Sloppy ticketing and lack of effort has led the MTA to fail in collecting almost half of revenue generated by transit fines and fees during a recent 29-month period, according to a new audit from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The audit found that a total of 324,079 summonses, or $30.41 million in fines, were issued by the MTA’s Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) between Jan. 1, 2013 and June 6, 2015 for violations like fare beating, littering and graffiti. But the bureau only collected $16.98 million worth of those fines.
“New York City Transit can and should do more to collect fines from those who violate its rules,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “With trains bursting at the seams and delays on the rise Transit needs every dollar it can get to improve the subway service for straphangers. Fines are meant to deter bad behavior, but when Transit fails to enforce its own fines, it risks sending the message that its rules are made to be broken.”
The bureau uses a variety of methods get violators to pay summonses. Phone calls are the primary tactic, but TAB also sends letters; files default judgements in civil court and imposes liens against future state tax refunds.
But those collection efforts can be derailed by incorrect contact information that Police Department officers file to record, according to the audit. Out of 150 fines DiNapoli’s office sampled, 40% had inaccurate address information. The audit recommended the MTA to work more closely with the Police Department to improve the information documented on summonses.
When proper contact information is on file, DiNapoli’s office criticized the MTA for not sufficiently following up with those violators. The audit said the MTA needs to restructure its call campaigns and make sure proper staffing is in place to work more efficiently.
The MTA has taken exception to the audit and what MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz called its “fuzzy math.” Ortiz said the audit was conducted in the middle of a transitional period, during which the collections bureau was moving IT operations from an external vendor to in-house.
“The Comptroller’s report is akin to trying to judge a car’s speed performance while it’s having a tire changed,” Ortiz wrote in an email. “As a result, the audit, because of its timing, does not provide an accurate representation of our collection efforts.”
Ortiz also said the report included cases that were dismissed and, thus, didn’t require outstanding collections.
“We have already bolstered staffing levels for collections,” Ortiz continued. “The OSC’s suggestion that adding external resources — and the costs associated with them — would have a negligible benefit — at best — because of the added costs.”