The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: The New York MTA should take notes from Chapel Hill transit

This year, the fare for New York City subways increased to $2.75. Along with the increase in fare, Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed 500 new MTA police officers to patrol train stations and introduced a new campaign against fare evasion. 

During demonstrations against the increase in fare, longstanding racial and class tensions reached a breaking point when a 19-year-old was pulled from his seat, thrown onto the floor of the subway car and arrested. Police officers explained the arrest to onlookers, "He did not pay his fare." Later police said that they were responding to a report that the teen had a gun; this report wasn’t true, he was unarmed. 

This case is unfortunately not unique. Photos of police violence in the New York subway went viral after police officers tased and hand-cuffed a young man. In another incident, police officers punched teenagers in the face on a subway platform, which social media commentators said was sparked by fare evasion. 

It’s clear that the increased presence of police officers in stations isn’t resulting in the peace or the increased fare revenue that Cuomo was intending. 

Unlike NYC, Chapel Hill transit is fare-free, and we have the second-largest transit system in North Carolina. One of our student fees goes toward maintaining the system without having to implement a fare, which is an example of progressive wealth redistribution policy done right — in short, it's awesome. 

The bus system in Chapel Hill is widely used, and the buses are accessible and extensive. This is proof that a fare-free system can work. 

Also, one unintended benefit of fare-free public transit is that it can serve as both a mode of transportation and shelter for homeless individuals as temperatures start to drop. If you're bothered by a homeless person taking your seat on a 20-minute bus ride, check your privilege.

Admittedly Chapel Hill and NYC have quite a few differences, but if we take Chapel Hill as a case study, imagine the good that could come of a fare-free transit system in the Big Apple. 

Paying 500 officers to patrol stations is not cheap, and leads to unnecessary confrontations and arrests. This money could’ve gone to reducing or subsidizing fares so people don't have to evade the fare in the first place.

Fare evasion doesn't even cause a significant loss of revenue for the city; it's almost negligible when compared to how much money is made from paid fares. The issue is the disproportionate response from law enforcement. 

Punching a teenager in the face is not the correct response to avoiding a $2.75 fare, and the cops know that. The fare evasion crackdown is just another loophole that allows law enforcement to unfairly target minority groups, Blacks and Hispanics in particular. In fact, the most recent NYPD arrest reports for fare evasion at the top 10 subway stations show that 101 Blacks and 30 Hispanics were arrested compared to just 14 whites.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never once skipped the fare on public transportation, especially during New York City rush hour. You’d be equally hard pressed to find a well-off white person who was violently apprehended for doing so — even though individuals making the highest incomes are shown to evade fares more frequently than those making between $28,000 and $86,000.

In an ideal world, NYC would have a fare-free system. We know that NYC has more than enough wealth to make this happen, perhaps with a slight tax increase on the nearly 1 million millionaires who live there. We also know that a fare-free system works here in Chapel Hill, and even broke college students are willing to pay our ~fare~ share to keep it that way.

That said, the status quo of police violence targeted at low-income and minority New Yorkers must begin its transition toward being fare-free, perhaps using Chapel Hill as a scalable model.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.