Source: Roosevelt Islander

THE COMMUTE: If you do not have an unlimited pass and there are insufficient funds on your MetroCard, do not attempt to pay your bus fare by combining two cards. The MTA will deduct the remaining amount from the first card and a full fare from the second card, not just the amount you are short. That’s what Queens Assemblywoman Grace Meng discovered last week.

That is because the system was not set up to allow you to combine cards but to use cash to complete your transaction. This is not a problem on the trains since turnstiles do not accept cash. The system works fine if you are short just a quarter or so. But what if you are short $1.30? (Few people will have that amount of exact change in their wallet.) You would lose $0.95 and therefore would be paying $3.20 for a $2.25 ride if you use a second card. The problem is more serious on express buses where you could lose $5 if you do not have an extra $0.50 if you think using a second card will deduct only the money you still owe.

When using a second card, the system cannot determine that it is from the same individual because it was not set up that way for good reason. Passengers attempting to pay with a card having insufficient funds would often let someone else go ahead of them while they fumble for loose change. However, there are ways to correct the problem. The bus operator could be given the option to have the amount on the card subtracted, or to reject the card with the money on it still intact, depending if the passenger wanted to pay the remainder in cash or use another card instead. Allowing the use of two cards could be more problematic.

Although the system has always operated this way it has not been a problem until the last fare increase when the MTA changed the bonuses making it difficult to buy cards without having odd bits of change left over on them.

You can also avoid the problem by always carrying large amounts of change with you, which defeats the purpose of why MetroCards were introduced in the first place. Another way is to use a free app called “MTA Helper” available on iTunes, which tells you exactly how much money to add to your MetroCard, accounting for the bonuses so the number of rides comes out even.

No one knows how much money the MTA has stolen from its riders by overcharging them. If they were a private corporation, the Department of Consumer Affairs would not allow this “blatant theft,” as the assemblywoman calls it.

Not Our Problem

What is just as upsetting is the MTA’s attitude that it is not their problem, but the customer’s problem, since the farebox instructs you to pay cash if there is less than a full fare on the card. However, it does not warn you not to use another MetroCard. The MTA has put the onus on the bus driver to inform passengers not to use a second card according to Spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. Good luck with that. The MTA expects its customers to know at all times the amounts remaining on their MetroCards. How many people know their checking account balance? Not many; that’s why overdrafts were created. The MTA is placing too great a burden on its customers. It is easy to confuse MetroCards if you are carrying more than one, one with odd change and another with full rides. Also, if your trip exceeds two hours you could lose a transfer you thought you were getting and get caught short that way.

Subway riders can check their balance at special card readers. Bus riders do not have access to card readers if they do not also use the subway. They trust the MTA and most don’t even realize they are being cheated. The MTA is taking unfair advantage of that trust. A passenger’s assumption of expecting the system to accept a second MetroCard is not an unrealistic one.

Addressing the Problem

The MTA needs to address this problem. If the cost of modifying the system to give the bus operator options, or to accept two cards from one customer is cost prohibitive, the system could at least be modified to return cards if less than half the required fare is left on the card instead of assuming the customer has the correct amount of spare change. Or a message could be added to inform passengers that inserting a second card will result in a full fare being deducted so they are warned for the future. Signage on the buses, a note about the problem on the MTA’s website and publicizing the MTA Helper application on its website would show that the MTA cares about its customers.

Not addressing the problem sends a powerful message to the bus passenger that obtaining money they are not entitled to is more important than customer fairness. The MTA must recognize that if it is a problem for the customer, it is also an MTA problem. Just because roughly half the riders rely on unlimited passes does not mean the problem should be ignored especially when the use of unlimited passes are declining.

Since the December 30, 2010 fare increase, the use of 30-day passes has declined in most areas according to this article in The Wall Street Journal. An interactive map shows the differences by station. At the Sheepshead Bay Road station, the use of 30-day passes declined by 18 percent to 40 percent of the fares paid. In Brighton Beach, it was down 11 percent to 34 percent. No figures for seven-day passes are available at these stations. The statistics for Neck Road and Avenue U are meaningless since the stations were closed for construction for part of the period.

New Chairman

The governor appointed a new MTA Chairman this week — Joseph Lhota, a career politician — to replace outgoing chairman, Jay Walder, who was regarded by many as a transit expert. Was this the correct decision? Only time will tell. Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, believes the MTA needs a visionary as well as an advocate. I would tend to agree with him. Customer service must be as high a priority as balancing the budget. The MTA should care if it is unfairly obtaining money from its customers whether it is from collecting more than it is entitled to from the farebox, requiring that three-bus trips due to service cutbacks cost an extra fare, or unfairly giving summonses to undeserving customers. They should not rationalize that this extra money offsets what they lose from farebeaters and is, therefore, justified. That type of thinking shows a lack of customer concern.

Reminder

The MTA will be at Community Board 15’s monthly meeting tomorrow night to discuss B44 Select Bus Service (SBS). Since 22 Limited bus stops will be removed when SBS goes into effect, and B44 local service will most likely be cut, for the plan to succeed, it is necessary that the MTA does not count a transfer between the local and SBS as the one bus transfer you are entitled to.

While some passengers may walk up to three quarters of a mile to access an SBS stop, during good weather because of its faster speed and frequency, how many will be will be willing to do that when the weather is raining, snowing, freezing, or steamy hot outside? On those days particularly, the locals will be very slow and overcrowded because transferring passengers may not be willing to pay a second fare to use SBS. You know that the MTA will do their surveys in fair weather and the media will only be interviewing content SBS passengers who are saving time, not local riders whose trips will not improve noticeably or may even worsen which will not be reflected in the statistics.

Allowing transfers between the SBS and the local without penalty is just another way that the MTA could show it that it cares about customer service. It will also help seniors who already require a bus or subway transfer who have difficulty walking and those who do not use an unlimited pass to also benefit from SBS.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

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  • w14

    Long comment alert.

    My complaint:
    “It has come to my attention that when a card has insufficient funds, the MetroCard reader will deduct the money anyway.

