Cheat the MBTA, Get a Ticket

mbtaFare evaders, beware. (Photo by MeesterDickey on Flickr.)

Bad news for those who think the T is their own free, personal chauffeur: the MBTA is coming for you.

Since the beginning of the year, fare evasion citations are up over 50 percent from where they were last year at this time. In 2011, transit police issued 966 citations; this year, it’s already at 1,450, according to the MBTA. Now, don’t get too excited. First offenses come with a $15 citation, which means the T has raked in something like $21,750 so far this year. That won’t do too much against the T’s ghastly systemic debt, which is $160 million annually. These “fare blitzes,” as they’re called, are like trying to fight a forest fire with a squirt gun.

But the threat of these blitzes does add a little enforcement clout in a city where riders aren’t really going to call each other out for fare evasion, especially on the outbound Green Line. Heck, we’ve all sneaked through a turnstile at some point or another when we heard the T coming but had no cash left on our Charlie Cards. And I don’t know about ya’ll, but I don’t usually turn and chew out the skater punks who sometimes follow me through. By now, that triple buzzing turnstile-cheat noise grabs about as much attention as a car alarm on Comm Ave.

Still, with the vast unpopularity of fare hikes and service cuts, and the uncertainty of a bail out, the MBTA has to scramble to close its deficit, lest the rails come off the thing, quite literally.

Even if enforcement does add up to drops in the bucket, it gives me the warm and fuzzies that the T is pushing some of the responsibility for the deficit onto fare skippers, rather than just raising rates and cutting service for the rest of us upstanding (okay, mostly upstanding) riders of public transportation.