Invoices issued by the LIRR conductors to riders who have not paid for train tickets rose from 2019 to 2022. NewsdayTV's Alfonso Castillo reports. Credit: Craig Ruttle; YouTube MTA

The Long Island Rail Road last year handed out more than 100,000 invoices to passengers who said they could not pay for their train tickets — a nearly 30% increase compared with 2019, when the railroad carried substantially more riders, LIRR statistics show.

Even while billing riders for nearly $1.4 million in unpaid tickets last year, the railroad got back less than $60,000 of the delinquent fares, according to railroad figures.

Acknowledging that the railroad’s antiquated system of sending nonpaying LIRR riders home with IOUs "isn't working," Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber has vowed change, including in the form of stepped-up police enforcement. The number of fare evasion arrests across the MTA's two railroads have already tripled compared to last year, MTA officials said.

“The MTA Police is looking at how they handle the situation where someone is basically refusing to pay the fare," Lieber said in an interview at Jamaica last month, adding that the agency is looking for a solution in which fare beaters “don’t delay the train, but don’t get a free ride.”

On Friday, Lieber condemned the invoices in the strongest terms yet, saying it's important that there's confidence in the system.

"You see people who aren’t paying, it starts to raise the question, ‘Why am I the sucker who should be paying when these other cats aren’t?’" he said at a Long Island Association meeting in Melville.

Under LIRR policy, passengers who say they are unable to pay for a ticket are issued an "invoice for fare not paid," also known as an "ADL 6009" form, and directed to mail payment to the railroad.

According to data obtained by Newsday through state public records laws, the number of invoices issued by LIRR conductors to riders rose by 28.6%, from 78,075 in 2019 to 100,417 in 2022, and was on pace to grow significantly higher this year.

Meanwhile, the number of invoices eventually returned with payment has shrunk during that time, from 14% in 2019 to 5% last year.

The LIRR's figures show it billed riders who did not pay for their tickets onboard $1,384,851 last year. That's up 31% from $1,053,490 in 2019. Ridership fell from a modern record 91.1 million in 2019 to 52.5 million in 2022, a 42% decrease. 

The railroad collected $59,790 of last year's delinquent fares, around 6%. And the problem was only getting worse during the first part of 2023, according to the LIRR’s figures.

Through the first five months of this year, the LIRR already issued 55,200 invoices — 70% more than it did during the first five months of 2022.

The railroad billed for a total of $767,954 during the first five months of 2023, and only collected $24,133 of that — or 3.14%.

As fare evasion has risen on the LIRR, so too have frustrations among paying customers, who in August saw their latest fare hike. East Rockaway commuter Steven Burger said that since returning to being a full-time commuter about three months following the COVID-19 pandemic, he sees conductors handing out invoices to riders who refuse to pay their fares “all the time.”

“And every time, I’m like, ‘They’re not paying that.’ Why would they?” said Burger, who believes, in recent years many riders have “wised up and figured out you can do this.”

Burger added: "It’s a terrible system. But I couldn’t tell you a better one.”

The MTA said fare evasion costs about $700 million a year across its agencies, including New York City subways, buses, Metro-North and the LIRR.

Lieber on Friday called the system a “bureaucratic” means of addressing a problem. 

“On the Long Island Rail Road, there’s this historic pattern of effectively giving out IOUs. Very quaint, right? Somebody says, ‘I'm not paying,’ and you say, ‘Here's a little piece of paper. Send your money,’” Lieber said. “These are fare evaders. You need to give them tickets. And people who are repetitive need to be subject to arrest and to be ejected from the train . . . We are moving in that direction.”

In May, the MTA released a report prepared by a panel of experts that analyzed the problem of fare evasion, and proposed strategies to deal with it. Among them, setting up physical "fare gates," as are in place at commuter railroads in Boston, New Jersey, and St. Louis, that require riders to present their tickets before boarding.

The report acknowledged that “allowing customers to receive invoices for payment by mail is one of the most difficult and challenging evasion issues” facing its two railroads, and may even encourage fare beating.

“The list of customers with a documented history of fare evasion is lengthy, particularly on the LIRR,” the report said. “This suggests that some customers have become aware of the onboard invoicing option and are deliberately exploiting it to effectively ride for free.”

Following the release of the report, MTA officials said they worked with railroad unions and police to devise a new strategy to deal with fare disputes — having cops more frequently remove nonpaying customers from trains and addressing the situation at a station platform, including, if necessary, through an arrest.

