New York Using AI to Detect Subway Fare Evasion

The details are scant—the article is based on a “heavily redacted” contract—but the New York subway authority is using an “AI system” to detect people who don’t pay the subway fare.

Joana Flores, an MTA spokesperson, said the AI system doesn’t flag fare evaders to New York police, but she declined to comment on whether that policy could change. A police spokesperson declined to comment.

If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.

Posted on July 25, 2023 at 7:05 AM38 Comments


apa July 25, 2023 7:47 AM

Would’ve have been great if the headline was “… Using AI to Detect Tax Evasion”.

Untitled July 25, 2023 7:54 AM

If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.

True in a general sense, but this is about New York City’s MTA. The article says they lost $690 million to fare evasion in 2022. That was poor people jumping the turnstiles, not rich people. How else can the MTA tackle fare evasion?

(Of course, mass transit should be free, subsidised out of city taxes. There’d be some advantages. But that’s a whole other can of political worms.)

Ted July 25, 2023 8:42 AM

The MTA report on fare evasion says the largest spike in specifically subway fare evasion occurs from 3 to 4 pm. There’s a graph on page 48.

From the report: “(This obviously coincides with school dismissal time – confirming the need to focus on encouraging students to swipe with their free transit passes).”

MTA is hoping that expanding the use of this 24/7 “computer technology” will allow them to understand and respond with “data-driven” experiments.

FYI: their Four-E Strategy to respond to the reasons for evasion are: Education, Environment, Equity, and Enforcement. More on this on page 11.

Jon July 25, 2023 9:11 AM

So, the MTA can know when and where fare evasion is likely happening, and send officers there, if they choose to do that. You don’t really need AI for that, but can collect anecdotal data from staff in the stations. And it’s not terribly actionable to send transit police after evaders, unless there’s video or eyewitnesses to the act of fare evasion, and consequences for being caught.

I’m not terribly sympathetic to enforcing fare evasion, since I can never get those MTA swipe cards to work properly, and have at least fifty dollars trapped on cards that cannot be properly read. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have this malady.

If things are as Ted posts above, that most of the fare evaders are students who are entitled to ride for free already, then that major time spike in fare evasion, is not fare evasion at all, and the actual amount of revenue lost should be revised substantially downwards.

Bruce suggests that the effort might better be put into uncovering the crimes of more affluent people. As a thought experiment, if ten percent of NYC’s major property owners and landlords engaged in the scale of fraud that Trump conducted to lower his property tax bills, and that difference could be identified and collected, would that provide enough additional revenue to make the MTA system free for all to ride?

PaulBart July 25, 2023 10:37 AM

Hard to justify a multi-million fair open-bid contract, if the fare evasion amounts to treefiddy.

Clive Robinson July 25, 2023 10:52 AM

@ Jon,

Re : Time is money…

“… then that major time spike in fare evasion, is not fare evasion at all, and the actual amount of revenue lost should be revised substantially downwards.”

I suspect if properly investigated that huge “revenue lost” is almost entirely ficticious.

That is it’s made up of “staff costs” etc etc not actual loses in revenue.

After all where do you think the money for this AI nonsense was “Mugged up from”.

A little story,

In London UK we have a transport authority called “Transport for London”(TfL) over the years they have spent millions on “Facial Recognition” and similar, and the excuse for doing it is always something that will get TfL sympathy like “fare evaders”, “beggers/tramps” even people dropping litter oh and the one I reported long ago,

Where TfL supported the Met Police in their anti-terror campaign, by basically saying “Report men with bags on their backs and beards” to TfL or Met Police uniformed staff…

I kid you not when I add this was a few weeks before Xmas… Yup a “keep Santa away from London campaign”.

But all of these studies have been “money pits” they’ve never become working technology.

I suspect if you look into this NYC MTA nonsense you will find a trace back to something TfL wasted money on…

@ Bruce,

“If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.”

Take a carefull look at all the “prosecute the poor” systems. You will find in reality they are obscenely profitable scams by the rich getting richer by grabbing Tax etc.