    Here is a situation where i paid $10.50 for an express
    bus ride in the past. I have $5 on one MetroCard and $20 on another.
    The reader on the bus deducts $5 from the first MetroCard and $5.50 from
    the second MetroCard (being that I had no coins).

    This morning it happened again, with the first card having $5.25. I paid $10.75 for a ride today!

    This is in fact a very unfair system. MetroCards always have irregular
    balances these days, and I find myself paying nearly double fare.”

    Response:
    “Response (Melissa Glasgow) – 06/15/2010 01:44 PM This is in response to
    your recent e-mail to MTA New York City Transit requesting a refund in
    connection with problems you encountered when paying a “split-fare” on
    an express bus.

    We regret if you experienced difficulty while using the transit system.
    Please be aware that the fare boxes on New York City Transit’s buses
    are not designed to recognize a full fare that is encoded on more than
    one MetroCard. These fare boxes are designed to automatically deduct a
    full fare each time a MetroCard is inserted into the farebox, and we
    encourage our customers to have a least that amount on one MetroCard
    when they Board the bus. In a case when a customer has less than a
    full fare remaining on a MetroCard, the farebox will deduct whatever
    value is on the card and the customer is then required to pay the rest
    of the fare using coins. If a customer attempts to use another
    MetroCard to pay the balance of his or her fare, the farebox will
    automatically deduct a full fare from the second MetroCard.

    With regard to your refund request, please note that New York City
    Transit policy does not allow for reimbursing customers under the
    circumstances you described. If you have any further
    MetroCard-related questions or concerns, you may call MetroCard Customer
    Service at (212) 638-7622, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Monday through
    Friday, or from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, or write
    to MetroCard Customer Service at New York City Transit, 2 Broadway, Room
    B11.59, New York, NY 10004″

    • Anonymous

      Here’s the facts. The MTA wants to steal your money. They do it because they can and always have been doing it. “Going your way? Where? We don’t know and we don’t care! We’re the MTA and that’s too bad for you!”

    • dkupf

      Further proof that the MTA doesn’t give a rat’s ass about nobody but themselves.  And gloat about it with much pleasure.

      Boycott?  We tried that on June 1, 1980 when the fare went from 50 cents to 60 cents.  How did the MTA respond?  By raising the fare exactly one year later by raising the fare to 75 cents!  The boycott was over.

      We are not “customers”.  We are “the people”.  By calling us “the people” puts a human face and human feelings and human emotions with this dilemma.

      What we must do is either to force mangement to either change their policies or lose their jobs.  There’s plenty of people, like me, whom are willing to replace them for the better.

      • dkupf

        …And I mean ALL management, from Tom Prendergast down to Robert Newhouser and Michael Glikin.  Period.

  • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

    Whenever I refill my metrocard I add exactly $39.95 for exactly 19 rides (after the 7% Bonus). Whenever I find an old metrocard with a non-divisible balance I go here:

    http://www.metrocardbonuscalculator.com/   and figure out how much I need to add to get a far that when divided by 2.25 is an integer. Then I keep adding 39.95 whenever I need to refill.

    This issue might be easier to solve if the MTA made the EasyPay Metrocard more accessible.

  • Anonymous

    I really have to love the fact that I need Itunes in order to find out how much is on my card and to calculate the amount I need to add to make the money balance out. Why Itunes? What about all the individuals who don’t have access to the Internet or a personal computer with Itunes on it. Is the Library going to install Itunes on its machines so those without the above can use this app? Do they only believe those people who have access and knowledge of this technology ride the MTA subways and buses?

    This is quite an informative article and very appreciated. There is a related issue. If ones Metrocard malfunctions for some reason the only way to get a new one is through the mail. How archaic is that? The fare booth clerks should be able to provide replacement cards on demand. The MTA wants to pride itself on the use of technology to improve customer service and yet they fail miserably when that technology hits a brick wall by the use of older more inefficient systems. I have to wonder how many of us have sucked up big losses as a result of this never ending inconvenience exhibited by the examples in this article and the malfunctioning Metrocards? As any of us know, those cards are constantly giving out “swipe again” notices at the turnstiles. Now there’s a “career politician” running this circus? Same old, same old!!

    Occupy The MTA!!

    • Allan Rosen

      There may be other apps out there that do the same thing. I only mentioned the one on ITunes. You are correct; those who are technology deficient should not be left out in the cold. 

      Apparently the MTA has been quite aware this has been happening and has not done a single thing to correct it. I wonder how many of those express bus letters have been mailed out and how many never even realized they were being robbed.  If the MTA really believes in transparency as Walder claimed, they would release such information. Elected officials, are you listening?

      Last week someone went to a TV station because the MTA only refunded $1.50 of the $11.50 she was owed due to their failure to provide a return trip from Manhattan due to the lightening strike. They deducted $10 as a service charge for refunds, recently enacted. They relented after the bad publicity saying they will reconsider it this time. 

      Nothing will change as long as people accept all the BS put out by the MTA. Speak up. come to the CB 15 meeting tomorrow night where MTA officials will be present. YES, OCCUPY THE MTA. 

      • Andrew

        Are you aware that NJT doesn’t provide refunds on single or round trip tickets at all?  Not with a $10 service charge, not at all.  I don’t like it, but that’s the policy.

    • Andrew

      It doesn’t require iTunes.  It requires an iPod or iPod or iPhone.  And that’s because “it” is a tool developed by a private developer:
      http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/metrocalc/id328570105

      If you prefer to use any old computer with a network connection (e.g., yours), go here instead:
      http://www.metrocardbonuscalculator.com/

      If the equipment in the booth can read the MetroCard, the agent will issue you a replacement on the spot.  If the card is damaged to the extent that the equipment can’t read it, then there really isn’t much that the agent can do.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, the agent will give you an envelope to mail the card to the MTA for replacement.

        • Andrew

          I’m not sure if we’re agreeing or disagreeing.  If the agent can read the card, there’s no need for an envelope.  If the agent can’t read the card, then he or she will give you an envelope.