According to MTA Police figures, through Oct. 31, fare evasion arrests across the authority's two railroads — the LIRR and Metro-North — were up 210%, from 72 in the first 10 months of 2022 to 223 during the same period this year. Summonses for failure to pay a fare or present a ticket also doubled during that period, from 253 to 516.

“What we realized is, we’re going into the trains and looking at the fare evaders as a dispute and trying to solve the problem on the train. Hence, we’re inconveniencing thousands of passengers,” MTA Chief of Police John Mueller said. “When we looked at that, we said, ‘This is upside down. And what we have to do is we have to now take the fare evader off the train.’ ”

Mueller said fare disputes are being resolved on a “case-by-case” basis, with penalties ranging from warnings to fines to jail time.

Anthony Simon, who heads the union representing LIRR conductors, confirmed that police have been more involved in fare disputes as of late, but said several factors can determine whether a passenger is removed from a train, including weather, location and the availability of police.

LIRR labor leaders have long called for increased police assistance in resolving fare disputes, especially as they sometimes result in hostility toward train crew members, as when an LIRR passenger who refused to pay his fare allegedly assaulted two conductors in Brooklyn in March.

“The confrontations between our train crews and riders just unwilling to pay has led to an all-time high of harassments and assaults that we are feeling to this day,” said Simon, who called for a “realistic and enforceable policy to stop the blatant theft” of LIRR service.

That means moving away from an invoice system that has become “unmanageable due to the lack of consequences for repeat abusers," Simon said. 

A 2019 audit by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also criticized the invoice system, under which customers have 14 days to return payment before accruing penalties. After 60 days, riders with six or more offenses can have their cases sent to a collection agency. The invoice warns riders that nonpayment could result in "a negative credit report."

But, the audit found, the LIRR “did not always follow up on invoices and only made limited efforts to find nonpaying riders.”

The audit noted that the LIRR keeps a database of “the top 800 individuals who have requested seven or more Invoices with a total value of over $100.” Conductors are armed with the list, and must contact police if a person on it requests another invoice, according to the audit.

But a memo circulated in April by the conductors’ union — the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — points out that passengers need not provide identification in order to be issued an ADL 6009 invoice. “As long as a passenger shows a willingness to pay, provides a name and address, and is not on the ADL offender list, it may be issued,” the union wrote.

The union memo also illustrates conductors’ reluctance to escalate fare disputes on trains, telling members they should “never tell a passenger they must exit the train” nor “threaten with or say the word ‘police.’ ”

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Gerard Bringmann has advocated for getting police more involved in fare disputes, but also acknowledged that doing so could delay a train and inconvenience “the people who are paying their fares, which is the vast majority.”

While acknowledging that “there is no simple solution,” Bringmann commended the MTA for acknowledging that fare evasion on the LIRR “has gotten a little bit out of control, so it has to be addressed.”

“All businesses write off a little bit of loss, just like your local retailer writes off ‘X’ amount for shoplifting. This is the mass transit version of shoplifting,” Bringmann said. “Now you can’t [write it off] because word gets around … ‘They’ll give you an invoice and you don’t have to pay it.’ So, now it has to be addressed.”

Although the invoice system remains in place, the increased police involvement means the railroad's reliance on it has been "reduced dramatically," Mueller said.

MTA officials said they are taking other measures to address fare evasion on the LIRR, including by deploying new ticket collecting strategies and increasing messaging to riders about fare payment options, including through the MTA’s mobile app, TrainTime.

The transit authority is reviewing other recommendations from its panel of fare evasion experts, including creating a system of increasing fines for repeat fare evaders, and working with lawmakers and prosecutors to increase penalties for frequent offenders.

MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee executive director Lisa Daglian, who sat on the fare evasion panel, noted that some of the recommendations aim to address underlying “equity” issues. That could include discounting fares for passengers up to 17 years old, and creating a government-subsidized reduced fare program in Nassau and Suffolk counties, similar to New York City’s “Fair Fares.”

“Bringing a program like that to the railroad would help increase the number of people who could afford to ride the railroad,” said Daglian, who agreed the railroad should move away from responding to fare evasion with an IOU.

“It’s a relic. It’s legacy,” Daglian said. “It’s definitely a system that doesn’t work.”

The Long Island Rail Road last year handed out more than 100,000 invoices to passengers who said they could not pay for their train tickets — a nearly 30% increase compared with 2019, when the railroad carried substantially more riders, LIRR statistics show.

Even while billing riders for nearly $1.4 million in unpaid tickets last year, the railroad got back less than $60,000 of the delinquent fares, according to railroad figures.

