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The 'Root Causes' of 'Fare Evasion'

State of the Union: It’s our fault you’re stealing.

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I take the Metro to work in Washington. I spend more money than I'd like getting to and from my apartment, but I pay the fare every time. I couldn't imagine doing otherwise, for the simple reason that I would be stealing, which I wouldn't entertain doing, since stealing is wrong.

Apparently a lot of people don't agree with that. I'm only on the platform for about five minutes before boarding my train and I usually see at least a handful of people jump the turnstiles. Most of them aren't peasant laborers toiling to cobble together $1.25 for Junior's daily sardines ration. They're mostly young men who could afford to pay but don't for two reasons: they don't mind stealing, and police and Metro officials refuse to do anything to stop them.


You don't need to jump to "root causes" or "structural factors" to explain this behavior. People are stealing because they feel no compunction about stealing, and ninety-nine times out of 100, are stealing because they can, not because they have some pressing economic need to do so.

Read through this write-up in the New York Times of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority's efforts to reduce "fare evasion," that is, stealing, in the subway system.

Here's one of several advocates interviewed in the piece:

“You have people who genuinely cannot afford the cost of transit because they cannot afford the cost of living in New York City,” said Molly Griffard, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, who said resources devoted to fare evasion should be redirected to address the root causes of the behavior.

New York already has a program subsidizing transit fares for low-income families. So who exactly are these people who "cannot afford" the $2.75 to ride the Metro? And what "root causes," other than malevolence, does Griffard have in mind?


Then this:

“There’s this sort of kneejerk reaction to just rely on policing our way out of a problem that police can’t solve,” she said.

Policing alone can't "solve" this problem, to be sure. We might need a Ninth Crusade for that. But policing would certainly help, wouldn't it?

This is, of course, a self-hating line of thinking, that presumes the fare-paying riders are "privileged," contributed to an unjust status quo, and thus "deserve" to be made to feel like suckers by young men who hop the turnstile without consequence. A "Reader's Pick" from among the comments on the Times's website illustrates the point:

As much as I dislike seeing people jump turnstiles when I'm still paying, the solution isn't to punish individuals who are generally the poorest residents. The solution is to make public transit free at the point of use and paid for with taxes. Study after study shows that when you make public transit more accessible, cheaper, and expansive, more people will use it. I would gladly pay more in taxes to make this a reality

Well, if "study after study" says we can't just tell people to stop stealing and acting like degenerates, who am I to say otherwise?