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It's the End of the Line for Tokens on N.Y. Subways as $2 Fare Arrives

May 05, 2003|Paul Lieberman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — "No tokens anymore," Andrea Collier explained through the glass window of her booth on the Lexington Avenue subway line.

"Since when?" asked Giovanni Sias, who had approached her when the turnstile wouldn't take his token.

"Since overnight," Collier said. "It started today."

That was a message she had to deliver time and again during her 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift Sunday, which was Day One for a series of changes for the 7 million people who ride New York's subways each day. After 50 years of use, tokens are no more: You have to go to the automated ticket machines, not the live person in the booth, if you want only a one-way ticket -- the clerks will do business with you only for $4 and up now; and, of course, be prepared to pay more -- $2 for a single ride, up from $1.50.

"I can't understand how people wouldn't know," said Collier, who was kept busy answering the same questions -- "When?" "Why?" -- at the booth at the 33rd Street station. "But a lot of people don't realize these fares are going up."

She noticed that Sias had a MetroCard pass in addition to his token, so she told him: "Just swipe your card. That will work."

Sias, 30, a chef at the Jolly Hotel, maneuvered through the turnstile to catch the No. 6 train downtown. He said he would keep the token -- now useless, although there is a system for riders to redeem the ones they'd already purchased -- as a souvenir. "I'll bring it back to Italy," he said. "What you gonna do?"

Close behind him, headed down to SoHo to meet friends, was Maryam Benlkorchi, 26, who works as a bartender while studying to be a marine biologist. She just learned that the cost of a one-day "fun pass," which is good for an unlimited number of rides, was up from the old $4. "I went to a machine, $7 for the day!" she said. "Thank God I don't have to take the train to work."

A hearing is scheduled Friday on a lawsuit by an activist group, the Citizens' Straphangers Campaign, that is seeking to get the fare hikes rolled back by arguing that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority deliberately misled the public when it said it had a $2.8-billion deficit. But most riders Sunday seemed resigned to paying more to use the nation's largest public transportation system, although some complained that the new policies were a disguised means of taxing the working and middle classes while officials in Washington seek to give large tax breaks to the wealthy.

"It adds up," said Bob Herman, who said he works at an Upper East Side "hi-fi" store and uses the subway daily. "It means $7 less a week. It's just like a tax increase."

Subways are not the only form of transportation that has become more expensive in New York. It now costs up to $2 for each ride on the city's 4,500 buses -- like the subway, a 33% increase. Meanwhile, fares went up 25% last week on the Metro-North and Long Island rail lines, which serve 400,000 commuters from suburban communities in Westchester County, Connecticut and Long Island. Tolls on local bridges and tunnels go up May 18.

For commuters such as stockbroker Jean-Claude Canfin, that means one increase on top of another. He now must pay $203, up from $163, for a monthly pass on the Metro-North train from Tarrytown south to Grand Central Station -- and then he has to pay the higher subway fare to get to his office near Wall Street.

"I think it's a disgrace," he said Sunday. "No one increases the cost of products, or salaries, by 30%. It's too much at once."

As Collier neared the end of her shift, another subway rider had a question: Why wouldn't the turnstile take his MetroCard when it had $1.50 left on it? Collier pointed to the sign on the glass window listing the new price structure: $2 for a single ride; $33 for a weekly pass; $70 for 30 days.

"It started today," she said once more.

Ankur Dharia, 24, who is studying to be a podiatrist, realized that his 30-day pass had just expired.

"It was $63 before," he said as he stuck his credit card into a ticket machine. "I should have bought a new one yesterday."

Doris Rincon used the machine moments later to increase the value of her card. A cleaning woman who lives in Queens, she had come to Manhattan to shop for jeans with a friend and bought a $6 card, thinking that was good for four rides.

"Now [it's] enough," she said after putting in $2 more.

There were bargains to be had, however. A woman carrying a small poodle came down the stairs into the station, asking whether anyone wanted to buy the one-day fun pass she had bought for $7 but realized she couldn't use.

"I'll take the old price," she called out. "I'll give it to someone for $4."

Not everyone was complaining, either -- even a man and woman who missed one train while they tried to figure out the fare system.

"It doesn't seem like so much to me," said Linh Tran, 33, who was visiting from Huntington Beach and heading downtown to see the Statue of Liberty with a friend from Boston.

"It's our first time on the subway," he said as the pair got their cards just in time to make a second train.

"Tourists," Collier said.

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