New York’s Policing of Public Transportation
With questionable allocation of funding and sub-par on-time performance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has consistently been walking on thin ice with its community throughout its existence. Within the past year, two years after the issuance of a formal transportation crisis by Governor Cuomo, there has been a crack-down on rider fare evasion.
But has the strengthening of these subway laws disproportionately affected people of color and those who are impoverished?
Upon surveying over 10 New Yorkers in lower Manhattan, it became evident that they acknowledge a problem within the system. While they did not agree on a single cause of the issue, there was a consensus regarding the increase in fares.
This constant increase in fare and lack of improvement of the public transportation system has become a breeding ground for contention.
From the outside, the system may seem to be getting its act together, but some New Yorkers see this as another step in the wrong direction. “It’s criminalization of poverty,” states NYU alum, Jenna Hackman. As the years go on, fares continue to increase from what once was 50 cents in the 1970’s.
Today the current cost-per-ride has hiked up to $2.75, while monthly unlimited cards have reached $127.
The repercussions for hopping a subway turnstile includes either an arrest or a $100 fine. If someone cannot afford the increased fare, the odds of them being able to pay off a ticket or bail are little to none. In result, some believe this has disproportionately put the working homeless at a disadvantage. At $2.75, those who are lesser fortunate may have to decide between a meal and train fare. “It’s not a humane system,” stated Jenna Hackman.
But are the poor the only possible group being targeted by this increase? Twenty-year-old Lebanese student, Yasmine Bousaid was a victim of racial profiling when a police officer wrote her a ticket for walking between train cars. While this is against the train rules, it is done frequently by experienced riders. The officer’s only explanation for issuing her a ticket, rather than a warning, was that “they have to meet a quota.” Not only is the implementation of ticket quotas illegal, but the officer mistakenly assumed Bousaid’s nationality; the ticket had “Hispanic” scribbled out under race.
With a transportation system in a state of emergency, government officials are scraping together plans for the future of the MTA. In order to reduce fare evasion, Governor Cuomo plans to increase underground police presence by 20 percent (NYT).
Similarly, the rise of MTA funded ads promoting a “better system” places the responsibility on the hands of its riders.
In response to these ads, New Yorker since 2004, Vanessa H. stated, “the idea of all citizens policing each other is grotesque.” The dehumanization and emphasis on the illegality of fare evasion can often create an us versus them phenomena.
Recently, with the increase of surveillance and physical presence of police, there has been a large pushback. Protest ensued last week after a viral video circulated displaying a police officer aiming a gun at an unarmed black teen suspected of fare evasion. While there was little news coverage of the event, it spread across social media platforms rapidly. Large crowds of people hopped turnstiles in protest to this injustice.
While there is a large movement of people against the increased police presence, not every New Yorker agrees. Art K. stated, “that doesn’t mean there is a systematic racial bias. I pay my toll every time I go and if other people are evading them, I’m paying a higher toll than I need to.”
The price increase of subway fare has caused annoyance in a community pained with run-down subway cars and an outdated signal system. Opinions may be mixed about whether the recent police presence is right or not, but New Yorkers agree that money isn’t being allocated within the MTA in an efficient way.
Funding of the MTA has been framed in multiple ways within the last decade. The most recent occurrences have been through the proposal of congestion pricing and a crackdown on fare evasion. The theory of congestion pricing will tax cars entering the central business district during rush hour in order to fund the necessary repairs to the transportation system. While some see this as a possible solution, others are starting to lose trust in the MTA’s plans.
Lindsey Soloman proposed an, “application of energy elsewhere, like the protection of POC and queer people who are being attacked.” Aligning himself within the queer community, Soloman questions, “where are you when I need you then?” With an increase of police presence, one might hope for safer subways, not police pulling guns on unarmed teens.
New Yorkers want a fair and functioning subway system. With the current crackdown on fare evasion, it’s reinforcing the idea that the system isn’t fair to the whole community.
New York’s chaotic streets cultivate a unique community. The people of New York find beauty in the little things: central air conditioning, safe streets, and an accessible subway system. As Vanessa stated, “every time I get on the subway and swipe, and that is not cheap! That’s literally a bagel, that’s breakfast!”