  • LLQBTT

    There’s no way to check your damned balance!  I mean, unless you’re near a subway stop.  But how many bus riders live near a subway stop?

    • Allan Rosen

      The ones who also ride the train.  Otherwise you are out of luck.  It’s an even bigger problem in Staten Island because even fewer bus riders are also subway riders.

    • Andrew

      Every time you get on the bus, the farebox displays your balance.  (If you’re afraid you’re not going to remember for next time, especially if it’s running low, jot down the remaining balance in pencil on the card.)

      • Allan Rosen

        You are asking someone to either hold up the line to write it down or for seniors to remember it until they find a writing instrument. Also, very few people carry pencils with them these days. Yes, it’s not the MTA’s problem. That’s what they believe also.

        • Andrew

          Hold up the line?  If the farebox tells you that your remaining balance is $1.80, how hard is it to remember that number until you sit down and can fish out a pencil or pen (or borrow one from a neighbor if you don’t have one on you)?  Then you’ll know not to use that card again unless either you have 45 cents in coins or you’ve had a chance to refill it at a subway station.
          (And if you somehow have forgotten the exact remaining balance, make a scribble on the card so that you remember not to use it until you’ve refilled it, or at least bring lots of small change so you can pay the remaining fare in coins without going too far over.)

          • Allan Rosen

            You are assuming that everyone has easy access to a subway station. Not for people in Staten Island or outer Queens, but they don’t concern you because it is such a small number, correct? Also carrying lots of small change defeats one of the purposes why MetroCards were conceived in the first place. Go ahead and overlook that too. You seem to overlook a lot of things.

          • Andrew

            On the contrary, the MetroCard-plus-coins payment option is of greatest value to people who aren’t near the subway and can’t easily add value.

          • Allan Rosen

            No.  Their best option is to go into a convenience store and purchase a new card which is a hell of a lot easier than always making sure you are carrying around a pocketful of change with you all the time.  That’s what they often do and one of the reasons they are more likely to have multiple cards than someone who is near a subway.

          • Andrew

            And what do to you do with the remaining balance on your old card?  That’s exactly where the MetroCard-plus-coins option comes in handy.

  • Andrew

    As I said elsewhere, this is the MetroCard system as envisioned by the Stangl administration.  If you don’t like it, complain to him.

    Funny that you bring up overdrafts.  According to an FDIC study, “overdraft fees ranged from $10 to $38, with a median fee of $27.”  Somehow a loss of up to $2.24 on a local bus or $5.49 on an express bus doesn’t seem quite so bad.Yes, I’m sure Cubic would be willing to reprogram the system to work differently – for a nice chunk of money.  Then you’d complain that the MTA is wasting its money upgrading an obsolete system that’s going to be entirely replaced within 5 years.I’ve seen many bus riders take advantage of this system, with a low-balance MetroCard in one hand and exact change for what’s missing in the other.  And I’ve seen it for years, since long before the most recent fare increase.  It’s a good way to kill off a card with an odd balance, although I personally prefer to add to the card so I can take full advantage of the bonus.If you’re not sure how the system works, wouldn’t you ask the bus operator?

    • Allan Rosen

      You really sound like someone who works for the MTA the way you are always defending them and distorting what I am saying. I wasn’t referring to overdrafts without permission from the bank. I meant features like Checking Plus or Safety Check at Citibank which allow overdrafts for an interest charge which amounts to pennies if you pay it back the next day.

      Why is the passenger always wrong and the MTA always right in your opinion? How is someone who purposely uses a low balance card and completes the transaction with change “taking advantage of the system”. That is exactly how the system supposed to work. That comment alone tells me exactly where your head is at. If you don’t already work for the MTA, you should because they would hire you in one minute because you think just like them and that is the problem. We see the mess the system is in today and they certainly need more people who don’t think like the ones they already have but like Ben, you blame all MTA problems on the unions, NIMBYs and the politicians because in your mind, the MTA can do no wrong. And the bus driver if he even knows is going to bother to explain to you how the system works while he has a bus to operate and safety to be concerned about. How many even know themselves that using a second card will deduct a full second fare or would even care if they know. They just want to keep to their schedule and get the bus moving.

      • Andrew

        I wasn’t familiar with Checking Plus or Safety Check, so I looked them up.

        Checking Plus has a $10 fee:
        https://online.citibank.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=CheckingPlus

        Safety Check also has a $10 fee, but it’s only charged once per day:
        https://online.citibank.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=SafetyCheck

        But wait!  With Citigold, Safety Check is free.  What’s Citigold?  Whoops!  $30 monthly fee!
        https://online.citibank.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=Citigold

        Oh well.  So much for your examples.

        There’s nothing wrong with “taking advantage of the system” – that’s exactly my point.  The current system allows people to clear out a low-balance card without having to visit a subway station.  That’s a very useful feature, so I’d be wary of changing it.

        You sound like a disgruntled retiree.  You will have to excuse me for not operating under the assumption that everything the MTA does must by definition be wrong.  I realize it’s a common assumption, but it isn’t always the case.  When I think the MTA has done something stupid, I’m happy to say so.

        • Flatbush Depot

          Hey man, be more careful about what you say. I’ve had some very long (can you say heated?) debates with Allan about transit issues, but one thing I never did was call him that. He has praised the MTA on several occasions. He’s just providing constructive criticism, and in this case he makes a point that most agree with, including myself. I’ve vehemently disagreed with him on other issues, but this does not mean he is biased or disgruntled. I used hard logic in my arguments rather than taunts, so please chill.

          • Andrew

            You may not be aware of Mr. Rosen’s history with the MTA.  Decades ago, he was briefly in NYCT’s planning department.  He never made it back in, but he seems to be spending much of his post-retirement energy trying to prove to the world that he’s a better planner than the planners are.

