2014-01-16 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Happy Birthday MetroCard – Now Say Goodbye!
By Dara Mormile

Those little round tokens went a long way...Okay, when we had to pay with tokens to ride the rails back in the day, they didn't really go that far. There was no free transfer between buses and trains, which limited your commute, and if you didn't ask for those flimsy yet colorful transfer tickets, you had to pay another fare if you suddenly decided to take a connecting bus to your destination.

I was impressed when the MetroCard made its debut. I was in high school when I used my first MetroCard – in 1997. It was blue at the time and changed the way everyone traveled, especially students. I went to South Shore High School for one year and then had to commute across the borough when I transferred to John Dewey. Before students were given MetroCards, they were issued Rapid Transit and Surface Transit passes, which were good for unlimited rides anywhere students had to go. When officials introduced the MetroCard to students, it cut down on their ability to go wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. The new transportation passes were only good for one trip to and from school and were valid Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. until shortly after 8 p.m.

One of the first MetroCards, circa 1997. One of the first MetroCards, circa 1997. Last week, the MetroCard turned 20 years old. I felt a little 'old' when I went into my archives to find old passes I used to get to school. It's interesting how the MTA is looking to phase out the convenient method of paying for transportation (it was a bit of a nuisance to carry all of those tokens as opposed to a sleek plastic square), yet the cost of traveling constantly increases!

Does plastic cost more to produce than metal? Evidently it does, since the MTA now charges a fee to initially purchase a MetroCard. What's the deal with eliminating the MetroCard if it's not going to prevent the MTA from raising fares? A News12 Brooklyn report stated that a new payment system would include bank tap-and-go smart cards, which is foolish if it gets lost or stolen and you have to stress out that your bank account is wired to a transportation card. Another option is for riders to use their smartphones to pay for fares. What if you don't have a smartphone? What if you want to keep your bank account and your transit transactions separate? In theory, this is all part of modern day plans to stop producing plastic MetroCards. Yes, times change and methods of transportation change.

One good thing about tokens was that all we had to do was drop the coin into the slot and we were on our way. These marvelous MetroCards, while compact, have tons of errors. You can stand there swiping for minutes on end until the turnstile mechanism completely dysfunctions and you’ve missed 10 trains.

The machines to refill your card almost never work, never dispense change or accept dollar bills, and you can spend hours guessing how much money you have left on your card so you can add the right amount for your next commute.

Let's get real! A new system won't necessarily save the MTA any money. They've already jacked up our commute to $5 for a round-trip. Since they won't be producing expensive, semi-gloss plastic cards, they should decrease the fare or rule out a fare increase for at least the next 20 years (minimum). MTA officials cry that they need money for projects, but I swear – if I have to take another damned shuttle bus because the 'L' train isn't running to Broadway Junction over the weekend, I'm calling their 'projects' shenanigans.

Sure, upgrades are supposed to make life easier for New Yorkers, but I have a feeling their new payment system will be a disgrace and a transit disaster like so many of the MTA's master plans. This awardwinning agency (not!) is probably already spending millions on researching how this new system will operate. Please stop!

Sometimes I miss the simple days of traveling Mass Transit. Then again, maybe it was never that simple and, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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