Acknowledging that the railroad’s antiquated system of sending nonpaying LIRR riders home with IOUs "isn't working," Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber has vowed change, including in the form of stepped-up police enforcement. The number of fare evasion arrests across the MTA's two railroads have already tripled compared to last year, MTA officials said.

“The MTA Police is looking at how they handle the situation where someone is basically refusing to pay the fare," Lieber said in an interview at Jamaica last month, adding that the agency is looking for a solution in which fare beaters “don’t delay the train, but don’t get a free ride.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The LIRR issued more than 100,000 invoices last year to passengers who said they could not pay their fares, and received payment for just 5% of the delinquent fares, according to railroad figures obtained by Newsday. The number of invoices issued rose nearly 30% since 2019, even as ridership fell by 42%.
  • Acknowledging that the system of issuing IOUs to fare beaters isn't working, MTA officials have said they are making several policy changes, including by having police more frequently intervene in fare disputes.
  • Even while criticizing the invoice system, experts, commuters, and labor leaders have said several obstacles are in the way of improving it, including the potential to delay trains if police become involved. 

On Friday, Lieber condemned the invoices in the strongest terms yet, saying it's important that there's confidence in the system.

"You see people who aren’t paying, it starts to raise the question, ‘Why am I the sucker who should be paying when these other cats aren’t?’" he said at a Long Island Association meeting in Melville.

An example of an invoice that LIRR conductors issue to...

An example of an invoice that LIRR conductors issue to passengers who don’t pay. Credit: Craig Ruttle

More invoices, fewer returned since 2019

Under LIRR policy, passengers who say they are unable to pay for a ticket are issued an "invoice for fare not paid," also known as an "ADL 6009" form, and directed to mail payment to the railroad.

According to data obtained by Newsday through state public records laws, the number of invoices issued by LIRR conductors to riders rose by 28.6%, from 78,075 in 2019 to 100,417 in 2022, and was on pace to grow significantly higher this year.

Meanwhile, the number of invoices eventually returned with payment has shrunk during that time, from 14% in 2019 to 5% last year.

The LIRR's figures show it billed riders who did not pay for their tickets onboard $1,384,851 last year. That's up 31% from $1,053,490 in 2019. Ridership fell from a modern record 91.1 million in 2019 to 52.5 million in 2022, a 42% decrease. 

The railroad collected $59,790 of last year's delinquent fares, around 6%. And the problem was only getting worse during the first part of 2023, according to the LIRR’s figures.

Through the first five months of this year, the LIRR already issued 55,200 invoices — 70% more than it did during the first five months of 2022.

The railroad billed for a total of $767,954 during the first five months of 2023, and only collected $24,133 of that — or 3.14%.

Paying riders take notice

As fare evasion has risen on the LIRR, so too have frustrations among paying customers, who in August saw their latest fare hike. East Rockaway commuter Steven Burger said that since returning to being a full-time commuter about three months following the COVID-19 pandemic, he sees conductors handing out invoices to riders who refuse to pay their fares “all the time.”

“And every time, I’m like, ‘They’re not paying that.’ Why would they?” said Burger, who believes, in recent years many riders have “wised up and figured out you can do this.”

Burger added: "It’s a terrible system. But I couldn’t tell you a better one.”

The MTA said fare evasion costs about $700 million a year across its agencies, including New York City subways, buses, Metro-North and the LIRR.

Lieber on Friday called the system a “bureaucratic” means of addressing a problem. 

“On the Long Island Rail Road, there’s this historic pattern of effectively giving out IOUs. Very quaint, right? Somebody says, ‘I'm not paying,’ and you say, ‘Here's a little piece of paper. Send your money,’” Lieber said. “These are fare evaders. You need to give them tickets. And people who are repetitive need to be subject to arrest and to be ejected from the train . . . We are moving in that direction.”

In May, the MTA released a report prepared by a panel of experts that analyzed the problem of fare evasion, and proposed strategies to deal with it. Among them, setting up physical "fare gates," as are in place at commuter railroads in Boston, New Jersey, and St. Louis, that require riders to present their tickets before boarding.

The report acknowledged that “allowing customers to receive invoices for payment by mail is one of the most difficult and challenging evasion issues” facing its two railroads, and may even encourage fare beating.

“The list of customers with a documented history of fare evasion is lengthy, particularly on the LIRR,” the report said. “This suggests that some customers have become aware of the onboard invoicing option and are deliberately exploiting it to effectively ride for free.”

Following the release of the report, MTA officials said they worked with railroad unions and police to devise a new strategy to deal with fare disputes — having cops more frequently remove nonpaying customers from trains and addressing the situation at a station platform, including, if necessary, through an arrest.

