The MTA is moving ahead this year with plans to phase out the MetroCard system. While London, as I wrote late last week, will have its bank card-based system in place by 2012, the MTA’s own process will likely be slower. The authority will soon issue an RFP and will eventually make way for a new system. The MetroCard is on the way out, but it’s going to be a slow death.
When the MetroCard goes, the MTA will begin to save on fare collection costs. By eliminating the proprietary infrastructure behind the MetroCard, the MTA can cut down significantly on the amount of money it spends to collect fares, and thus its revenue from fares will increase. That’s, at least, the intended consequence. One of the other consequence — call it a semi-unintended consequence — concerns MetroCard scams.
Nearly since the beginning, scams have plagued the MetroCard system. In January of 1998, the Daily News marked the end of the first scam when cops and MTA officials busted a ring of scammers who were mutilating MetroCards to game the system.
Over the next few years, MetroCard scams became a low-level annoyance for the MTA. The authority took some heat from politicians in 1999 when it didn’t know how much money it lost due to MetroCard scams. In 2000, a station agent was arrested for MetroCard fraud, and throughout the decade, cops and transit officials continued to vow to crackdown on scammers selling swipes.
Recently, scammers have gotten confrontational. Those selling swipes will harass costumers at stations missing their agents, and they’ll jam machines. In November, the MTA and NYPD started targeting stations from which they’ve received a high number of complaints. Sutphin Boulevard, which was highlighted by the Daily News, saw one scammer make $200 off of a 30-day unlimited card.
Yesterday, The Post again went inside MetroCard scammers. Here’s how the paper reported it:
Swipers, as the hustlers are called, commonly jam the bill slot in MetroCard machines to force riders to buy a “swipe” to get past the turnstile. They charge anywhere from $1 to $2. The fare is $2.50. They exploit flaws in discarded cards that allow someone to get through after repeatedly swiping it, or they charge people to go through a service gate, transit workers said.
At the Fordham Road D station in The Bronx yesterday, The Post found several busted MetroCard machines unable to accept bills — and swipers more than willing to help out. “I’ll let you in. Give me $2. Come on,” one man muttered.
Transit workers were quite hyperbolic about the gangs — allegedly organized — that hang around stations. “It’s like the Thunderdome in some stations,” one said. “I fear for the riding public. It’s dangerous,” another said.
Cops say they’ve been more vigilant about enforcement. After nabbing 74 scammers in December, police arrested 148 people in January. Yet that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Reportedly, vandals broke machines at the Utica Ave. station 198 times in December and at the Nostrand Ave. station 228 times. Lower-income areas of the city appear particularly susceptible to scammers.
For now, the MTA and the NYPD will continue to work together to combat these scammers, but it’s going to require more than just a token effort to nip this problem in the bud. When the MetroCard is retired though, scammers won’t be able to jam fare machines and harass costumers. For those subjected to these scams on a daily basis, that is welcome news indeed.