New York judge Victoria Graffeo ruled today that creasing a MTA MetroCard to confuse the turnstile into allowing a free ride constitutes forgery—meaning that, according to the law, the bending process makes it “falsely altered.”

Now I don’t condone stealing from local transit authorities. (New York’s MTA leads the country with a debt of $25.5 billion, so they need your money.) But what makes more sense: arresting a guy who was observed defrauding the MTA of $6 in fares, prosecuting him through appeals on a felony forgery charge, and sentencing him to 2–4 years in prison; or fixing the damn fare collection system?

I see that on average states spend $23,000 per year per prisoner (2001 data). So let’s say that this guy serves the minimum sentence and it costs New York $46,000. I don’t really know how much it costs the state to prosecute someone, but I bet that between lawyers, judges, clerks, and so on, another $40,000 was spent on the case. So we’re at $86,000. (Remember, this guy stole $6.)

Their farecard system really needs a re-design to provide even a basic element of security, but closing the hole that makes this theft possible could be done by tweaking the software. A good engineering company could do this for, say, $25,000.

Still looking like a sound decision? I think this kind of inside-the-box thinking is why transit authorities go broke.

On the upside, the judge’s 12-page ruling carefully explains how you can commit the forgery yourself and why it works. Awesome.