According to recent statistics released by the MTA, one in five bus riders in New York City does not pay the fare. No joke – fare-beaters can receive a civil summons with a $100 fine; and, they can also be arrested on a “theft of services” charge, a misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail, if they have a history of similar arrests or lack valid identification.
With a regular MTA bus you pay as you board. So it is pretty easy to get caught if you try to slip by the operator.
But, in NYC, we also have Select Bus Service, where you don’t -- and can’t -- pay on the bus. You pay at a machine at the curb, collect a receipt and then enter the bus through any of the three doors. You don’t have to show your receipt to the operator – you pay, put your receipt in your pocket, enjoy your ride. Everyone has paid their fare before the bus comes. When all three doors open, everyone gets off, then everyone gets on and the bus is out of a stop in less than a minute.
You can gamble and just hop on the bus without a receipt, but you could get pinched by MTA enforcers known as “EAGLE TEAMS,” who patrol buses to ticket riders who do not pay. If the police get involved, you are going to court.
Can’t find your receipt? Ticket.
Threw your receipt in the garbage? Ticket.
Someone stole your receipt? Ticket.
Spilled coffee on your receipt and now you can’t read it? Tough break – Ticket.
And maybe, the prospect of jail.
And that is exactly what happened to Raul Vargas. Here is the testimony of Raul’s trial.
Testimony of Raul Vargas - The Passenger
Q: Did you take a Select Bus on the day in question?
A: I did. I had a doctor’s appointment and it was raining pretty bad.
Q: Did you ever use the Select Bus service on any other occasion?
A: No. This was the first time.
Q: Did you pay for your bus fare at the machine?
A: Yeah. I was waiting with some other people and I didn’t know that you couldn’t pay on the bus like the old days. This lady told me I had to pay at this machine, which I then did.
Q: Did you use a Metrocard?
A: Nah. I had quarters. I paid with quarters.
Q: Did the machine generate a receipt?
A: Yeah, it did.
Q: Did the Select bus come at some point?
A: Yeah, like in a few minutes. And I got on through the back door with the lady that told me what to do and I sat down. I looked over to her and I said, “that’s it?” She said, “yeah, that’s it.
Q: What happened next?
A: After about 10 minutes, these guys came onto the bus and were like asking everyone to see their receipt.
Q: Did they get to you?
A: Yeah, and they asked me for my receipt.
Q: Did you give it to them?
A: I couldn’t find it.
Q: What happened next?
A: They said I had to get off the bus. But I told them I paid and I had a doctor’s appointment.
Q: What did they do?
A: They kind of laughed and made me get off the bus. I was like yelling at them and they called the cops. They took me to the station and I got processed, you know prints and pictures.
Q: Raul, did you pay your fare before you got on the Select bus?
A: Yes, I did. I just didn’t know all the rules, you know?
Testimony Of Eagle Team Inspector
Q: Did you ask Raul to produce his receipt?
A: Yes, sir. I asked him for it and he could not produce it.
Q: Did he tell you that he had paid the fare?
A: That’s what they all say. Our goal is to get people to understand that this is not a free system; you have to pay.
Q: I see. What did you do next?
A: Escorted him off the bus. He became very agitated so we had to call in the heavies…the cops. Police. They took him away.
Prosecutor's Closing Statement
Your Honor, with the Select Bus service, rush hour travel times have improved by 20 percent on Select Bus Service routes in Manhattan and the Bronx. But for the system to work, everyone has to pay their bus fare. Raul believes that he did not. Raul was wrong.
The evidence has shown that with intent to obtain bus service without payment he obtains that service by unjustifiable failure or refusal to pay. We ask that you find Raul GUILTY of theft of service under Penal Law § 165.15(3).
Ruling By The Judge
The evidence shows that Raul was unable to produce a receipt. And not much more.
The mere allegation that Raul, while aboard a New York City bus, could not produce the receipt for the purchase of his fare, is, without more, insufficient to establish the nonpayment element of the offense, given the absence of any testimony explaining the significance or requirement of a receipt.
As to the charge of theft of services, I find Raul NOT GUILTY.
Raul caught a break on this one. It is usually very easy to prove these cases: first an explanation of how the Select Bus payment process is structured. Then, the nonpayment element of theft of services is proved by explaining the procedure for riding a "select bus" and stating that passenger rode that bus without being able to produce a payment receipt -- that’s it! That is the failure to pay.
The lesson: If you are taking the Select Bus make sure you keep your receipt handy; and, keep in mind that the MTA’s Eagle Team are paid to swoop in to check for fare jumpers on the Select Bus Service routes. They are armed with ticket books — and they’re pleased to use them.
Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_50783.htm