Crackdown on ‘fare evaders’ helps SEPTA bring down subway crimes


Riding Philadelphia’s subways is becoming much safer, and police say that’s thanks to a new push to crack down on turnstile jumpers.

SEPTA transit police say 10 times as many “fare evaders” were arrested last year, compared with just two years ago.

Ever since 2010 when cell phone service was extended in all of SEPTA’s subways, transportation officials started to notice a spate of opportunistic thefts.

Commuters “get engrossed in what they’re doing and don’t see when somebody is going to seize that moment to take that $600 iPhone,” said Thomas Nestel, who leads the city’s transit police.

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Often, the criminals will strike moments before doors close, Nestel said, leaving the victim helpless just as the thieve bolts out of the station.

Many of the thieves got onto the subways by not paying, and Nestel said he began to notice this trend as he and his team surveyed footage from some of SEPTA’s 13,000 cameras.

In response, transit police became more vigilant and began clamping down.

In 2012, police arrested 571 riders for fare evading. Last year, there were more than 5,000 arrests.

“If they’re jumping the turnstile when they first come in the system, they’re not heading to see grandma or going to the library,” Nestel said. “They might be planning on engaging in some more serious crime.”

What’s more, all crime on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines is the lowest it’s been in three years. To be sure, the number of incidents in 2014 – 390 – is still significant. In 2004, for instance, just 109 crimes were reported.

Instead of evenly spreading transit officers around the system, which is the old strategy, Nestel said the department is concentrating more police in the stations with the highest rates of crime. That approach, along with arresting more fare skippers, has improved safety, he said.

“How many times have you seen a transit police officer, and how many times have you seen them actually taking somebody off for engaging in a minor office?” Nestel said. “Because our theory is, if we can address those minor offenses, we’re going to prevent major offenses.”

Riding the El or the Broad Street line costs $2.25. How much is it if you get caught sneaking on? $300. Plus, you get thrown out of the station, Nestel said.

“So it’s much better to pay your two-and-a-quarter than to face the repercussions,” he said.

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