Some passengers who step onto Staten Island buses without a MetroCard or coins are finding a $100 summons in their hands — no-fare penalties that residents are calling no fair, in a borough with just three MetroCard vending machine locations.
Enforcers, known as EAGLE teams, have been traveling two Staten Island bus routes, New York City Transit President Andy Byford told an MTA board committee late last month, and three more in the Bronx.
Since the start of November, the squads have issued at least 5,000 summonses to riders they spotted freeloading, Byford said.
An MTA spokesperson declined to identify any of the five targeted bus routes.
The crackdown is part of the MTA’s effort to stem a growing epidemic of fare evasion by bus riders, with one in five riders failing to pay. Staten Island and the Bronx have “the highest fare evasion” rates in New York City, Byford told the board members.
The MTA’s EAGLE teams typically patrol the city’s 17 select bus service (SBS) routes, where they randomly board and ask riders to display tickets issued by curbside payment machines. Local buses do not provide proof of fare payment, so in Staten Island and the Bronx EAGLE agents keep an eye out for evasion as it happens.
Sheldon Johnson, a Harlem resident who regularly commutes to Staten Island, says he’s been ticketed on the S78 and S52 routes.
“We’re not rich. That’s why we’re on the bus. And sometimes I come from so far in the Bronx that sometimes my transfer don’t work. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I just don’t have it,” said Johnson.
He added: “If I can’t pay the fare, how am I going to pay the $100?”
With that, Johnson boarded an S94 bus, through the front door, without paying.
Just Three MetroCard Locations
Commuters and elected officials say Staten Island is set up to fail at fare payment because MetroCard vending machines are scarce in the borough.
While 141 Staten Islander retailers sell prepaid pay-per-ride MetroCards, vending machines are installed at only three locations: the Staten Island Ferry terminal, Eltingville Transit Center and the Tompkinsville Staten Island Railway station.
“To residents of other boroughs, MetroCard machines are a common sight, not an elusive myth,” City Councilmember Joe Borelli and State Assemblymember Michael Reilly wrote in a December letter to Byford. “While we do not condone far evasion, the MTA is seemingly making it as difficult as it can for Staten Islanders to pay their fare.”
The pattern of bus fare evasion described by Byford — surging most strongly during the morning rush — echoes frustrations described by commuters.
Liana Boddie, an investigator for city government who works in Manhattan, said she decided to skip her bus fare one January morning after she drove four miles to the MetroCard vending machines at the Eltingville Transit Center, only to find they weren’t working.
She had two options: journey nine more miles to the nearest working vending machine to refill her card or buy a prepaid MetroCard from a vendor.
Boddie did neither.
“I got on the bus and luckily the driver was understanding, because I’m not trying to get out of paying the fare,” said Boddie, a Bulls Head resident. “But there’s nowhere for me to refill it and I need to get to work.”
Other riders complain that their local delis will not accept credit or debit cards for purchases of MetroCards, since they make no money on the sales and must pay credit card companies a fee on each transaction.
“Trying to refill MetroCards on the Island is a nightmare,” said Brian Padua, a South Beach resident. “Not all stores carry MetroCards. When you do [find one], it’s cash only.”
MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek said that a new contactless payment system set to begin testing next month will help address Staten Island’s needs — allowing riders to wave their smartphones to pay with apps such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay.
The program, called One Metro New York or OMNY, is scheduled to launch with Staten Island bus routes as well as at 16 subway stations along the 4, 5, and 6 lines between Grand Central-42nd Street and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center.
Said Tarek in a statement: “We’re excited to launch OMNY on our entire Staten Island bus network this spring, and are in touch with local elected officials and advocates who have told us that they’re thrilled that Staten Island will be the first borough to have this tap-and-go technology on its buses.”
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