What is and isn't legal with MetroCard swipes
Have you ever exited the subway and been asked for a swipe with your unlimited MetroCard?
News 12 New York's Ashley Mastronardi got mixed reactions when she asked New Yorkers if they thought it was legal to swipe people in with an unlimited MetroCard.
“It is illegal if you are doing it for somebody else,” Queens resident Laura Kreft told News 12 New York.
“I don’t think it’s illegal, no,” Brooklyn native Marcus Allen said.
But there’s no confusion for Shannon Jones. She’s the co-founder of Swipe It Forward, an advocacy group that offers people free swipes. She says the swipe goes way deeper than an act of kindness.
“Since we’ve been doing this action since 2016, we know that fare beating is one of the top arrests and summonses in the city and has unfairly targeted people of color,” Jones told News 12 New York.
And the numbers back her up. According to NYPD records, 92% of the 1752 people arrested for fare evasion in 2022 were Black or Latino. And nearly 65% of the 80,597 fare evasion summonses issued went to Black and Latino riders as well. The NYPD told News 12 it’s technically legal to offer a swipe, but it’s illegal to ask for one because that counts as solicitation. It’s also illegal to sell one.
When we reached out to the MTA they said it was illegal to swipe someone in. Then we presented them with the NYPD statement and legal documents from 2011 – provided by Jones – in which a 2011 court ruling indicates that Unlimited MetroCards are indeed transferable. Still, the MTA came back with this statement:
“Abusing the privilege of an unlimited MetroCard or OMNY taps violates NYC Transit rules of conduct and threatens its ability to run faster, cleaner, safer service.”
When pressed, the MTA declined to elaborate. But one of the MTA's own board members, David Jones, disagrees. He says the 2011 legal documents that say that unlimited swipes are transferable trumps even the NYPD saying it’s illegal to ask for a swipe.
“This is counter to almost every New Yorker’s notion, I don’t want people badgering people or threatening them, but if someone is clearly in need and wants help, you have to do this, it’s a moral imperative,” Jones told News 12 New York.
Jones says now that this is on his radar, he is committed to getting the word out to the MTA, the NYPD and to New Yorkers with clear signs and announcements on the subway.
“Having this as sort of a secret and having people concerned they might be arrested if they offer someone a swipe I think is wrong,” Jones said.
The MTA says it lost about 700 million dollars on fare evasion in 2022. Shannon Jones suspects that revenue is the reason the MTA has been cagey about the issue.
“If you’re new to New York, or not really sure, the MTA or NYPD are not going to clear it up for you. They benefit from the community being afraid – they benefit from the community not knowing,” she said.
She says if you are arrested or given a summons for asking for a swipe or giving a swipe, you can contact Legal Aid or Why Accountability for support on Instagram @why_accountability.