Brother, can you spare a swipe?

A subway rider re-fills her Metrocard at the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn.
A subway rider re-fills her Metrocard at the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Sometimes, with a stroke of good luck, it happens immediately.

The would-be straphanger asks for the swipe and someone coming through the turnstile whips out their unlimited MetroCard, swipes effortlessly (first try) and continues walking, hardly breaking stride. The swipe-requester is through.

Sometimes, it can take 15 or 20 long minutes of requests — eye contact, “excuse me, miss,” perhaps the little hand gesture, all for naught. The MetroCard holders shake their heads and walk quickly by.

But Clinton Goodwin says he “can’t recall ever missing more than one train.” Somebody is generous enough.

The fare is too high, Goodwin, 66, says, for many New Yorkers, double what it is for a local bus in Newark when he goes there to visit friends.

Goodwin says he asks for swipes on days he can’t afford the fare — “I’m not going to jump no turnstile.” Still, he says he’d been hassled by police officers in the past in the act of the request, getting summonses and even an arrest. 
A swipe-in

A coalition of criminal justice reform groups is planning a pair of actions today to highlight the NYPD’s quality-of-life focus in the subway, where often-banal if sometimes annoying behavior like having feet up on the seat or walking between cars can have serious responses: summonses or arrests.

The groups, which include the Police Reform Organizing Project, Bronxites for NYPD Accountability, and the Coalition to End Broken Windows, plan to highlight the issue by offering MetroCard swipes at two subway stations in the Bronx and East Harlem.

The subway was the original domain for Police Commissioner William Bratton’s quality-of-life strategy. As chief of New York and Boston’s transit police, he cracked down on fare-beaters who, when arrested, might be found to have weapons or open warrants.

Since March, the NYPD says it has attempted a more lenient approach system-wide in the subway, substituting summonses for arrests in some cases in the wake of the Manhattan district attorney’s decision to stop prosecuting most low-level violations and infractions.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for or giving a swipe, but that sometimes coincides with “prohibited behavior,” such as blocking free movement, that police officers could respond to.

The reform groups allege that the enforcement of this “prohibited behavior” is not practiced equally around the city.

And as for fare-beating, they say that data from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that of the more than 29,000 arrests in 2015 for the offense, 92 percent involved people of color.
Who swipes?
Jumping the turnstile remains illegal, but asking for and giving a swipe isn’t. The reform groups’ action hopes to clarify this fact which many New Yorkers might be surprised by — as was one rider spotted Tuesday who gave a swipe surreptitiously.

It was his first time, Domingo Mass said. He’d been scared that he’d get a ticket. But the swipe-requestor “looked like he needed it,” Mass, 60, said. “I don’t lose anything.”

Multiple people waiting for swipes Penn Station Tuesday mused about the origins of that generosity.

Goodwin, sharply dressed in a jacket, slacks, and felt cap, said he’s had the best luck on the 4-5-6 line, particularly from “Caucasian people,” who he says offer swipes without being asked.

Prax Quinon, wearing a T-shirt with the faces of TuPac and Biggie and “Tale of Two Cities” written across the front, also identified the 4-5-6 as a good line but had a different view on who swipes.

“More Hispanic or black people,” he said. “White people don’t swipe. They don’t give nothing. That’s why they have money.”

Quinon, 44, who says he is homeless and living in a shelter, leaned on a cane while waiting. He gave a woman directions for the Brooklyn-bound 2. She thanked him but left him where he was.

Eventually, a different woman, wordlessly and without making eye contact, swiped him in.

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