Just look at “Prison Phone Costs” in the US not just how expensive they are but also how every word spoken is recorded and sent to prosecuters etc in contrvention to the laws on attorney client privilege.

The reason so many people are in US jails and why they fail so badly, is they are not what the average Anerican is led to believe they are. They serve two main purposes,

1, To funnel tax money into private pockets.
2, To make politicians look good.

Oh and also as has been found out giving judges a little something to put more in jail on longer sentencing…

It always falls disproportionatelt on the poor and people of low education, because they are the ones who can least fight back. Oh and throw in a very large dollop of racism…

Depending on who’s figures you use the percentage of innocent people locked up in US jails ranges from 10-30% and has a profile not to disimilar mental illness and underfunded education.

In short tax that should be “Sociatal Welfare Spending” in health and education is being diverted via the prison systems into the pockets of the already overly rich and near non tax payers, to have some small percentage “trickle back” to politicians and some dishonest judges.

It’s not going to change untill US Citizens actually stand up to the politicians and money men that make so much out of the very crooked prison systems…

Aaron July 25, 2023 10:54 AM

So they have money to invest in AI but they don’t have the revenue surplus to lower prices to reduce fare evaders?

Joanna K July 25, 2023 11:03 AM

this is about New York City’s MTA. The article says they lost $690 million to fare evasion in 2022.

That’s film-industry logic. Making less money than expected is not a “loss” (nevermind that, as Ted points out, much of what looks like “evasion” isn’t). The actual marginal cost of an extra rider, rather than an empty seat, is probably cents. And if fare evasion were somehow completely prevented, that would not cause annual revenue to rise by anywhere near 600 million dollars.

Outside of NYC, I recently saw a family get split into two groups as a fare gate closed on them (after the passenger they were tailgating delayed them with a “no free riding” rant). The parent and a toddler rode for free, and a couple of ten-year-olds said goodbye and started walking home.

A lot of people like to focus on affordability, which is the wrong focus. I can afford transit, but I’ve done the math: $6/day to get to and from work is a no-brainer, but adding $3 to every grocery trip would increase my grocery costs by at least 30% (on days in which I purchase groceries, I spend slightly less than $10/day on them). I’m good enough with money to avoid such imprudent costs. And whether I paid separately or added extra stops to work trips, I’d be “on the clock” (an extra $3 to get home if my transfer runs out), which is needlessly stressful. That’s for a single person; imagine if I were transporting a family of 6, as my parents used to (by car—they could also do math).

Moreover, the affordability focus reinforces the view that transit is for the poor. We know what people tend to do without financial pressure: they buy and operate cars, or use taxis and car services. “Living wages” will make that possible even with minimum-wage jobs. Governments speak of problems with traffic, parking, pollution, and climate change, while erecting literal barriers in front of transit—to recoup (in North America) often only 10 to 30 percent of the associated costs. The billions of dollars we’ve spent on fare gates, ticket booths, money-handling, fare-card development, enforcement, rebate system administration, etc., may well baffle the people of 50 years from now.

yet another bruce July 25, 2023 11:13 AM

I love the quote “If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.”

I am sure that the allocation of prosecutorial resources is a big part of the problem. Another significant problem with prosecuting the rich and powerful is that it takes a lot more of the prosecutors’ resources to achieve the same outcome. See, for example, this Pro-publica piece on auditing the taxes of the very wealthy.

Clive Robinson July 25, 2023 11:45 AM

@ Bruce, ALL,

I mentioned TfL above, and I found the name of the Spanish company AWAAIT and did a duckduck on the two sets of initials and,first to pop up was,

But if you click on the picture of the clasic “Underground” symbol you get taken to,

Which is on a site that has all the hallmarks of a very biased faux-grassroots industry lobbying endevour.

A look on their “tags” list at the bottom of their front page shows AWAAIT is probably involved with it directly or indirectly…

And low-and-behold, you look at the bottom of the “about-us” page,

And you find,

“… Our articles are sourced from transit operators and from recognised news sources and publications.

