Unpaid bus fares cost the MTA $315 million in revenue last year. The sum is nearly half of the estimated $700 million the authority missed out on across its networks in 2022. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief executive, said the campaign seeks to curb what has become an “epidemic of fare evasion” on the authority’s buses.
“All of the sudden buses have become the number one fare evasion problem,” Lieber told reporters at a Thursday news conference. “That is money we should be using to provide better transit, and instead, it’s totally lost.”
Unpaid fares on buses have steadily risen since the authority resumed collecting fares in August 2020, following a six-month Covid-19-induced pause.
Just shy of a quarter of bus riders did not pay the fare on buses citywide in the first quarter of 2021. The share of riders not paying their fare jumped to 38.5% in the first quarter of 2023, according to MTA data.
The Evasion And Graffiti Lawlessness Eradication teams, or EAGLE teams, are usually reserved for the city’s select bus service routes. Inspectors conduct spot checks to ensure riders have paid the fare, and are empowered to issue tickets and boot riders from buses. For the first time the EAGLE teams will also be deployed on local buses.
“It will be about reorienting our customers that paying their fare is expected, and there are programs available to them as well if they have a certain income level,” New York City Transit President Richard Davey said, referring to the city’s Fare Fares Program that subsidizes train and bus rides for low-income New Yorkers.
A June budget deal reached by Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council increased the program’s income threshold and added $20 million in funding, but it fell short of the sweeping expansion transit officials had hoped for. At the time, Davey called the updates “progress,” but emphasized “my desire is that in the future, we can do better.”
The New York City Police Department will also deploy a new unit, which it is in the process of forming, to help EAGLE teams educate riders about fare payment and discount programs, according to transit bureau chief Michael Kemper.