            I think my logic is pretty sound.  Mr. Rosen is arguing that bus riders should receive something akin to overdraft protection.  But the fees for overdraft protection, including the two examples he cited to bolster his case, are greater than the maximum possible fare lost over this issue!  So his argument falls flat on its face.
            I only brought up his MTA connection in response to his “accusation” that, if I don’t work for the MTA, I should.  Frankly, I’m perfectly happy doing what I do now, and I have no interest in applying for another job (one that I’m probably not qualified for anyway).  I’d be glad to stick to the issues if Mr. Rosen does the same.

          • Allan Rosen

            I certainly am a better planner than the current planners and I have the record to prove it. Fact 1: I took three routes that ran every 10, 15, and 20 minutes (very old B1, B21, and B34) and combined and rerouted them). Result: RIdership over 30 years increased so much that now the B1 runs as frequently as every 3 minutes. When has the MTA ever accomplished such a feat? Look what they have done: massive cutbacks last year where at least one third of those cutbacks actually reduced efficiency on those routes, raising the cost it takes to provide those services. In one case, the B48, the cost per passenger rose something like 40%. And they still will not undo the cutback.

          • Andrew

            Congratulations on having one planning success.  Although I have a feeling that increased Kingsborough College enrollment might also be a contributing factor in the increased ridership, don’t you think?

            The objective of last year’s service cuts was to save money, not to improve efficiency.  And, of course, you’re conveniently not mentioning all of the other service changes, many of them improvements, that have been made over the past three decades.

          • Allan Rosen

            Of course increased Kingsborough enrollment was partially a factor but not so much that the route (B34 / B1) now receives 300 to 500% the amount of service than it received 33 years ago. Can you think of a single MTA change that even comes close?

            Point 2 – Wrong. The objectives of last years cuts were to save money and improve efficiency by hurting the minimum numbers of customers. If the objective were solely to save money, they would have made the same assinine cuts they made in the mid 1970s when they targeted the most heavily used bus routes like the B46 for the greatest cuts. At that time they cut that half the rush hour service on that route although the buses were already overcrowded sparking the beginning of gypsy cabs paralleling bus routes which later evolved into the dollar vans. Their justification was that no one will notice the cuts because people will only have to wait two more minutes for the bus. (I still have the newspaper article with that quote.)

            This time they at least used a little more common sense.

            As for the improvements over the past few decades, I thought of most of them for Brooklyn back in 1972 because they were so obvious to me at that time, but some of them like combining the B62 to and B47 to form the B43, and combining the B40 and the B78 to form the B47, took them up to 30 years more until it became obvious to them. I also suggested the small B83 extension to them in 2001, which they first rejected, then changed their mind after studying it for five years. That’s why I believe I am a better planner than all of them put together as conceited as that may sound. And I didn’t only work in Operations Planning, I headed the entire bus planning operations for the first half of 1981 and was hired as a result of my success with the southwest Brooklyn changes.

          • Andrew

            The objective was to save money in a way that minimized the pain.  That doesn’t mean that no individual bus routes could end up with reduced efficiency.

          • Allan Rosen

            And they certainly did end up with reduced efficiency, not a desirable outcome, unless efficiency isn’t one of your concerns.

          • Andrew

            Efficiency on one single route out of hundreds really isn’t a major concern in comparison to the financial health of the entire system.

          • Allan Rosen

            Not that I have to justify anything to you, but I’ve had many planning successes, not just one.  I was responsible for the B11 extension past 18th Avenue.  I originally proposed a minimal extension to Coney Island Avenue just to see how it works out.  The MTA insisted on taking the route all the way to Canarsie along the B6 route.  The communities asked for a compromise only to Brooklyn College.  Extending it to Canarsie proved to be a failure andthe route had to be cut back after a few years?  Who knew best in that instance?  It certainly wasn’t the MTA planners.  That routing extension was influential in the Hassidic community expanding from Borough Park to Midwood, further improving patronage on that route.  Today the extension is always crowded with people on it.

            In my short time heading the Bus Planning Department, as it was then called, i added a dozen daily trips to the B49 and lowered the operating cost as well by asking scheduling to change the run on and run off during certain times of the day.
            I also made sure that a bus stop was moved the same day a new escalator opened.  If not for me, it would have taken years until someone complained why hundreds of people a day would have had to unnecessarily walk an extra block between getting off the bus and getting on the escalator.  

            I was the first one who put Kingsborough College/ Manhattan Beach  on the bus routing destination signs to replace Oriental / Mackenzie which was meaningless to anyone from outside of Manhattan Beach.  As soon as I left Buses, the sign was returned to saying Oriental/Mackenzie.  It took five more years for someone else to realize that it made more sense to use neighborhood names instead of obscure small street names.   

            I also refused to have a bus stop changed so that one business could have a place where his customers could stop temporarily to hop in the store to pick up donuts, even after being bribed with a free box of donuts. 

            In fact, the entire reason behind combining subway Operations Planning and Bus Operations Planning was because I was complaining how difficult it was for me to work in East New York with asthma and the diesel fumes from the buses which penetrated the entire building including the offices which the MTA refused to correct.  As my boss put it, “It’s easier to get rid of you, than to fix the problem.” 
            As to why OP wouldn’t take me back, that’s a story for another time.  So don’t be so quick to draw conclusions about me when you know none of the facts.

            My only regret is that I wasn’t given the chance to make more improvements.  We would have had a different and much better system today. 

          • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

            What DO you do now? You havn’t told us.

          • Andrew

            Does it matter?  I’m not claiming that I can do somebody’s job better than they can based on 30-year-old experience.

          • Allan Rosen

            Thanks for helping out but Andrew will not change. That’s just the way he is. Go over to Second Avenue Sagas and you will see he tries to take every opportunity to discredit me. This is fairly mild for him.

          • Flatbush Depot

            I know, I know. I’ve “lurked” on these sites before. I generally agree with him when it comes to the B44 SBS, and that includes most of his arguments about it going on since last September or October or whatever. But let’s not get into that since we’ve already debated it extensively and don’t know much until it actually enters existence. Other than that he can go overboard quite a bit…

            Yes Andrew, I already know Allan’s background. I lurk around quite a bit.

