Guerrilla MTA signs tell New Yorkers, ‘Don’t snitch. Swipe,’ defending fare evaders

Mock MTA ads defend people who can't pay subway fares. Photo Credit: @prettyboy_zhao

The mock signs mimic language used by the MTA about its crackdown on fare evasion.

Mock MTA ads defend people who can't pay subway fares.
Mock MTA ads defend people who can’t pay subway fares. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Getty Images

Guerrilla MTA ads urging New Yorkers not to “snitch” on fare evaders have popped up on subway trains and in stations. 

The ads use the MTA’s logo and mimic signs the agency posted after announcing a crackdown on fare evasion. The MTA’s official signs say, “Together, we can make a better system,” and list things commuters can do to help stop fare evasion, such as, “If you need the subway gate, don’t hold it open.” The mock MTA ads say, “Together, we can make a better world,” and list reasons why someone might be evading the fare before encouraging riders to swipe others in.

“Maybe they don’t have $2.75. Maybe they were laid off. Maybe there’s an emergency and no time to refill. Maybe the ticket machines are broken,” the ads say. “Don’t snitch. Swipe.”

Another guerrilla ad says, “We’re stepping up and giving back” — mimicking the language used on an MTA sign saying the agency was “stepping up” enforcement — and reminds riders that it’s legal to swipe for other commuters. Photos of the signs have been shared on social media with #SwipeItFoward.

The mock MTA ads encourage New Yorkers to swipe other riders in if they can. 
The mock MTA ads encourage New Yorkers to swipe other riders in if they can.  Photo Credit: @prettyboy_zhao

The mock ads also include a link that opens a 2017 report by the Community Service Society that examines fare evasion arrests in Brooklyn and concludes that they were concentrated around “high-poverty black neighborhoods.” The CSS was not behind the ads, a spokesman said.

More than 85% of people arrested for fare evasion at the “top stations” in the second quarter of this year were black or Hispanic, according to NYPD data.

The MTA estimated that it lost $215 million in 2018 because of fare evaders and vowed at the end of the year to crack down on the offense. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June announced he would direct 500 additional law enforcement agents to the transit system in part to combat fare evasion

“Fare evasion is real,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement Thursday. “It costs the MTA hundreds of millions of dollars a year, reducing service we can provide across the system. It is unfair to the vast majority of New Yorkers who pay the fare.”

A report released by the MTA inspector general earlier this month questions the accuracy of the MTA’s estimates on fare evasion losses but says it’s not clear if the estimates are high or low. 

Donovan said the agency encourages anyone who can’t afford the fare to enroll in the city’s Fair Fares program, which gives eligible residents half-priced MetroCards. 

Public defenders and civil rights groups have criticized the increased enforcement of fare evasion and said the city should more aggressively roll out the Fair Fares program. The lower fare is now available to New Yorkers receiving cash assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but it is expected to expand to all New Yorkers at or below the federal poverty level in January.

The mock ads were posted in stations and on subway cars.
The mock ads were posted in stations and on subway cars. Photo Credit: @prettyboy_zhao

The MTA is removing the guerrilla ads and plans to send a cease-and-desist letter for unauthorized use of its logo. The parties responsible for posting the signs are subject to fines, and anyone observed by police putting them up are subject to additional enforcement actions, a source said.

Nicole Brown