March 11, 2020

Harold Stolper.jpg

Adjunct Assistant Professor Harold Stolper is senior economist for the Community Service Society of New York.
Adjunct Assistant Professor Harold Stolper is senior economist for the Community Service Society of New York.
For members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, which oversees the New York City subways, spending $249 million on police to ticket $200 million worth of fare evaders might make sense.

But to most New Yorkers who commute daily—especially those at the targeted stations—the math doesn't add up.

Harold Stolper, a SIPA adjunct professor and senior economist for the Community Service Society of New York, is one of those who objects—strenuously. At a lunchtime dialogue on March 2, Stolper took interested students through the New York Police Department’s convoluted web of data-keeping and what he called its effort to avoid making that data public.

The discussion drew heavily on Stolper’s 2017 report, “The Crime of Being Short $2.75.” That report analyzes the NYPD's effort to stop fare evasion, focusing in particular on the tactic of targeting residents of majority-minority neighborhoods, where people of color make up more than half the population.

In presenting his argument, Stolper highlighted a number of striking statistics. He cited not only the rates of arrests and ticketing for fare evasion at these targeted stations, but also the lack of reliable information that indicates how much the MTA in fact loses to those who opt out of paying the fare.

Stolper raised repeated questions about the crime statistics that are often cited as a rationale for hiring 500 police officers. He underscored that, since the new MTA officers operate outside of the NYPD's purview, they are not subject to the same reporting requirements as regular police officers.

"The numbers change," he said. “What we can track are the targeted stations.”

Stolper displayed a map that highlighted the stations that are most targeted for fare evasion. They are disproportionately located in city neighborhoods with large Hispanic or African American populations—including parts of the Bronx, Washington Heights, East New York, and Far Rockaway.

Stolper and attendees also talked about messaging of the MTA's current campaign to fight fare evasion, which features the slogan “We’d rather have your $2.75 than your $100 fine.” and efforts by protestors have taken to stop what they perceive as a war on poverty. Attendees agreed on one sentiment at least: that addressing poverty in the city should not begin with targeting people's mode of transportation.

— Catherina Gioino MPA ’20