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Transit Fare Evasion: Legally, What Can Happen?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

It may seem like an easy way to save a couple of bucks: jumping the turnstile to get a free ride on the subway, or sneaking through the back doors of a city bus or streetcar.

But cities are beginning to crack down on transit fare evasion. In New York City, for example, fare-beating arrests -- as opposed to the less-serious ticket for fare evasion -- jumped 69 percent between 2008 to 2013, and they are on pace to increase even more this year, reports the New York Daily News. More than 37,000 of fare-evasion arrests in NYC have resulted in incarceration.

What can happen if you get cited for transit fare evasion?

Civil Administrative Fines

Although fare evasion penalties and enforcement varies widely from city to city, in many cities fare evasion is a civil offense as opposed to a criminal offense, punishable by a fine.

However, in states such as California -- where cities and transit authorities can choose to make fare evasion a civil violation under Section 99580 of the Public Utilities Code, punishable by a fine of up to $400 -- fare evasion may also be charged as a criminal violation under the Penal Code.

This means that instead of simply having to pay a hefty fine for your fare evasion, you may be subject to criminal arrest and, if convicted, ordered to pay a fine, to serve jail time, or both.

Criminal Arrest

Like California, New York law allows for fare evasion to be charged as either a civil offense or a crime.

In New York City, officers are increasingly choosing to arrest those caught evading fares as opposed to simply issuing a summons for an administrative hearing. An NYPD spokesman told the Daily News that police will generally arrest a suspected fare evader if they have an outstanding warrant, prior criminal history, or no identification.

Under New York's criminal code, fare evasion -- codified under "theft of services" -- is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

So keep these potential consequences in mind if you're thinking of not paying your transit fare. Of course, if you do get cited or arrested for fare evasion, an experienced attorney can help you figure out the best legal route to pursue.

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