To fight Metrocard fraud, a longer swipe delayBy
For as long as I can remember, the key time for a Metrocard has always involved 18 minutes. The cards, the MTA has long said, cannot be used on the same bus route or at the same subway station for 18 minutes. It’s a delay long enough to frustrate the average straphanging family looking to take advantage of an unlimited ride card, but it hasn’t stymied scammers.
Those who sell swipes have long been a thorn in the MTA’s side. We’ve all seen the folks who stand in station agent-less entrances offering to sell swipes for less than the cost of a ride. Some of them are more menacing than others, and some will go so far to jam up Metrocard Vending Machines to make sure their scams are the only ways into the subway system. I’ve seen them at some of the more desolate entrances to the Columbus Circle station, and they are positioned all over.
For years, the MTA has tried to cut down on these scammers. Summonses are ineffective, and arrests are just temporary setbacks. With only an 18-minute gap between swipes, these scammers can buy multiple Metrocards and simply swipe through the pack until the time is up. Now, the MTA is upping the fight against scammers in an effort to capture more money. As Pete Donohue noted in The Daily News, the authority has quietly upped the swipe time at a few stations and is generally being more aggressive in combating those who are using the same card multiple times at one station.
In the test program, the MTA targeted 28 stations where MetroCard records indicate high rates of fraud. Turnstiles were tweaked to reject a time-based card that had been used in the same station in the previous 36, 48 or 60 minutes. For decades, the lockout time has been 18 minutes, but that’s easily skirted by rotating through a series of cards.
The MTA’s theory: increase the lockout time and a scammer needs more MetroCards to make the investment in time or money worth it. “We know the police are out there doing everything they can to address this problem,” MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said. “We think we can do some things internally to make this kind of fraud less financially attractive.”
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign has some concerns about the plan. “It’s OK to make things harder for illegal swipers with longer blackout periods,” he said. “But transit officials have got to balance that against the mobility of the rest of us, such as when we’ve forgotten something at the office and have to reenter a station. We are New Yorkers and we are always in a hurry.”
As a frequent swiper, I am having a tough time finding too much fault with his idea. While Russianoff is right to raise a concern, do legitimate subway riders swipe in more than once in an hour at the same station? The only time I could imagine doing so is if I swipe in, realize I’ve forgotten something and then have to return home to pick it up. Even then, I could still journey a few extra blocks to enter at a different station.
The MTA has often proclaimed loses due to Metrocard scams in excess of $20 million. That’s enough to save some bus routes or avoid a future service cut. While no business can reduce its bleed rate to nothing, a 60-minute time limit at the same station seems perfectly reasonable to me as the familiar yellow-and-blue fare payment system lives out its last years. Once the Metrocard vanishes, I wonder what future scams will resemble.