The railroad's mobile app shows two cops, and a stern warning...

The railroad's mobile app shows two cops, and a stern warning about the consequences of fare beating. Credit: Newsday / Alfonso Castillo

MTA officials are taking a new step toward making sure Long Island Rail Road riders know the potential consequences of skipping out on their fares.

Commuters opening the railroad’s TrainTime app on recent days were greeted with a photo of two cops and a stern warning about the consequences of fare evasion. The pop-up message reminds users that "MTA Police are enforcing fare payment," and that riders who "don't pay the fare and don't show valid ID will be removed from the train, issued a summons, or arrested."

Users must click "I acknowledge" before using the app's regular features, including purchasing tickets and viewing schedules. About 310,000 people use TrainTime each weekday, including Metro-North customers.

Asked about the app message, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said that, following the recommendations last year from a panel of experts, "the LIRR and MTA Police are strengthening fare evasion enforcement."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Users of the Long Island Rail Road's TrainTime app were greeted this week by a pop-up message featuring a photo of two MTA Police officers and a warning that riders who don't pay their fares could be ejected from trains, summoned, or arrested.
  • The message comes as the MTA looks for new ways to address fare evasion, which results in about $700 million a year in lost revenue.
  • Although some riders and advocates praised the MTA's stern messaging, others called it "harsh," "extreme" and a "scare tactic."

At the LIRR's Mineola station Tuesday, commuters offered different takes on the message, with some praising the railroad and police for taking a tough stance on fare beaters, and others suggesting the warning, accompanied by a picture of uniformed cops sporting armor and handcuffs, was a tad much.

"It's a bit extreme, in my opinion … I feel like it's more of a scare tactic than them actually enforcing it with police," said Marcello DePaula, 24, of Williston Park, who sees passengers trying to skip out on paying "pretty often."

"Sometimes they walk out of the train and go a couple [cars] back when they see the conductor coming. They'll hide in the bathrooms," said DePaula, who was surprised by the pop-up message when he opened the app Monday morning.

Jenna Jacobs, of Port Jefferson, said she wasn't bothered by the image of police "doing their job."

"Showing a police officer shows that people need to follow the law," said Jacobs, 19, who also regularly witnesses fare evasion on the LIRR.

Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said while he expects some app users will interpret the message as MTA officials looking at them as "a bunch of criminals," he thought it hit the right note.

“I like the imagery, because it sends a message that, ‘We’re serious about this.’ It’s created a buzz. People are talking about it, and that’s what you want, because you want to get that message out," said Bringmann, who supports increased police enforcement on the LIRR.

“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, but we’ve reached a point where too many people are taking advantage, and you’ve got to draw a line in the sand," Bringmann added.

The new tactic comes as the MTA continues to deal with fare evasion, which costs the MTA about $700 million a year. LIRR conductors last year issued about 160,000 invoices to passengers who said they could not pay for their rides — up about 60% from the previous year, according to MTA data obtained by Newsday. The LIRR’s most persistent fare beater last year received 155 invoices within six months, totaling $2,154 in unpaid tickets.

MTA Police have deployed more officers onto LIRR trains that frequently have fare disputes while instituting a policy last year of having police automatically remove any passenger who refuses to pay a fare. Under the previous system, cops could make the call to let a passenger complete their trip.

MTA officials have said the stepped-up police enforcement efforts have already made a difference.

Summonses for fare evasion on the LIRR more than doubled from 2022 to 2023, when more than 700 summonses were issued, Donovan said. In the first three months of this year, police issued another 550 summonses for fare evasion, up more than 400% from the same period in 2022. 

MTA Police also arrested more than 200 people for fare evasion last year, and another 100 in the first quarter of this year, Donovan said.

Newsday reported Monday that the crime rate in 2023 reached its highest point in at least 18 years, including an increase in assaults. Of the 45 assaults last year, 19 were against MTA employees, which officials said have been more actively pursuing fare evasion.

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