        • Allan Rosen

          Yes the MTA certainly is taking advantage of the system and of its customers. I never proposed changing the system so that someone cannot add small change to complete the transaction. I even stated that the system works fine in those instances. Don’t put words in my mouth or distort the facts like the MTA often does.

          • Andrew

            “If the cost of modifying the system to give the bus operator options, or to accept two cards from one customer is cost prohibitive, the system could at least be modified to return cards if less than half the required fare is left on the card instead of assuming the customer has the correct amount of spare change.”

            So if I have a card with $1 left, that would deny me the ability to use up the card and add $1.25 in coins.

          • Allan Rosen

            Yes. I think that is preferable to losing that dollar without knowing you will be losing it. At least you will still have the card for next time when you do get a chance to go to the subway and combine it with other cards which for some people might not be for another six months. Anybody else want to chime in on that? Of course it would be be better to have both choices of combining cards or using change which might not even be costly to correct. It might even be a simple change too. As I stated, the least they could do is post a warning not to use two cards, but they wouldn’t even do that much because they would rather steal, excuse me, take your money.

          • Andrew

            So if I’m not near a subway station, what am I supposed to do with my $1 card?  I’d like to use it up, but – in order to benefit people who can’t be bothered to figure out how the system works – you won’t let me.

            From what I have read, combining cards is not doable with the current MetroCard system, unfortunately. In a few years the point will be moot.  It would have been simpler to design it like on the subway, where a card with insufficient fare is rejected outright – but then people not near the subway would end up with unusable cards with odd balances.

          • Allan Rosen

            Most people will be near a subway station on at least one occasion within 6 months. You would have to hold the card until then.

            The system could have been designed with both options if anyone would have realized that someday the bonuses would not come out to even rides. As I said, it may not make sense to change it now, but the MTA could still do more instead of claiming it’s not their problem and refusing to make refunds when asked.

          • ajedrez

            What they could do is have the default feature set to reject the MetroCard. Then, if you tell the driver that you have $1.25 in coins, he presses some sort of override button while you dip the MetroCard in and add $1.25.

          • Allan Rosen

            That’s pretty much what I said. Logically, it would make perfect sense. The only question is if it’s a simple reprogramming issue or if it would require new hardware and if so how much would it cost to make the change and if it would be worth it. Also, how far away we are from smart cards would also be a factor in making that decision.

          • Andrew

            That seems quite complex.

            Perhaps the best approach, in retrospect, would have been to require that coins be inserted before the MetroCard.  If you insert a MetroCard with insufficient balance without having first inserted coins, the card would be rejected but you would be informed of your remaining balance.  You could then use a different card, or throw in your coins and then reinsert the MetroCard, or even go home and get change, but you’d never be caught off-guard because you forgot your remaining balance.

            But it’s a little late in the game to make these changes.  MetroCard will be history in a few years.  Until then, keep track of your balance.

          • Allan Rosen

            You are still asking the farebox to reject cards with insufficient balance which is one of the alternatives I suggested in the first place while not adding anything new to the discussion like if a change be a simple reprogramming issue or one involving costly hardware changes?

          • Andrew

            Except that I proposed a way to retain the split payment feature.

            Simply rejecting cards with insufficient balances leaves people not near subway stations with no way to use up a card with a small balance.  (Yet you accuse me of “assuming that everyone has easy access to a subway station”!)

        • Allan Rosen

          I just used Citibank as one example. And of course you neglected to mention that there are ways of avoiding the charges you mentioned. And at least Citibank tells you the charges up front whereas the MTA just takes your money without telling you and won’t even give it back after you notify them you overpaid. Go ahead and distort the facts just like the MTA. That’s why I said you should work there. You’d fit right in.

          • Andrew

            How does one avoid those charges?  I’m not a Citibank customer – my information comes straight from the Citibank website, and it looks like the only way to avoid one of the charges is to sign up for an account with a $30 monthly fee.  Are there other options?  Educate me.

            According to your own article, the MTA farebox tells you to pay in coins.  Why would you then use a second MetroCard?  Where have you seen any reference to an ability to pay a single fare with two MetroCards?

          • Allan Rosen

            You can avoid charges by linking accounts and maintaining a minimum balance which admittedly might be difficult for some. But that really isn’t the issue is it? The banks are telling who what they charge. The MTA is just taking your money without telling you. That is the difference and why it is stealing.

            No, I have not seen any reference to an ability to pay a single fare with two MetroCards, but is that such a wrong assumption for people to make? They assume since the system has the ability to combine MetroCards at subway stations, the firebox also as that ability. A wrong assumption, but not an outlandish assumption. Just because the farebox asks you to finish your transaction with cash, does not necessarily mean it is your only option. The MTA tells you also not to use pennies, when the farebox reads and counts pennies. They just don’t want you to clog up the machines. So why should there be an expectation that the MTA is giving you all the information you need by asking you to pay in cash to finish the transaction?

            They could at least refund $5 to someone who inadvertently overpays on an express bus when requested by mail instead of telling you, too bad, you’re out of luck. No reputable business would treat its customers that way, because they wouldn’t be in business for very long.

          • Andrew

            I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by “linking accounts and maintaining a minimum balance” – and if that’s an option to avoiding the fee, I’m puzzled why Citibank wouldn’t mention the option on its website.  The standard practice is clearly to charge substantial fees for overdraft protection.  Remember, you’re the one who brought up the analogy to overdraft protection.

            And as I’ve pointed out, EasyPayXpress sidesteps the entire issue by ensuring that your card never runs empty.  There’s no fee.  There is a minimum balance (as I recall, whenever your balance drops below $20, another $10 is added), I’m sure that’s lower than the minimum balance Citibank requires for free overdraft protection.Subway turnstiles can’t combine MetroCards – they can only be combined at the booth.  If turnstiles can’t combine MetroCards, I wouldn’t expect fareboxes to combine MetroCards either.  Maybe it’s just me.  And if fareboxes could combine MetroCards, wouldn’t the little message read “ADD FARE” instead of “ADD COINS”?  It’s not like inserting a second card takes any longer than paying in coins, so, if it were an option, there’s no reason it would be discouraged.Just last week, I lost $5 because I tried to use an expired coupon.  The store is still in business, and my $5 loss was my own stupidity for not keeping track of the expiration date.