Trainsfare is a project managed by Awaait Artificial Intelligence, a startup from Barcelona…”

So no surprises it’s highly biased and in reality a marketing con job then…

XYZZY July 25, 2023 11:51 AM

News about AI in law enforcement is not surprising. I do wish to be surprised by stories in which AI does some unexpected good. You wouldn’t need much AI to produce a street level map of who has an AR15 stile weapon and might be mentally unstable. Yikes, I just told AI how I might vote in election!

Clive Robinson July 25, 2023 12:09 PM


“Yikes, I just told AI how I might vote in election!”

Yup and your lack of proof reading and underlying “style” of missing “an” important connective, has fingerprinted your ID to other posts 😉

But look on the bright side, we all do it so, I’ll save you a spot against the wall come the pre-revolution round up ={

higgs boson July 25, 2023 1:01 PM


That was poor people jumping the turnstiles, not rich people.

I really hope you were being ironic, but just in case:

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” ― Anatole France

lurker July 25, 2023 4:20 PM


If those MTA cards are the common magstripes, they can fade and die from a multitude of ills, including electromagnetism. I once destroyed a bankcard lugging PA speakers.

Organisations which rely on card use often have somebody who can look up the central records for the number embossed on the card, and rewrite the magstripe to its correct status. From what I’ve heard, MTA might not have that empathy.

There’s a tale (possibly apocryphal) from back in the early days of computing: a clerk took a bag of tapes across London on the Tube. Under the floor where his bag sat was the motor for that unit. The tapes arrived totally scrambled.

vas pup July 25, 2023 5:20 PM

AI: How far is China behind the West?

“Chinese tech giants are speeding to catch up with their US peers in the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots. The world’s second-largest economy is on course to spend $15 billion (€13.5 billion) on AI projects this year alone, a rise of nearly
50% in just two years.

Kai-Fu Lee, the Taiwanese computer scientist, venture capitalist and tech executive predicted in 2018 that China would quickly surpass the US as an AI superpower, insisting the technology had already passed the innovation stage.

!!!Lee argued that the world was now in the AI implementation stage, where China has the edge, due to years of state surveillance. Snooping on the Chinese population has allowed the accrual of huge amounts of data, which AI platforms harness to improve their learning.

The US is clearly troubled by Beijing’s technological ambitions, especially as the official Chinese government policy is to make the country the world’s dominant AI player by 2030.

“The most cutting-edge AI systems require massive amounts of hardware — thousands of very specialized chips, running for weeks or months at a time,” Paul Scharre, executive vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security, told DW.

“Denying China access will shut them out of building the most advanced systems and that gap is likely to widen over time as chip technology continues to advance.”

Chinese tech firms may find other ways around the ban. The domestic semiconductor market is likely to see an investment boom as local producers race to improve their own chips.

“If you have access to the trained AI model you don’t need the advanced chips. So there is a real risk that the export controls will become ineffective,” Scharre, the author

of the book “Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” warned.

Indeed, China’s own versions of Chat GPT, created by the likes of e-commerce giant Alibaba and social media platform Baidu, were released to the world in April, just months after their US rivals.

But the country has lots of other hurdles to overcome before it rules the AI space. For one, President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on the power of the tech sector over the past two years likely made Chinese executives more risk-averse.

“You’ve seen an explosion in rules and enforcement for the tech sector,” Karman Lucero, a fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center, at Yale Law School, told DW. “Often it [the enforcement] has been very opaque and has even preceded the new rules, which has a
chilling effect on the industry.”

The country is also short of skilled workers needed to achieve Beijing’s goals. Despite an effort to build an army of AI talent, retaining top tech workers is a challenge when their skills are in demand globally.

“Talent exodus is a major hindrance to China’s authoritarianism in that it drives people away. China’s top AI scientists leave and it’s not just that they go abroad to study and work, they prefer a more democratic way of life,” Scharre said.

==>Despite these issues, he thinks China’s AI labs are just 18 months behind the current leading research labs in the West and that the country already has the edge when it comes to deploying AI across society.”