According to MTA Police figures, through Oct. 31, fare evasion arrests across the authority's two railroads — the LIRR and Metro-North — were up 210%, from 72 in the first 10 months of 2022 to 223 during the same period this year. Summonses for failure to pay a fare or present a ticket also doubled during that period, from 253 to 516.

“What we realized is, we’re going into the trains and looking at the fare evaders as a dispute and trying to solve the problem on the train. Hence, we’re inconveniencing thousands of passengers,” MTA Chief of Police John Mueller said. “When we looked at that, we said, ‘This is upside down. And what we have to do is we have to now take the fare evader off the train.’ ”

Mueller said fare disputes are being resolved on a “case-by-case” basis, with penalties ranging from warnings to fines to jail time.

Union: 'unmanageable' system with repeat abusers

Anthony Simon, who heads the union representing LIRR conductors, confirmed that police have been more involved in fare disputes as of late, but said several factors can determine whether a passenger is removed from a train, including weather, location and the availability of police.

LIRR labor leaders have long called for increased police assistance in resolving fare disputes, especially as they sometimes result in hostility toward train crew members, as when an LIRR passenger who refused to pay his fare allegedly assaulted two conductors in Brooklyn in March.

“The confrontations between our train crews and riders just unwilling to pay has led to an all-time high of harassments and assaults that we are feeling to this day,” said Simon, who called for a “realistic and enforceable policy to stop the blatant theft” of LIRR service.

That means moving away from an invoice system that has become “unmanageable due to the lack of consequences for repeat abusers," Simon said. 

A 2019 audit by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also criticized the invoice system, under which customers have 14 days to return payment before accruing penalties. After 60 days, riders with six or more offenses can have their cases sent to a collection agency. The invoice warns riders that nonpayment could result in "a negative credit report."

But, the audit found, the LIRR “did not always follow up on invoices and only made limited efforts to find nonpaying riders.”

The audit noted that the LIRR keeps a database of “the top 800 individuals who have requested seven or more Invoices with a total value of over $100.” Conductors are armed with the list, and must contact police if a person on it requests another invoice, according to the audit.

But a memo circulated in April by the conductors’ union — the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — points out that passengers need not provide identification in order to be issued an ADL 6009 invoice. “As long as a passenger shows a willingness to pay, provides a name and address, and is not on the ADL offender list, it may be issued,” the union wrote.

The union memo also illustrates conductors’ reluctance to escalate fare disputes on trains, telling members they should “never tell a passenger they must exit the train” nor “threaten with or say the word ‘police.’ ”

MTA considers increasing fines, penalties 

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Gerard Bringmann has advocated for getting police more involved in fare disputes, but also acknowledged that doing so could delay a train and inconvenience “the people who are paying their fares, which is the vast majority.”

While acknowledging that “there is no simple solution,” Bringmann commended the MTA for acknowledging that fare evasion on the LIRR “has gotten a little bit out of control, so it has to be addressed.”

“All businesses write off a little bit of loss, just like your local retailer writes off ‘X’ amount for shoplifting. This is the mass transit version of shoplifting,” Bringmann said. “Now you can’t [write it off] because word gets around … ‘They’ll give you an invoice and you don’t have to pay it.’ So, now it has to be addressed.”

Although the invoice system remains in place, the increased police involvement means the railroad's reliance on it has been "reduced dramatically," Mueller said.

MTA officials said they are taking other measures to address fare evasion on the LIRR, including by deploying new ticket collecting strategies and increasing messaging to riders about fare payment options, including through the MTA’s mobile app, TrainTime.

The transit authority is reviewing other recommendations from its panel of fare evasion experts, including creating a system of increasing fines for repeat fare evaders, and working with lawmakers and prosecutors to increase penalties for frequent offenders.

MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee executive director Lisa Daglian, who sat on the fare evasion panel, noted that some of the recommendations aim to address underlying “equity” issues. That could include discounting fares for passengers up to 17 years old, and creating a government-subsidized reduced fare program in Nassau and Suffolk counties, similar to New York City’s “Fair Fares.”

“Bringing a program like that to the railroad would help increase the number of people who could afford to ride the railroad,” said Daglian, who agreed the railroad should move away from responding to fare evasion with an IOU.

“It’s a relic. It’s legacy,” Daglian said. “It’s definitely a system that doesn’t work.”

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Oak Beach Osprey nest … New tax breaks for struggling Port Washington development … Paralympic gold medalist Credit: Newsday

Primary: Voters take to the polls ... Nassau homebuying event ... Hampton Bays man drowns ... Paralympic gold medalist

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