          • Allan Rosen

            Those options are explained on the Citibank website.

            I don’t think too many passengers would make the distinction between “add coins” and “add fare”. Not everyone is astute as you are. Just like they are not making the distinction that it is the station agent that is combining the cards and not the turnstile.

            It’s not that inserting a second card takes longer or shorter. It’s the fact that it is easier to insert another card than fumbling for or asking someone for change especially when the amount you owe exceeds a dollar. If dollar coins were more prevalent in circulation, perhaps it wouldn’t be that great a problem. But how often do you come across a dollar coin in your change?

          • Andrew

            Um, where on the Citibank website?  My searches revealed the links I gave.  Would you care to provide a link?

            I think anybody with half a brain realizes that a MetroCard isn’t a coin.  People who insert MetroCards instead of coins at that point do so because they aren’t reading the directions.

            How would anyone possibly conclude that a turnstile combines cards?  If you swipe a turnstile with $1.00 and a turnstile with $1.25 at the turnstile, the balances won’t be combined – the turnstile won’t let you in.

            My point was that pennies aren’t listed, even though they’re valid, because it takes longer to pay with pennies than with other coins.  There’s a specific reason they’re not listed.  Why would the MetroCard option not be listed if it were a valid option?

          • Allan Rosen

            I actually briefly saw it mentioned on the Citibank links you provided, but it only flashed for a second or two before being covered up by a message asking me to log in. I’m sure it’s there if you look hard enough, perhaps in a FAQ section if they have one.

            Maybe they aren’t reading directions because they don’t have enough change or wish to spend time looking for it. That still doesn’t give the MTA the right to take their money and give them nothing for it. As to why the sign might not say if a are card could also be used if that were the case, the MTA could have all sorts of excuses like there wasn’t enough room on the display to include that option. Why do some bus route signs only display the destination while other signs also give some route information? The public has learned not to expect logic from the MTA. Do you listen every time on the new buses when you are told to use the rear door only when no one is boarding in the front and that is where you are sitting and is the door closest to your destination? The bus driver should have the ability to override the playing of that message when it is not necessary. So yes, people with half a brain as you put it might ignore that message. Maybe it is the MTA who has half a brain and not the riders.

          • Andrew

            It wasn’t mentioned on my screen.  Just face it – your analogy to overdraft protection was a poor analogy, since overdraft protection nearly always comes with fees substantially greater than the most that anyone could possibly lose by misunderstanding the MetroCard system.

            How is there not enough room for “ADD FARE” when there’s enough room for “ADD COINS”?  Are you seriously arguing that people actually read that, assume that MetroCards must also be OK, and use a MetroCard?  That’s quite a stretch.  I think it’s a lot more likely that people aren’t reading the display at all.  So how would it help to add an additional disclaimer to the display?

    • Allan Rosen

      Also, I stated in the article, upgrading depended on how much it would cost. Adding a new message is simple reprogramming not upgrading. For you to assume that I would accuse the MTA of wasting money without a legitimate reason is wrong.

      • Andrew

        But you yourself said that there already is a message instructing the rider to add the remaining fare in coins!

        I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that you will most likely accuse the MTA of something, regardless of what the MTA does.

        • Flatbush Depot

          Not necessarily. Most, if not all, of the points Allan makes in this article are quite plausible. This is really a situation where the MTA expects everybody to be perfect when in fact nobody is perfect.

        • Allan Rosen

          Doesn’t warn you not to use a second card and as I said, if you have a small amount on the first card, you would need an awful lot of change to finish the transaction, something most people do not have which is what you are asking them to carry if they didn’t write on the card what was left or hot two cards confused. If an express bus, you are asking them to throw away $5 if they don’t have 50 cents or mistakenly inserted the wrong card. That is too much to expect of the passenger. But you know you are right so there is no point trying to convince you.

          As for you’re second point, you are just flat out wrong. I’ve stuck up for the MTA on many occasions such as when they stopped service prior to the hurricane. That’s a fact and you can check it! So quit making up false assumptions.

          • Andrew

            If it tells you to finish your payment in coins, isn’t it obvious that you shouldn’t use another card?  Does a MetroCard look like a coin?  Certainly, a lot of people don’t bother to read the text on the screen.  So how would adding another message help?  That’s another message for people not to read.

            Again, if you’re worried about this issue, it’s really easy to avoid it, by simply keeping track of your balances, or at least by keeping track of when the balance on a card has dropped below the fare.

            Then again, I do the same with my bank account, so I don’t need to pay $10 or more for overdraft protection.  But if I did pay $10 for overdraft protection, why would I be making a fuss over an occasional loss of $5 or less?

            As I’ve said before, this was a design decision, for better or for worse, made in the early 1990′s, under the Stangl administration.  That was the time to speak up.

            By the way, did you know that you can sidestep the issue entirely by signing up for EasyPayXpress?

          • Allan Rosen

            We’ve already debated endlessly if it is the MTA’s problem or the customers’ problem. It is just good customer service for the MTA to make things as clear as possible instead of allowing people to make the wrong assumption.

            By your logic, if people don’t read messages, let’s not tell them anything and it wouldn’t make a difference. Why even notify customers of service changes?  They won’t read the notices anyway? Isn’t that what you are really saying?

            As far as being the time to speak up being the early 90s, you are definitely wrong about that too.  First of all not everyone was around or in New York in the early 90s.  That’s just one flaw in your logic. I guess the time to complain about laws we might not agree with made by our grandparents or poor bus routes was when they were created and now we should all just accept them. 

            Times change and that is exactly what happened in this case. As I said in the article, this was not a problem until recently.  There was nothing wrong with how the system was set up in the early 1990s, and therefore nothing to complain to the Stangl administration about.  That’s because, the rides came out evenly.  Spend a certain amount and get a free ride. It was easy to keep track of.  It is not easy when you are giving 7% bonuses.