Charles Maxwell Chambers July 25, 2023 5:40 PM

Brice misses the point. Someone habitually hops the turnstile. Having gotten away with that, they then feel free to spit and throw trash as they please. They smoke on the platform and in the train. What you end up with over time is a group of people who, with little to lose, break damn near every rule that makes for civilized society, and with no consequence. Litter-filled subways stops gradually turn into open air drug markets teeming with street urchins, addicts and the mentally ill. That’s how you end up with people being shoved in front of trains while some, fearing the worst, pre-emptively take self-defense into their own hands. It’s fine to editorialize, but the final sentence does come off a bit “champagne socialist,” which is especially grating given that I doubt he’s taken the train in decades, if ever.

vas pup July 25, 2023 5:54 PM

@Charles Maxwell Chambers: You do have very reasonable point. Unfortunately, now legal system in big US cities is working for protecting criminals not their victims. That creates zero deterrence for future copy cat criminals.

Self-defense is very vague. It primary based on evaluating of harm brought to assailant rather than harm preventing to regular people.

Until legal system finally will turned back from the standing on the head to the feet nothing will change as I predict in nearest future. Bitter but reasonable not emotional prediction.

@ALL I missed specified in my latest post – very good video -about 12 min on AI regulation. Enjoy!

Charles Maxwell Chambers July 25, 2023 6:35 PM

@vas pup

Thank you. Strict fare enforcement may sound illiberal until you see that the working poor are the main victims of an anything goes atmosphere. Because when the system falls apart the rest take Uber or else leave the city, so there’s no money to maintain the trains and neither is there the political will. I would invite anyone who disagree with me to travel strictly by train in any major American city.

Phillip July 25, 2023 6:56 PM

Well, the occasional very serious crime does happen within the boundaries of this transit system.

Juan July 25, 2023 6:58 PM

“If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.”


Charles Maxwell Chambers July 25, 2023 7:14 PM


The occasional serious crime, as well as the daily experience of harassment, threats and terror.


Precisely. It’s an applause line, and one, I might add, that creates a false dichotomy. You can both enforce fares and prosecute the rich who commit crimes. It’s not either/or, much as it is in the discussion of police brutality. Police pullback in crime-ridden communities causes more harm than good, which again hurts the poor who are terrorized and caught in the crossfire of those who fill the vacuum. You can both address brutality and have an appropriate level of police in a given community.

Tom Ace July 25, 2023 7:31 PM

Back in 1982, Connecticut toll roads used a token that was similar in size to NY subway tokens, close enough to work in subway turnstiles. You could buy 4 Connecticut tokens for what a NY subway token cost. New York police didn’t just catch poor people using Connecticut tokens in their subways–they caught well-to-do people using them also.

do my algebra homework July 26, 2023 5:11 AM

In an effort to combat subway fare evasion, New York is utilizing AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to detect and prevent illegal actions. By implementing AI-powered surveillance systems, the city’s subway authorities can identify potential fare evaders more efficiently and accurately. These advanced systems can analyze video footage and detect patterns of fare evasion, helping to reduce revenue loss and maintain the integrity of the subway fare system. By using AI in this manner, New York aims to improve overall revenue collection and enhance the efficiency of its public transportation services. However, the use of AI in public spaces also raises concerns about privacy and data protection, prompting the need for transparent regulations and oversight to balance security measures with citizens’ rights.

NKT July 26, 2023 6:12 AM

@Charles Maxwell Chambers
It is a dichotomy entirely created in your own head. The evidence is clear: the poor get far more enforcement than the rich. Hence the thought that only one can be done at a time, since that is what the evidence suggests. And so we get the idea that, perhaps, less pressure on the nickels and dimes, and more (some? Any??) on the $billions & more tapped off to the rich and their tax havens and private islands.

PaulBart July 26, 2023 10:02 AM

“The poor get far more enforcement than the rich.”

Those who commit more crimes that are easily enforceable get more enforcement, +1 insightful.

Socialism works until we run out of other peoples money.

“This is when the city should be campaigning to make the transit free for everyone.”

Poor bleeding heart that can only be filled with other peoples money. This is why Y should start an organization, say Transit Fares Don’t Matter, and get private funding to provide free cards for those who are unable or unwilling to pay the couple dollars subway fares cost.

