‘Fare evasion and homelessness are red herrings’: Groups rail against Cuomo at Midtown rally over MTA budget

Thirty-nine groups from across New York City rallied in Midtown Manhattan on Sept. 26 calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to do more to improve the MTA without blaming fare-beaters and homeless individuals. (Photo courtesy of Riders Alliance)

BY ROBERT POZARYCKI | Who cares about fare evasion and subway homelessness when the trains are crowded and broken?

That’s the message 39 organizations, including the Riders Alliance, sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo during a Thursday rally in Midtown Manhattan over an MTA budget that they believe doesn’t make logical sense.

Back in June, Cuomo announced the hiring of 500 additional police officers to subway stations across the city in an effort to stop fare-beaters. The following month, he ordered the MTA to come up with a plan to address homelessness in the subway system, saying the problem is “worse than ever.”

But at the Sept. 26 press conference, the Riders Alliance and members of the coalition suggested the governor’s priorities were misplaced. Meanwhile, the MTA — which approved a major five-year capital budget plan this week — is also grappling with a projected $131.6 million budget deficit, and commuters are dealing with service cuts and ongoing public transportation problems citywide.

“Fare evasion and homelessness are cruel red herrings,” said Riders Alliance Political Director Rebecca Bailin. “Riders’ number one quality-of-life issue is slow and unreliable transit service. The MTA just approved the largest, most ambitious capital plan ever. The governor should focus on fixing the subway, stopping devastating service cuts from moving forward, and not criminalizing transit-dependent New Yorkers.”

At their rally, the coalition urged the governor to reassign the 500 officers the state is hiring to other duties rather than fare control or confronting homeless individuals. They also called for the removal of banner ads from train cars, along with signs and stickers, which they say “stigmatize low-income New Yorkers for the lengths that some must go to in order to get by.”

The signs beseech people to not sneak into stations through emergency exits. (Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY, from a story published by The City in July)

They also called on Cuomo to have the MTA eliminate the emergency gate alarms, which are designed to alert MTA employees and police officers to fare-beaters but often serve as a nuisance for riders with wheelchairs, strollers and suitcases entering and exiting the system.

Advocates said the resources for these items could be better spent on resolving the MTA’s infrastructure and budgetary issues, and funding other programs to help the homeless.

“Rather than placing more police officers in subways to further harass and criminalize people who are already disenfranchised, the governor must fund Home Stability Support and the remaining 14,000 units of supportive housing that he promised in 2016 — sensible actions that would actually reduce homelessness in New York,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless. “The governor must also immediately stop shifting the cost of shelters off to localities and end the prison-to-shelter pipeline from the state’s correctional facilities.”

After this story was first published on Sept. 27, MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford said in a statement to The Villager that the additional officers in the subway system are not there strictly to throw people in jail.

“We want more officers to serve as a deterrent that encourages people—in all neighborhoods—to pay the fare. It’s not about locking people up,” Byford said. “MTA needs everyone who rides the subways and buses to pay so we can make critical investments in better service. We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem, and have asked our law enforcement partners to ensure that operations to deter fare evasion are conducted all across the transit system.”

This story was updated on Sept. 27 at 10:10 a.m.

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