In Which Eve Laments the Death of the Subway Token

Mayor Mike has announced that the NY subway token is officially being phased out over the next year or so. No surprise, but still a nasty kick in the pants. I hate Metrocards—tokens were the perfect life form, and this is a huge step backwards. “Ninety-five percent of riders now use Metrocards,” sez the Mayor. Well, of course—95 percent of subways stations no longer accept tokens!! Like we had a choice.

• My main objection: “please swipe again. please swipe again. please swipe again. please swipe again. please swipe again.” That never happened with tokens.

• You could keep tokens in your pockets, your purse, your briefcase—you were never without tokens.

• If you had three tokens, you knew you had three rides left. I defy anyone to remember how many rides are left on their Metrocard at any given moment.

• You lost a token, you lost $1.50. You lose a Metrocard, you’ve lost maybe $30 or $40.

• Tokens are quaint. Doesn’t count for a lot, but still.

• I have too damn many cards in my wallet as it is—a NJ Transit train ticket, a PATH card, two cards to get into my building. I don’t need anymore goddam cards!

I miss tokens.

Girl, I will never miss running late for work, then realizing I’m out of tokens, then having to wait on line with 20 other people in order to buy my 10-pack.

Viva la Metrocard!

[cynical mode ON]
I have a question: does a Metrocard record the number of rides you’ve purchased, or the amount of money you’ve put into it? Because it occurs to me that if you purchase ten tokens when the fare is $1.50, and then the fare goes to $1.75, then you probably still have 10 rides worth of tokens (unless the city designs and produces entirely new tokens when the fare goes up, which would be an awful lot of trouble). But if you just put $15 on a Metrocard, and the fare goes up to $1.75, then all of a sudden you only have 8 rides worth of cash on your card…
[cynical mode OFF]

When I lived in Ontario, I always preferred tokens to tickets when riding the TTC in Toronto. I wasn’t in Toronto very often, you see, and the tickets were only good until the next fare increase or until the city printed a new run of tickets for the next calendar year. But the tokens kept forever…

Amount of money put onto it.

I agree that “swipe again” is annoying, but it’s much better than having to dig through my purse for a token!

I would hope that they record the amount of money you added. Chicago’s public transit system has cards that do this, plus you get ‘bonus’ money added to them if you add more than a certain amount at once - say if you add $10 at once, your card will actually have $11 in value put onto it.

They have cheap, thin plastic farecards that cost nothing to start, and have an expiration date of something like two years from the time of purchase. I think the CTA’s position on it is that these will wear out and become unreadable, but the cynical position is that an expired farecard means you can’t get at any remaining cash on it, which means profit.

They’ve just introduced “smart cards” that you pay a small fee for - they’re more like a credit card in durability, and can be just waved past a sensor on the bus to deduct your fare, rather than having to stop and swipe it. Plus if your card gets lost/stolen/damaged, it’s been issued personally to you like a credit card, so you can call in and report it, and have the balance transferred to a replacement.

That being said, I do have some sentimental feelings over the long-gone CTA tokens, but they were rather hard to find in a coinpurse (being the size of a dime or less), and I gather that some people went to great lengths to find cheap foreign coins that would work in their place. I can see how the CTA would want to avoid being shortchanged in this fashion.

That’s exactly what the city has done in the past: new fare, new tokens. Someone had to take them to court to require them to accept old tokens purchased before the fare increase without an additional payment (IIRC, the system was to turn in the older tokens and pay the difference for the equivalent amount of new ones).

I’m not often in NYC, but the objection I had to the Metrocard was that the amount you had to pay for one was not a multiple of the fare price, so you had money on them left over. (This may have been changed since then.)

OTOH, I have no problem with the system in DC, where you purchase a card for the fare. The nice thing is that you can purchase one for the exact fare needed. The downside is that the system is confusing – people don’t always realize they need to have the card to exit the subway.

I don’t do public transportation, but I like a token. You can trade 'em for stuff. Amongst your friends. Or you can give one to a homeless guy. That said, I’d probably lose mine anyway. Good thing I live on a farm where the token point remains moot.

That is one of the problems with a Metrocard – in college, we were forever trading tokens. “Hey, gotta subway token I can borrow till tomorrow?” or “I don’t have enough cash, I gotta get home.” “Oh, I have a token you can use.” I imagine that a lot of parents in the city would give their kids a token to tuck away for emergencies, too. Those days are gone.

I’m also annoyed by the swipe system. As I recall, in London and Paris, you stick your fare card into the turnstile and it pops back up on the other side, all properly scanned. There’s no swiping. I appreciated that. (Though I’m sure that it’s possible that sometimes the cards don’t pop back up, which would be annoying. Anyone in London or Paris who might tell us about that?)

I should clarify - the Chicago L (subway/elevated train) system has a slot where you put the farecard in, it gets sucked down, money deducted, and then it pops up in the same slot. (I haven’t seen them not pop up, though I suppose it’s not impossible, and an attendant is always on duty to take care of stuck machines and so on.) Turnstile unlocks and you proceed. I think the buses have a similar slot mechanism rather than a card swipe reader. I expect the card doesn’t get passed through to the other side of the turnstile to help reduce chance of theft - the L turnstiles are often in and out turnstiles at the same time, and it’d be easy for someone leaving to grab your card and run out with it if you were in the middle of going through the turnstile.