Winter July 26, 2023 10:54 AM


Socialism works until we run out of other peoples money.

Actually, it is Capitalism that works until we run out of other peoples money.

Never wondered why the “most capitalist” country in the world has 3rd world level poverty, and education attainment? That is “other people’s money” being siphoned up into the pockets of a few. They already have to import massive numbers of foreign workers to make money in the USA as home grown workers cannot fill the jobs.

It is all well expressed by this article in the Onion:

Clive Robinson July 27, 2023 3:41 AM

@ Morley, ALL,

Re : It’s backwards, Jim but not as we know it.

“Funny this just came up in my feed:”

If I said,

“It’s a ‘Health and Safety’ feature”

You probably would not believe me without an explanation…

But first off, everyone should remember,

Where there there is a ‘Health and Safety’ feature, there is a vulnerability but for whom does it work best?

That is a ‘health and safety’ feature is there for,

“An exception to normal operation”

So back to the case in hand the gate system is designed “To stop entry” until “Entry is authorised”. So the turn style is stopped from rotating in the “forward direction”.

But people push and get annoyed and hundreds if not thousands go through each gate every day. So another design requirment is the turnstile is designed to be “robust to abuse and low maintainence”. Which means the mechanics need to be “big and solid” to be strong enough and have sufficient mechanical “slop” so they don’t bind up and need to be repaired/adjusted every few days.

Also at certain times there can be hundreds of people on either side of the gate and in an emergancy any kind of barrier is not just a “safety” issue but a significant “liability” issue.

People don’t behave rassionaly in an emergancy, for two reasons,

1, Someone will “take flight”.
2, Others fall to herd instinct.

Thus you get a panic and stampeed and a life threatening crush forms at any restriction to a paniced movment.

As we know people have been killed in metro/underground systems and London has had it’s fair share of them with simple “garbage fires” causing smoke and panic. We know that garbage builds up rapidly in crowds because of the “you don’t get seen dropping it” and “you can argue it was knocked from your hand” reasoning of some small percentage of people of which hundreds will go through in an hour or two of “rush hour”. Even if cleaning staff are employed, they just can not do their job safely in a crowd.

Oh and remember putting out trash bins etc is not a good idea, because some people see them as places to sit/lean on to rest, and terrorists see them as an easy place to hide a bomb, both coincidentally happening at London Victoria, and a man from Torridge Road, Thorton Heath got killed by the PIRA. Then there was the Met Police and their “Fox Hunt” of a Brazilian Electrician…

So fires, terrorists and gun firing law enforcment are known causes of panic and also a list of other things longer than your arm including people with medical emergancies being taken/carried out.

So those turnstiles have to offer as little imoedence as possible to people trying to get out in a hurry so needs to rotate very easily in the “backward direction”.

So with those design requirments in mind we see,

1, Easy backward rotation.
2, Turning quite far before latching due to “big and solid” design with lots of mechanical slop.
3, Opening a vulnerability inherent in that type of turnstile “stool”.
4, A man taking advantage of it.

As for the “doughnut munchers” taking no action, well as mentioned above by @Joanna K, it’s all down to “marginal cost”. If they apprehend the man then there are all sorts of risks involved and they have very high cost, the lost fare –if there even is one– is less than a cup of “coffee to go” even without a doughnut.

The ultimate design philosophy behind these very expensive turnstiles is not to stop crime but,

“To keep honest people honest”

Oh and not have high runing costs and other serious costs such as legal liability.

So for all those designing “Security Systems” out there, remember the video it tells you a lot about your job.

Likewise for those attacking systems “Health and Safty” is a good place to start. As I’ve said before it was the excuse of “Health and Safety” that alowed the various UK and other Nations “Inteligence Agencies” to argue putting in “Operator Overide” in phone standards which is why your mobile can be used as a “bugging device”. And more visably the US Agencies to argue mobile phones should all have GPS in them, so they can be used as a “tracking device”.

