By Rachel Vick
New Yorkers get a bad rap for being selfish, but there’s a special brand of kindness that permeates the city, and it’s evident in the way residents help each other out at the subway turnstiles.
Maybe $2.75 is just too expensive. Maybe a daily commuter just forgot their monthly Metrocard at home. Or maybe the Metrocard machines were broken. Whatever the case, anyone who routinely rides the rails has seen someone standing just outside the turnstiles, asking for a swipe as commuters exit.
“Sometimes people can’t get to where they need to go. With the prices going up, it’s important to help,” said Brooklyn resident Chai Milicient, who often helps out commuters in need by swiping them through the gate.
New Yorkers like Milicent propel the “Swipe It Forward” movement, an initiative where straphangers help out others who need to get on the train — especially as the MTA cracks down on fare evasion. Though arrests for fare evasion are down citywide, the offense disproportionately affects people of color, who accounted for 85 percent of all fare evasion arrests between April and June, according to a report by the NYPD.
People with monthly unlimited cards can help curb fare evasion by swiping people through with their cards at no additional cost. The practice is completely legal, as long as the cardholder doesn’t charge money for it.
“I look to swipe people in every time I leave the subway. I have an unlimited MetroCard so it’s [not a big deal],” said Forest Hills resident Seth Abrams. “I’d like to think it’s done in other places, but New Yorkers definitely have each others backs at the end of the day.”
The MTA recently began cracking down on fare evasion, alerting straphangers with an advertising campaign in the subway system. More cops are patrolling stations and issuing tickets for jumping the turnstile or sneaking through the emergency exit.
“Fare evasion is a problem in every part of the city, costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year that are needed to repair, maintain, improve and run the system. Any efforts to willfully deny the transit system of revenue only hurts the riders themselves,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek. “MTA leadership has made it clear to the public and our partners in law enforcement that we are unequivocally opposed to any inappropriate targeting.”
Commuters are all too familiar with the risk, and many say they would rather wait to be given a swipe than get tagged with a $100 fine
“When someone gives me a swipe it helps me a lot,” said one man at the Jamaica Center station. “I’m not risking that ticket.”
Another rider said he is wary of asking for help — though he sometimes has to.
“Asking feels different depending on the person. It can be humiliating, but when they yes it’s cool,” said Queens resident Russell Pharrell.