fare beaters.

You don’t need a degree from Harvard to figure out that if there is really no threat of prosecution for jumping a turnstile, more people will do it. Sure enough, data presented to Metropolitan Transportation Authority board members earlier this month showed that fare evasion has more than doubled since Vance announced his no-prosecution policy in February. In Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez came out in support of Vance’s policy after he announced it, but Gonzalez has not yet stopped prosecuting fare beaters altogether. Kudos to him.

Officials at the state-run Authority estimated that those who skip paying fares on our buses and subways will cost the systems a whopping $215 million. As agency leader Tim Mulligan — the executive vice president of the authority’s local arm, New York City Transit — recently said, “The gates are the number-one problem.”

That $215 million in lost fare revenue accounts for well more than two-thirds of the agency’s projected budget deficit next year, when straphangers are expected to be hit with another hike in tolls and mass-transit fares. And when those increases come, law-abiding riders will be paying to cover trips taken by those who chose to abuse the system and ride for free because there are no real consequences.

Of course, some on the far left still commend and defend Vance in spite of this evidence.

Journalist Ross Barkan — who lost his bid to become a Democratic state Senator from Brooklyn when he failed to defeat state Sen.–elect Andrew Gounardes in the June primaries — recently wrote that “fare evasion has nothing to do with the MTA’s catastrophic budget woes or its poor spending practices.”

But what Barkan fails to understand is that an extra $215 million in the Authority’s coffers would put a big dent in its deficit, and reduce the need for fare hikes.

One reason Barkan and other progressives argue against enforcing fare laws is because they claim the policies discriminate against locals who cannot afford to pay for a swipe. But would they also say we should not prosecute low-income individuals who steal from supermarkets or mom-and-pop shops?

For evidence of brazen acts of fare beating, locals need just to turn to social media, where more and more residents are sharing eyewitness accounts of the rule-breaking. For instance, Facebook user John. K last week declared to members of a Bay Ridge–based group that “I am going to start fare jumping. I am tired of being the one idiot who pays. Waiting for my girlfriend at the 59th Street station, in the first two minutes I counted 15 fare jumpers. Fifteen. Gee, I wonder why they need a fare increase.”

This columnist couldn’t have said it better himself!

Vance and his supporters seem to forget that part of the district attorney’s job is to uphold laws currently on the books, and prosecute those who break them. Fare beating is still a crime, despite how he has decided to treat it.

Indeed, section 165.15 of New York State penal law states a person is guilty of “theft of services” when he has the “intent to obtain railroad, subway, bus, air, taxi, or any other public transportation method without payment of the lawful charge” — a crime the law defines as a Class A criminal misdemeanor.

Former New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton described the days before officials aggressively enforced fare-beating laws for our mass-transit system decades ago, writing in his memoir “The Turnaround,” that “legitimate riders felt that they were entering a place of lawlessness and disorder … they saw people going in for free and began to question the wisdom of abiding by the law.”

Unfortunately for today’s riders, those days now seem to be repeating — and will likely continue to, unless all officials continue to threaten criminal prosecution of fare beaters.

Bob Capano is the chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party and a professor of political science.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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