            It’ also easy to confuse cards unless as you say you always have a pencil and immediately jot down the amount left on the card. That is an unfair burden to place on the customer.  If you want more people to use mass transit and rely less on their cars, which is one thing I think we both agree with, you make things easy for them, not make it difficult.  You don’t think someone who loses $5 and accidentally pays $10.50 for an express bus trip, might say the next time when he wants to take the express bus and sees he has two MetroCards on them and unsure of the amounts on each, he would just say, the hell with it, I’ll drive instead? You won’t see that in any MTA statistics. 

          • Andrew

            You were around in the early 90′s.  You even worked for the MTA.  You could have brought it up.

            Any system designed to hold value rather than rides can end up with a balance less than the cost of a ride.  Since the day the MetroCard was introduced, people have found themselves with cards with low balances – whether because they added a silly value to begin with, or because they ride both local buses and express buses, or because they ride other systems that charge different fares (like Airtrain and PATH), or because they’ve held onto the same card through a fare increase.  The MetroCard system was clearly designed to function like that.

            The policy of paying a bus fare with a MetroCard and coins was made very clear in the early days of MetroCard.  If you didn’t think it made sense, that was the time to object.

            Can I treat you to a pencil?

          • Allan Rosen

            First of all I do not think that the early MetroCards even had any bonuses. I certainly don’t remember any. I think it started with MetroCard Gold or later. Second, even if it was a small problem back then, it wasn’t a problem to the degree it is now since you no longer get full bonus rides for spending certain amounts of money, but only partial rides.

            And if it was a real problem for that long, shame on them for just ignoring it. And as to why I didn’t bring it up, I’ll answer like any good civil servant, “It wasn’t my job”. And if I would have brought it up who is to say that anyone would have listened? The MTA is notorious more not listening to suggestions made by their employees. I would have had as much success as you would have had.

          • Andrew

            MetroCard Gold, followed shortly by bonuses, started up very soon after the entire system accepted MetroCard.

            But it doesn’t matter, since bonuses aren’t the issue.  On day one of the MetroCard, if you paid $10 for a card – a pretty simple amount – you’d get a card valid for 6 rides with $1 left over.  The options for dealing with that partial balance – adding more value at a subway station, combining two cards at a booth, or adding coins on the bus to round out the fare – were included by design.

            I don’t think it’s a problem.  You’re the one who thinks it’s a problem, not me.  Apparently the designers of the MetroCard system didn’t think it was a problem either.  If you were paying attention back in the 90′s, you could have raised this issue and tried to convince the designers of the system that it was a problem.  It’s (much) too late now.

          • Allan Rosen

            Bonuses are the entire issue since that’s what causes the odd amounts.  If not for the bonuses all that would be required is to take $2.25 cents and multiply that amount by the number of rides you wanted to have a card with no change left over. A person with “half a brain” could figure it out. Even with the bonuses, at first it wasn’t a problem.  If you didn’t want change left over, you would just by a card in $15 increments, also easy to figure out for people with “half a brain.”   That’s why it was not a problem at first.  Now many riders who don’t want change left over believe it is a problem.  But the MTA likes it that way, because all those nickels and dimes people throw in the garbage daily really adds up over time for them, more money they are not entitled to but I wouldn’t call that stealing, since when someone throws away a card with value on it, he knows exactly what he is doing.  However when the farebox eats his card without giving him credit for what was left over, most are not aware of that. 

            It still wasn’t a problem when the fare was raised from $1.50 to $2.00. It only became a problem more recently especially when the MTA started reducing the bonuses so that it now takes an application to compute how not to have change left over.

            Stop with the personal attacks already. Okay?  I was paying attention in the 1990s when it wasn’t a problem and besides I was not working in that area and did not help design the system. And the MTA rarely listens to suggestions made by its employees anyway.  You make it seem as if I would have told them there was a problem and how to correct it, they would have listened. Now that’s a good laugh.

            You say that it makes no sense to fix the problem now since smartcards will be here in a few years. The MTA has money when it wants to.  According to your SBS report link, the 2009 Bx 12 SBS fare machines which went in to use in 2009 were replaced for better ones in 2011. Why bother if in a few years they will be obsolete anyway because of smart cards?  And why should they have only been good for two years? Sounds like a waste of money to me.  

          • ajedrez

            Technically, even then there was the potential to have money left on the MetroCard: When the express fare was $3 and the local fare was $1.50, you might have a MetroCard with $1.50 and accidentally use it on the express bus. Of course, it wasn’t that likely.

            But I think the fare structure should be simpler. This is how I think it should be:
            * 20% bonus on the MetroCard
            * $2.50 base fare (MetroCard users basically pay what they do now, but coin users get hit)
            * $5.00 express bus fare off-peak (helps build off-peak express bus ridership)
            * $6.25 peak express fare (helps shift a little bit of demand to off-peak periods)

            That way, there’s less potential to have odd amounts on the MetroCard. Out here in SI, we can’t easily get to a subway station to refill a MetroCard, and there are a decent number of people who might take the local bus on some days and the express bus on others and it would make it easier for them to remember how much they need.

          • Allan Rosen

            What’s the bonus now? Isn’t it 7%. Whatever number you pick, it has to work out economically for the MTA.

            I guess under your plan someone who is a quarter short on his MetroCard would have to insert an additional 50 cents. Still better than losing the $2 if he doesn’t have the quarter under the present structure. Your express bus plan sounds good in theory but aren’t most of those rush hour trips job related so those trips can’t readily be shifted to the off-peak.

            The problem with off-peak express buses is that many buses especially the ones run by MTA Bus are almost empty. They either need to reduce service to one bus every hour or two or as a friend of mine suggested, not run so many to the Queens line and have the one or two people on those buses transfer at no charge to a local bus that operates on the same street five miles or so from the city line and shorten the express routes during the off-peak. They would have to alter their guidelines to do that but MTA bus doesn’t really care how inefficient they are since the City makes up whatever they lose.

