|44 inches in height rule - WSJ article (1164209)|
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44 inches in height rule - WSJ article
Posted by Gold_12TH on Sat Jun 30 23:55:34 2012Little Ones, the Subway and the Law
Attention, parents: You may not realize it, but if you have a 7-year-old or a willowy 6- or 5-year-old, you are likely breaking the law.
Yeah, you with the pig-tailed, 7-year-old daughter with the Hello Kitty backpack who just oh-so-cutely ducked under the subway turnstile. She's a fare-beater.
Little-known and -enforced city rule: if your kid is eye-to-eye with the top of the turnstile—44 inches, to be exact—he or she is supposed be a full-fledged MetroCard-bearing New Yorker.
Didn't know? You're not alone. Many parents and children are unaware (Even Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Charles Moerdler says he didn't even know the rule existed until this week).
Even those in the know don't necessarily abide by the rules.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, they don't do it," said Althea Outten, an MTA agent working at the Bowling Green subway station this week, referring to parents and youths taller than 44 inches who don't swipe.
"We tell them if they're taller than that turnstile, they should pay," she added.
The issue of fare-beating made headlines this week, when the MTA estimated it could lose roughly $100 million this year due to fare-beaters on buses and subway lines.
Stepped-up enforcement by the New York Police Department has resulted in a more than 100% increase in fare-beating arrests in the first six months of the year, (Brooklyn, that beacon of biking, was the only borough that did not have an increase in such arrests.)
The MTA's focus was on adult fare-beaters on buses.
But what about the children? The authority wouldn't reveal how much of a factor children play in the fare-beating problem.
Last year, the Daily News reported that an agency staff report presented at a conference found that 43% of fare-beaters were kids taller than 44 inches ducking under turnstiles. At the time, the Daily News said the authority was considering placing signs near turnstiles to make riders aware of the rule.
Bowling Green is the only subway station that has one: Near the turnstiles at every subway entrance is a blue sign with a yellow ruler. The 44-inch point is marked and the sign says: "When accompanied by an adult, up to 3 children under 44 inches in height, ride free."
Hmmm. So if you have four babies in tow, you have to pay for one. Who knew? But it doesn't clearly spell out that if a parent has even one child over 44 inches, he or she must pay (though that information is posted on booths).
A spokesman for the MTA said the Bowling Green sign was part of a pilot program that began last year to inform commuters that the requirement exists. He said the agency is studying whether it's feasible to put them up across the entire system.
The signs seem to go unnoticed by most. Within a 30-minute span, I witnessed the following:
• A girl at least a foot taller than 44 inches complained to her guardians that her back hurt too much to duck under, and so one of the adults she was with opened the emergency door to let her through.
• A man watched three boys he was with—all taller than 44 inches—duck under the turnstile after him.
• A woman had her children double up: swiping to get her two children in for the price of one.
I approached two ice-cream-eating boys who had just ducked under a turnstile. I asked them how old they were.
"Twelve," they both said.
I asked them how often they duck under.
"Most of the time," one of them said.
A police officer came sauntering over.
"You need to pay your fare, young men," he said sternly.
The kids seemed stunned as he asked where their school MetroCards were. One said he gave it to a friend.
"This is how you start your life the right way," he continued. "What I can do right now is I can take you as a juvenile delinquent…."
I couldn't hear the rest of the conversation, but it ended with them boarding the subway and the officer telling me that he gave them a warning and to call public affairs for any information.
The situation over at the Roosevelt Island Tramway is a bit different. Operated by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp., the tram formerly required fares for children over age 5, according to a spokeswoman, but when it reopened after an overhaul in 2010 the corporation started using the 44-inch benchmark.
Now, both stations have unassuming yellow stickers marking the 44-inch level at the turnstiles. And most passengers—largely tourists and Roosevelt Island residents—seem to swipe for their children.
Most tram employees say they enforce the height rule within reason. If a kid is a few inches over or a tourist has a gaggle of kids and not enough swipes for one, they're not going to go call the jack-booted guards.
But Matt Hernandez, a station attendant on the Manhattan side, said he has to remind people every day and deal with resisting adults.
Many people argue that their kids get on the subway just fine, he said, falsely believing that the MTA rules are governed by age.
It's hard to complain about the MTA not cracking down on child fare-beaters. In fact, we should probably applaud them, though one has to wonder why the rule exists to begin with.
Surely the barrier should be higher—50 inches, maybe—or be tied to age. (Why should the little people get a free pass for life?)
I, for one, have a 4 ½ year old and at the rate he's growing he will likely hit the 44-inch mark in a year or so. My husband and I already sign away more than $200 to the MTA every month, so I have no intention of paying full fare for him until he can pay for it himself.
But I'm a New Yorker. The tourists we should be hitting up. Dan Riley of Atlanta was wandering around the Bowling Green station with his daughter when I asked if he had paid for her. Actually, he said, he was prepared to pay fare for the two of them when the attendant said his daughter could just duck under. Sophie is just 6 and the attendant obviously didn't have a measuring stick.
But because the sign was present, we had her stand up against it.
She was a good inch or two taller: a fare-beater at the ripe age of 6.