So remember in security work with “Health and safety” the door realy “does swing both ways” not just metaphorically but literally…

lurker July 27, 2023 5:24 AM

@Clive Robinson, All

re. stop until authorised

I remember being impressed with the system some years back on the Moscow Metro. Is it still in use? The gates are open which allows speedy passage in crowded times. If a valid ticket is not presented the gate shuts with enough force to break a leg …

Winter July 27, 2023 5:31 AM


I remember being impressed with the system some years back on the Moscow Metro.

I saw the same in Japan.

A Nonny Bunny July 28, 2023 4:18 PM

If we spent just one-tenth of the effort we spend prosecuting the poor on prosecuting the rich, it would be a very different world.

Frankly, that sounds a bit insulting to the poor. Like it’s people that can’t afford fares that are the ones skipping.
But what do I know. Maybe the only people using the subway in America are people that can’t afford it.

However, I find the lack of data and justification a bit disturbing.
What I’m wondering:
– What level of income demarcates rich from poor? (And is there anything in between?)
– What’s subway use for these groups
– what’s the fare dodging rate for these groups?
– What’s the prosecution effort on both groups (in general, not fare-dodging specific)
– How much effort does it take to prosecute one rich person (which are better equipped to defend themselves in court), versus one poor person (which is easy to force into a plea-deal in the US, and I guess technically avoid prosecution?)
– What’s the number of public-defender hours spend, vs criminal defense attorney hours?

For the latter, as proxy, I find on google there’s 9,470 public defenders in the US vs 252,159 defense attorneys. Now let’s say for the sake of argument that if you can afford an attorney you’re rich, and if you can’t, you’re poor. And also let’s assume that effort of prosecution is roughly similar to effort of defense, and people make similar efforts in their job. Then my best guess would be that around 25 times as much effort is being spent on prosecuting the rich than on the poor.

I welcome better data, definitions and analysis.

Clive Robinson July 28, 2023 9:11 PM

@ A Nonny Bunny,

Re : Poor is not just relative it’s perspective.

“Now let’s say for the sake of argument that if you can afford an attorney you’re rich, and if you can’t, you’re poor.”

Err no, that realy is a very bad definition, so bad in fact you would be laughed out of court if you used it.

I hate to say it but the data available suggests US “Public Defenders” are not payed to build a defence for a suspect, just to act as a proxie to save court time, and try to ensure the suspect does not get an opportunity to get an appeal at a later date.

To actually build a defence requires a legal representative to do more than confirm your basic details.

So it’s irrelevant if you can aford an attorney or not, if you don’t get one and spend time building a defence, you are going to go to jail with at best a realy bad deal.

There are recognised definitions of various levels of being poor used by sociologists and even anthropologists that have some meaning that travels.

The UN has several levels of “poverty” and you can find them on many of their pages like,

What is not recognised by many in the US is that poverty is a lot more than being a street person.

For instance what about Education, Social support, and health care?

When they are acounted for you will find that many US “middle class earners” are now de facto in poverty.

But if you say made the criteria just “safe drinking water” then you might be shocked to find that about 100million US citizens are in poverty…

How about access to healthy food? I think from memory as a minimum around 25million US citizens do not have the ability to cook food. Then there are others that can not even heat water. As for a fridge to store food safely it’s even higher. Then there are those that do not live within traveling distance to buy fresh ingredients. Thus these people don’t get access to healthy nutrition.

Then there is “washing” themselves and their cloths. If all you’ve got is a tiny hand basin then you have an issue.

Believe it or not the number of people with jobs that do not have a home and so live in vehicles from compact cars upwards is rising in the US quite significantly.

I could go on down a very long list and you might be shocked just how far up US society the line can be drawn when talking about poverty.

Winter July 31, 2023 5:27 AM

@Arnie Goldschmidt

This used to be a VERY good blog.

The usual advice is to look for a site that caters to your ideology. I assume there must be plenty of such sites. Or you could join Twitter/X?

It would be rather bizar to ask a writer to change his or her writings to fit your ideology as this would deny all the other readers their beloved blog.

Security Sam July 31, 2023 3:40 PM

To deter subway fare evasion
They threw AI into the equation
Hoping that friendly persuasion
Will tip the scale on occasion.

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