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MTA seeks ideas for replacing NYC subway turnstiles, ending fare evasion

As it looks to end fare evasion, the MTA is seeking ideas for the “next generation” of New York City subway turnstiles.

The agency on Tuesday put out a call for experienced firms to submit designs that could replace the gates and turnstiles across the city’s subway 472 stations.

The bid comes as the MTA says subway fare evasion has reached “crisis levels,” costing the transit agency $285 million in lost revenue last year alone. It said it’s looking for designs that can deter fare evaders, while being accessible for people with disabilities and people who use strollers.

“While there is no one blanket solution, new designs can trim down on riders skipping out on paying while making it easier and more accessible for customers to enter the system,” said NYC Transit President Richard Davey.

This year, the MTA has experimented with an array of different techniques to block people from riding the subway for free. Commuters may have noticed higher turnstiles that are harder to jump over, as well as new, modern gates on the way to JFK Airport.

Replacing all the city’s subway entry points is a major project. The request for information is just the first step in a “multistep procurement process” to modernize the fare gates, the MTA said.

As a stopgap measure, the MTA is modifying each of the city’s 3,479 subway turnstiles to prevent riders from using the maneuver called “backcocking” — when a fare evader pulls the turnstile bar back just far enough to lower it, and then hops over. Some 777 turnstiles have been modified so far.

The MTA also replaced locks on every emergency exit gate this year after finding gate keys circulating for sale on Craigslist. The MTA has identified emergency exit gates in subway stations as major contributors to fare evasion.

The agency is also currently piloting an extra-wide fare gate at the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport and Atlantic Terminal stations. These gates allow people in wheelchairs or those with strollers or luggage to use them without having to open the exit gate.

NYC Transit’s senior vice president of subways, Demetrius Crichlow, said his team had spent the year looking at a variety of design changes for turnstiles “to combat people entering the system without paying.”

He adds: “The lessons learned from that pilot will refine the design and specifications needed for our system.”

In May, the MTA published a report that estimated the agency lost $690 million last year to fare evasion overall. The agency said about $285 million of those losses came from fare evasion on the subways — and officials said turnstile backcocking alone cost the agency $45.6 million.

Farebeaters on commuter rails cost $44 million and drivers evading the agency’s tolls cost $46 million, according to the report. The report said fare evasion on buses took $315 million out of the agency’s coffers last year.

This year, the city assigned more police officers to the subway system, which sent tickets and arrests for fare evasion skyrocketing. NYPD overtime pay for extra officers in the subway went from $4 million in 2022 to $155 million this year, Gothamist reported last week, and fare evasion arrests went up 210%.

An estimated timeline for the fare gate and turnstile overhaul was not immediately stated. In May, MTA Chair Janno Lieber told Gothamist he recalled growing up with wood turnstiles, and said replacing a whole generation of fare gates was “going to take a while.”

Responses to the MTA’s request for design ideas are due by the end of February.

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