With the smart cards, I’m not sure if they can be used in these slots, or if all locations have smart card sensors in place.

I have a little cache of Toronto Transit Commission tokens that are at least a decade old; I gave one to someone a couple of months ago, and it worked without a hitch.

The “MetroPass” card that the TTC sells is good for unlimited trips for one calendar month.

There’s an adorable Otterness art installation at the 14th and 8th Ave station which includes little men in unexpected places pushing, carrying, and hoarding tokens. In a few years, kids’ won’t even know what they’re doing.

All the better to track your movements. Viva Total Information Awareness!

I was in Chicago last year (and DC years ago) and was introduced to the fare cards and thought they worked beautifully. My gripe with the DC cards (and presumably the CTA cards are the same) is that there are no refunds. I ended up with a DC fare card worth something like $1.10 which I couldn’t use unless I wanted to pop for the costs of traveling from WI to DC for that purpose. It wasn’t that much money but the principle of it bothered me. I felt like I was getting ripped off for being a visitor.

As you supposed, Ferret Herder, busses have a slot where you feed the card, just like the turnstyles. For the Chicago Card (as they’re now caling the smart card) all turnstyles and busses have a touchpad; instead of feeding the card into the slot you touch it to the touchpad.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Card system doesn’t do me any good. I get transit subsidy checks from my employer, and the CTA, in its infinite wisdom, has no way to transfer the value of the checks to the Chicago Card. The only way to add value to it is to feed the money into the same machines that sell or add money to the regular farecards; they have touchpads just like the turnstyles. What I have to do take the checks to a currency exchange or other location that sells pre-loaded farecards and buy them. And, since there is literally no combination ofv fares and transfers which adds up to $11.00 or $22.00, I end up having to later add odd amounts of money to the farecard or throw out a card with forty cents left on it.

On the subject of tokens, I once swapped a CTA token for a flashcube rather than buy a pack of flashcubes when I only needed one to finish off a roll of film.

Swipe again? Ever since I’ve started living in the city and using the subway, I vastly prefer the card.

1). You don’t have little things clanking around in your pocket or your purse- you can just have a handy dandy card in your wallet. Easy!

2). It never says swipe again for me…not if you do it right, anyway.

3). It’s easy to see how much money you have on it- it always tells you after you swipe and there are places you can swipe just to see how much money is left.

4). You can put a lot of money on all at once if need be. With tokens, you’d probably have to carry them all with you. And that would be annoying.

5). They dispense them at those little machines. You don’t have to stand in line which would take awhile, since humans are so fallible. This is much easier.

Not that I ever used tokens, but I am grateful. Maybe it’s an older/younger generation thing? My mom doesn’t much care for them, but I adore them.

Bah! You whippersnappers, with your Metrocards and your jazz music and your hepped-up jalopies!


That’s right - pop the card in the slot, it whips through and pops up through another slot. I’ve never known my card not to pop back up again.

You’d be amazed at the number of people who just cannot grasp this system. They stand there, blocking the turnstile bewildered by the concept of putting a piece of card into a slot and then having to pick it up out of the other slot. Utterly bewildered. Tourists, the lot of them.

Wait a minute…we’re talking about tokens that you can use in automatic turnstiles, right? Wouldn’t the city of NY then have to have modified all of those turnstiles to keep them from accepting the old tokens? In addition to all of the effort and expense necessary to make new dies and stamp out enough new tokens to replace every old token in circulation?

And then after they went to all that effort, someone sued to force them to accept the old tokens anyway? And won??? The mind boggles, it really does.

But I’m beginning to see why the city, at least, doesn’t like the tokens…

Yes, indeedy, Math Geek. You see the magnitude, which must be repeated at many thousands of turnstiles at the 468 stations of the New York Subway.

IIRC, our MetroCard is identical to Chicago’s card, but not our turnstiles. What Ferret Herder describes is the system our buses use, which works nicely. The system in the subways was designed to work faster. In theory, you slide the card through a groove, which lets you keep in motion and get your fare collected. This was essential, the MTA decided, because many of our stations are too busy to have huge monglian hordes backing up.

But it’s persnickety: you have to slide it at just the right speed or it beeps at you, and it’s possible to end up spending the fare without getting in. Plus, the groove itself can get grotty and stop reading cards - TA employees now know to wipe them periodically, and it seems better now than when the cards were first introduced. The net result is that the bus-style devices would probably have been better.

But with all that, they did offer something truly powerful: daily, weekly, and monthly passes. That effectively reduced the impact of fare increases, and encouraged greater usage. Which on the whole is good.

Damn. I must have been in New York a long time. I remember when I first moved here, they were still selling tokens in the handy 10-pack. This was the first thing they did away with in their quest to gradually phase out the humble token. I also remember when the student fare cards were non-electronic. All that students had to do was flash the card to the token clerk/bus driver to be waved through. The MetroCard was something fairly new, and it was blue. Then it was upgraded to the dazzling yellow and advertised as MetroCard Gold (oooooooooooooooh!). We have all gotton used to the MetroCard by now, but one thing that really bugs me is that you can’t see at a glance how much you’ve got left on it. It’s true, as one poster pointed out, that the balance is displayed every time you swipe the card, but you don’t always remember later or even pay attention in the first place.