Every day, in NYC, 5.3 million people use the subway (per NewYork.com)
My question to you is: have you ever put enough money on your subway card for a ride, went to swipe it, and got hit with this unfortunate sequence of notices by the machine: swipe again —> swipe again —> insufficient fare?
This issue happens all too often. I felt compelled to share after having a conversation with a friend about the realness of the NYC subway system and how it, at times, takes your money. Our conversation was sparked by the mentioning of Hillary Clinton’s MTA faux pas last month when she was attempting to appear as a normal New Yorker by riding the subway in The Bronx. While many non-New Yorkers watched news sources like CNN or Fox News and passed judgment claiming this was an embarrassing moment for her, I thought that this was a normal occurrence, having been a three-year resident of the Big Apple. Most who’ve placed money on their card enough times have at some point or another found themselves in a situation where the machine takes their money and doesn’t let them through the turnstiles.
My argument to my friend was simple: While NYC didn’t create the system to be faulty and to purposefully remove the hard earned money from the city’s patrons, they are 1000% aware that this issue has been occurring for years. Yet, at this point, it would probably cost a lot of money to really root out the problem as opposed to just dealing with the minuscule percentage of people who are stripped of their money and choose not to embark on the tedious and long mail-in reimbursement process. In the last 6 years, the MTA subway fare has increased from $2.25 to $2.75; but, the problem is, no one is seeing any substantial change to warrant the fare hikes.
Photo by Gabe Rivera
This problem tends to resurface at the intersection between the innovative advances in technology and any kind of government-run program. To put this in perspective — so many techies have introduced the idea of an app that enables people to add money to their meters from wherever they are. For example, if you have 30 min on your meter and you then decide to join a friend for a sit-down lunch, you’d simply be able to log into the city parking app and add enough money to extend to a longer period of time. You may say — ‘That’s genius! Why hasn’t this been more holistically adopted?’ Well, the answer is always to follow the money.
The reality is many city governments rely heavily on the revenue generated each year from parking tickets. That capital enables them to pay the salaries of those meter maids giving the tickets and gives them the capital to do a myriad of other things within their annual budgets. If they allowed some app to come in and essentially partake in eradicating a substantial part of their budget, they’d be hurting for that money.
It’s all comes down to data and money. As it currently stands, NY stands to make more off of the funds of subway riders who pay and then must repay to avoid petty arrests, than if it were to completely fix the problem. Arbitrarily speaking, in a world where private companies desire to operate at 99.9% accuracy and completion rate, the government's threshold is lowered to something like 85-90%. This is the problem with monopolies. If your iPhone unlocked 8 out of 10 times when you entered the correct code, would you still call it a ‘good piece of technology?’
I can't count how many times I've had friends hop the turnstiles out of frustration of dealing with the stolen fares. Has this happened to you before? I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. Have any of you experienced a mysterious disappearance of funds from your MTA card? Let us know about your experience in the coment section below.