In 1982, when I moved to New York City from San Francisco, the subway token cost seventy-five cents. Last week, subway fare rose again. The single fare is now $2.75, an increase of 266.6667% in the course of 33 years.
Almost every two years the Metropolitan Transit Authority increases subway fare. It was not always this way. From 1904 through 1948, a single fare was a nickel. It doubled to a dime in 1948 and increased to fifteen cents in 1953, the year the subway token was introduced because turnstiles could not accept two different coins. It stayed at that price point until 1966 when it was raised to twenty cents. On New Years Day 1970, that decade rang in with a Bronx cheer when subway fare increased 50% to thirty cents. Over the course of the next forty-five years, the increases steadily piled on. In 2003, the token was rendered obsolete in favor of the Metrocard, which offers free transfers.
The monthly Metrocard has the best volume discount. It has been my go-to means of transportation tool since 2004. That was the year that I quit a job that was walking distance from my hovel in favor of my current Grind in lower Manhattan. Eleven years ago, a 30-day Metrocard cost $70. This year, on March 22nd, that fare card increased from $112 to $116, a 3.5714% increase, if I were the type obsessed with industrial strength nitpicking percentages. This monthly pass is a good deal for someone who rides the subway as frequently as me. I average around sixty rides a month, so each fare costs about $1.93, less than what a single fare cost in 2003 when it held steady at $2 until June 2009.
At The Grind, I participate in a program called TransitChek. $28 is deducted from my pay every week to cover the cost of my Metrocard. In return, I get a tax break, and every four weeks, a new Metrocard. Easy peasy. When it was announced that the monthly Metrocard was increasing four dollars, I was expecting that my weekly deduction would increase to $29. That didn’t happen. I was suspicious.
Last week, when I received my new Metrocard, I noticed that the card was still at the old $112 rate. The head bean counter at The Grind, Agnes Pennywise-Dollardumb, oversees the Metrocards. She finagled a way to get employees old Metrocards so we would not have to pay the new $116 rate. She didn’t factor that there was a short grace period between old rate cards and new rate ones. All old rate cards had to be activated by March 29th. After that, when inserted into the turnstile, you don’t pass go. Instead, you go straight to a fare booth wielding your defunct card and tell your sob story to a transit worker. Good luck with that.
The Metrocard that I had activated on March 4th, that was good through April 2nd, I had to stop using on March 29th. That’s the date I needed to start using my new card. Therefore, that savings of $4 for my new monthly pass cost me five days of fares that calculates to a loss of $19.30. My friend, Milton, was outraged. He wants me to demand reimbursement from Agnes. That would not go over well. When I politely pointed out the problem with getting us soon-to-expire Metrocards, instead of saying, “Sorry, I screwed up,” she’s stopped speaking to me and now refers to me with a word that rhymes with shunt. She’s prickly about owning her mistakes.
Meanwhile, around four thirty in the afternoon on Sunday, March 29th, I found myself with two monthly Metrocards, one that I had been using since March 4th and the new one I just activated to avoid losing $112. I also had a dilemma: what to do with my old card? Trashing it seemed wrong, but giving it to a stranger might not be easy. New Yorkers are savvy and skeptical. Would someone think that I was punking them? Fortunately, I am fairly articulate, I don’t drool and I look about as terrifying as puppies. I was determined to find someone deserving with standards. It occurred to me that a good place to center my search was the West 72nd Street subway station, particularly at the Metrocard vending machine.
That’s where I encountered Verneda, a seventh grade science teacher, feeding her hard-earned cash into a ravenous MTA Metrocard dispenser. I tested her standards and asked three questions:
Me: Do you love your family? Do you love New York? Are you kind to animals?
She said, enthusiastically:
I handed her her award and urged her to read this blog post. She seemed genuinely grateful to be included in this lame adventure and I’m genuinely grateful to have encountered her.