NEW YORK (PIX11) — From assaults and robberies to shootings and killings, New York City’s subway system has been plagued by a rise in major crimes.

The question MTA officials are now trying to answer is whether or not they can tamp down on serious crimes by dealing with the vast amounts of smaller crimes first. More specifically: fare evasion.

Just how out of control is fare evasion? Officials say it’s rampant. The MTA believes 12% of subway riders are no longer paying. For buses, it’s even worse. One-third of bus riders aren’t paying, per the agency. The MTA has now formed a blue-ribbon panel to find a solution to the issue.

“We are going to identify those locations where you have rampant fare evasion, and even if the choice is not to prosecute, we are going to arrest,” said Mayor Eric Adams.

Transportation officials believe the loose enforcement of fares and other minor issues paves the way for more criminals to operate in the city’s subways.

However, some riders are skeptical that a crackdown on fare evaders will significantly reduce serious crimes.

“Not everybody who commits a crime in the subway doesn’t pay the fare. Look at the Sunset Park shooting. The person who caused that shooting, he did pay the fare,” said Queens resident Andy Quito.

Another way officials want to fight back against crime is by increasing the effectiveness of law enforcement officers in the subways by making sure they’re not being distracted by their cell phones while on the job.

“We are going to start taking very aggressive actions to make sure police are patrolling our subway system and not patrolling their iPhones,” Adams said. “You are going to see a visual difference in policing in the next couple of weeks.”

Officials estimate fare beaters are costing the MTA about $500 million this year alone.