If you’ve taken the subway in New York City at all, or in any city with a major transit system for that matter, you’ve probably seen someone standing in a station gesturing an invisible MetroCard and chanting "swipe." Whether it's someone seeking shelter in the warmth of the subway car during the winter or someone who just forgot their card, sometimes, you kindly give that person one of the unlimited swipes on your monthly Metrocard.

More than just an act of kindness, this can also function as an act of protest. In 2013, to boycott the fourth fare hike in five years, activists associated with Occupy and the No Fare Hike campaign organized Swipe Back!, swiping people in while wearing blue and yellow buttons. This Monday, the MTA issued yet another fare hike, reviving the idea of protest.

Meanwhile, at least one group would like to place a limit on the amount of swipes on an unlimited card to balance the MTA budget and the MTA wants to get rid of MetroCard swiping all together by 2019.

So, what are the consequences for swiping someone into the subway? The legality behind this is a bit muddled, one-sided and anecdotal, so we asked the experts. While it isn’t necessarily illegal to swipe other people into the subway the act could earn swipers the ire of the MTA.

NYC MTA MetroCard
base fare, 30-day unlimited  


$2, $70


$2, $76


$2, $81


$2.25, $104


$2.50, $112


A $1 fee is imposed on new card
purchases in-system


$2.75, $116.50

Wikipedia, CBS (1,2)





MTA Representative

We do not allow people to sell swipes. Let’s say someone asks if they can swipe you in and they ask for a dollar, we do not allow people to do this.

It’s fine as long as they don’t sell the swipe.



Ingrid Burrington

Artist, Researcher, Activist who Co-Organized Swipe Back! Campaign

Swiping people in on the subway is what I guess could be called implicitly legal--while the MTA has rules about exchanging swipes for money (which they deem, I think, theft of services), it has no policies explicitly forbidding the giving away of Metrocard swipes.

While I've never heard of anyone getting in trouble for giving away a metrocard swipe, I've heard anecdotally about people being arrested in the subway system after receiving free swipes (mainly around the time the NYPD ramped up transit arrests in general).

There was an action around the time of the first of the biannual fare hikes where a group of activists (IIRC based in Sunset Park) used unlimited day passes to swipe people in for free. The discontinuing of day passes and the increase in time between being able to use an unlimited (it's around 15 minutes now, it used to be less?) weren't changes directly related to that action, but it's definitely become harder to provide free swipes to people beyond doing it as a random act of kindness when exiting the subway. In this respect, it's not an easy tactic to organize around, but it's an incredibly easy tactic to perform--if you have an unlimited, you lose nothing by doing it.

Arrests for fare-beating

(“turnstile jumping”)





— Daily News

Broken windows

As part of the New York Police Department's "broken windows" policing, there has been an aggressive crackdown on subway fare-beating, subway performing  ("panhandling")possession of a small amount of weed and other minor "quality-of-life" offenses in order to, in theory, deter more serious crimes.

In reality, direct results were questionable, while enforcement showed clear racial disparity and contributed to tragic police brutality incidents.



NYPD Officer in Union Square Park station

Ehh, it's touchy. You can swipe them in, but if they're caught they'll get in trouble. It's considered panhandling which is illegal and the MTA is really big on cracking down on that right now.

You won't get in trouble, but they could be arrested.




The verdict: You cannot get in trouble for swiping someone in for free, but they, potentially, could.