In New York City, most people must ride the subway to get places. To work. To school. To a doctor’s appointment. To anywhere. If you are poor, and you need to ride the subway, you can either hop the turnstile—which is considered theft, and which will land you in jail—or, you can be a good citizen and stand outside the turnstiles, asking the people coming out of one of them could swipe you in with their MetroCard. For the patron is able to swipe a fellow citizen in need into the subway system, the reward is a warm feeling of doing a good deed. The MTA, which runs the subway system, explicitly allows unlimited-use Metrocards to be transferred to someone else after 18 minutes have passed since the last swipe. This means that swiping someone into the subway system constitutes either a gift of a cash fare, which makes it no different from giving money to someone, or a legal use of an unlimited fare, allowed by MTA rules.
It is also nice because people should help people.
Despite all of this, the NYPD, which for decades has been transfixed with finding new ways of arresting people for ever-smaller infractions, has traditionally responded to people asking to be swiped into the subway by arresting them. Yes! Real nice! Way to reward a fundamentally positive civic and human interaction! Fuckers! The New York Times reports today that thanks to the Manhattan DA deciding not to prosecute fare-swipe-askers any more, the NYPD will now only issue a ticket for this victimless crime. Imagine, though, the scope of the financial and logistical and personal damage done to thousands of human lives in the past few years simply because of this insane, nitpicky arrest policy: “Since 2013, the police have made more than 10,000 arrests of people for asking for swipes and, therefore, impeding the flow of subway passengers, according to statistics from the police. There were 800 arrests this year alone, before the policy change.”
Thousands of people have gone to jail for asking a fellow citizen if they might please help them gain legal admittance to our city’s public transportation system. That is so fucked up. Many times, when swiping someone into the subway, I have imagined how mad I would be to see them (or me) get arrested for this act of basic human decency. (So mad.)
Anyhow, now in one of New York City’s five boroughs poor people will receive a marginally less insane though still unjust penalty for trying to enter the subway system legally. The obligation of holders of unlimited Metrocards to swipe people in upon request is unchanged.