          • ajedrez

            Well, if nothing else, the MTA gets additional revenue from the $6.25 fare, and maybe it will cause a shift towards people buying the Unlimited Express Bus Plus MetroCard (currently $50 a week. It would be around $55 under my plan), and people would use it for off-peak rides since they would be free because they already have the MetroCards.
             
            And the $5 off-peak fare would help fill up those empty buses. The express bus would be double the price of the subway (instead of about 2.6 times like it is now), and it would especially help on the weekends when there’s GOs. The MTA should really offer it as an alternative on their posters.
             
            For instance, sometimes they bustitute the (2) train from 241st Street to 180th Street. They could say something like “take the shuttle bus to 180th Street. Passengers going to East Midtown can also take the BxM11 and walk from 5th Avenue to their destination” and then they could put some BxM11 schedules under the poster. The same thing for the Brighton Line and the BM3. I’m sure that a lot of people live in neighborhoods with express bus service and don’t even realize it, and perhaps they can be convinced to permenantly switch to the express bus, building a stronger ridership base. You might still have buses once an hour, but at least they will be more full.
             
            As far as the MTA Bus lines go, hopefully they get rid of that blank check agreement and just give them the money directly, to give them an incentive to cut costs. I mean lines like the BM4 shouldn’t really exist (and even if off-peak ridership increased, it still wouldn’t be to the point where it would be justified to keep it).

  • Anonymous

    It’s not theft.  If you’re not smart enough to have read the ‘how to use’ instructions, which haven’t changed since the card was introduced almost 20 years ago, it’s your fault, just like overdrawing your bank account.  From your own ‘article’ ” the farebox instructs you to pay cash if there is less than a full fare on the card.”  Whose fault is it if you are unable to follow instructions?  Not the instructors, but YOUR OWN.

    • Allan Rosen

      But is someone wrong to assume that they could also pay by combining two cards if he doesn’t have correct change?  There are no instructions not to do so.  

      This is the analogy I gave on Buschat in answer to the question:  Who is it up to to make sure you have enough credit available when you use your card? Yours, or the merchant? 

      “If you have your money in two separate pockets and give the merchant everything in your right pocket and see you need more money so you go into your left pocket to retrieve the rest and finally pay the full amount which you then hand over.However, the merchant only counts what you gave him from your left pocket because he already put the amount from your right pocket in the register, so he then asks you for more, wouldn’t you then call him a thief?”  That is exactly what the MTA is doing.

  • Arnie the K

    What about fare readers that don’t work? The TA is not properly maintaining these babies.

    • Allan Rosen

      I assume you are talking about the ones in the subways. That’s the first time I’ve heard of that. If you report it to a station clerk that one isn’t working, and it is still not fixed within 48 hours, come back and tell us. If it really is a widespread problem, then that would be the MTA’s fault. If it is just a few, it’s the customers’ faults for not reporting them. You can’t expect everything to work flawlessly all the time. That is just unrealistic and unfair. Things do break down. See Andrew, I sometimes do take the MTA’s part.

      • Andrew

        And I’m afraid I have to disagree with you here.  The MTA should be maintaining the readers better.  I’m not sure if the problem is one of understaffing or one of existing staff not doing their jobs properly, but it’s certainly not the customer’s job to call in a malfunctioning reader!

        • Allan Rosen

          No it shouldn’t be the customer’s job but if it means they will get repaied quicker, by all means, they should report it.

          As for the causes, it may be neither of the two you mentioned. It might just be that they are not aware it is broken. I doubt it if they employ a staff just to go around to check if the readers are working. Their priority is to fix broken equipment not to check if they are broken. Broken bus digital destination signs are repaired within 48 hours after they are reported broken so I would expect the same response with card readers. If they are not reported, they could remain broken for 6 months. There is no staff to check if the signs are working or not. I once saw a bus with the same broken sign for several weeks. I reported it and it was fixed the next day. Luckily the person in charge of taking the reports sat less than 50 feet away from me.

          I wasn’t suggesting that the customer call in the broken reader, but merely report it to the station agent. He is the one who should call it in.

          Not that it’s right, but doesn’t the City ask everyone to call in potholes? Shouldn’t DOT be fixing them on their own? It doesn’t make much sense for them to be fixing reported potholes and leaving ones nearby unpatched because they haven’t been reported, but I’ve seen that too when the load gets too heavy during peak pothole season.

          • Andrew

            Most people don’t report defects, nor should they be expected to.

            The city doesn’t ask everyone to call in potholes; the city is simply not liable for damage caused by unreported potholes.

          • Allan Rosen

            Untrue. Every winter during pothole season, Mayor Bloomberg is on TV asking everyone to call 311 to report potholes. Where have you been?

  • Angry customer

    I was trying to purchase a monthly metro and purchased a weekly so I was told to fill out the complaint form for a refund. I filled out the form 3 months ago and still to this day have not received my money back. Y do we have to wait so long

  • mia g

    Don’t get the easy pay

    I got one because I actually use the bus more than the subway and it seemed like it would be more convenient. For the first couple months, it was super, but then the troubles started. The card expires (how odd) and just stopped working. Maybe my fault for not noticing, but when I checked in with the help line, the recorded message says I should get a new card 2 weeks before the old one expires. One full month later, I can’t ever get through to the help line (after 30-45 min holding, they just disconnect) and I have tried daily . I have emailed daily also, and have gotten no reply. I tried also contacting MTA corporate office. So I am out 30$ that is still on my card. My credit card company says that the charge is too old to dispute, and MTA simply can’t be contacted or wont respond. It is also impossible to cancel the autopay – you can only update credit cards. So if you should decide you want to stop the service, you can’t recoup the money on the card because once you go below you refill level it will automatically charge you again

    • Allan Rosen

      Since all else failed, send your complaint to the President. Carmen.Bianco@nyct.com. Make the subject line catchy to get his attention. If that still doesn’t work, contact your local elected official.