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NYS Comptroller



From the Office of the New York State Comptroller

Thomas P. DiNapoli

August 11, 2016, Contact: Press Office (518) 474-4015

DiNapoli: Millions in NYC Transit Fines and Fees Uncollected

Audit Finds Roughly Half of NYC Transit Violation Fines Left on the Table

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today announced that an audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City Transit division found it did not collect more than $13 million in fines and fees — nearly half of those owed to it — issued between Jan. 1, 2013 and June 6, 2015. Not adequately enforcing NYC Transit violations has cost tens of millions more over the years.

“New York City Transit can and should do more to collect fines from those who violate its rules,” DiNapoli said. “With trains bursting at the seams and delays on the rise Transit needs every dollar it can get to improve the subway service for straphangers. Fines are meant to deter bad behavior, but when Transit fails to enforce its own fines, it risks sending the message that its rules are made to be broken. While we applaud the changes that Transit has already made, as they noted in their response, more can still be done.”

The Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) is a tribunal that processes and adjudicates summonses for violations of NYC Transit rules such as fare evasion ($100), graffiti or scratchiti ($75) and littering ($50). It processes payments, oversees the legal pursuit of those who don’t pay and handles hearings when a summons is contested. TAB contracts out most of its functions to a vendor with about 40 employees. Four Transit employees oversee the contractor’s work. From the Nov. 1, 2001 start of the contract to Dec. 31, 2015, Transit has paid the vendor $46.4 million.

TAB’s ability to collect fines, and the fees that come with late payment, depends on its ability to reach respondents by phone and by mail. DiNapoli’s audit found that far too often the information on summonses is not sufficient or is inaccurate for the necessary follow-up. In a sample of 150 uncollected fines, DiNapoli’s auditors found TAB’s records for 60 (40 percent) had the wrong address. 

Even when the contact information is available, TAB didn’t do all that it could to follow up and collect. For example, 62 of the 150 unpaid summonses reviewed had driver’s licenses or New York State Identifications, information that could have been used to get the respondent’s correct address.

DiNapoli’s audit found that: 

  • TAB processed 324,079 summonses with fines of $30.41 million from Jan. 1, 2013 through June 6, 2015 and collected $16.98 million on these summonses.
  • TAB’s phone calls seeking collection have declined. During the week of June 14, 2013, it made 50 percent of possible calls on outstanding summonses. Two years later, during the week of Feb. 13, 2015, it only made 25 percent of possible calls.
  • TAB stops trying to collect on violations 18 months after the summons is issued, with the exception of those it forwards to the State Department of Taxation and Finance's Statewide Offset Program, which attempts to recover fines and fees by offsetting all or part of a respondent's state tax refund.
  • As of Dec. 31, 2015, TAB held a total $383.2 million in outstanding unpaid fines on 1.7 million summonses that date back to 1996.
  • Summonses are kept on the books for 20 years as required by law. In the first nine months of 2015, TAB purged $66.8 million in uncollected fines and fees that had reached their 20-year limit. By the end of 2016, based on law and past practices, TAB will purge $80 million in fines and fees on 285,289 summonses from 1996, the year with the highest number of outstanding summonses.

DiNapoli’s audit recommended that TAB meet with representatives of the New York City Police Department and Transit Inspectors to work on improving the quality of information recorded on summonses, ensure there is sufficient staff to make calls seeking unpaid fines, prioritize calls to maximize the likelihood of collection, and explore other methods of collecting fines and fees. For example, DiNapoli’s audit recommended focusing on respondents with the most unpaid summonses.

In its response to the audit, NYC Transit disputed some findings and accepted others. It stated that it makes numerous efforts to collect unpaid fines and that a newly adopted IT application should improve collections. It also said that it would explore the use of new software that may help identify respondents with multiple violations to make collections more efficient.

A full copy of the audit, Practices Used by the Transit Adjudication Bureau to Collect and Account for Fines and Fees,” including NYC Transit’s response is available here

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