I still miss subway tokens.
I’ve visited New York City only three times, in 1994, 1995 and 2012. Subway tokens were part of the aesthetic and emotional experience during the first two visits. Dropping a token into the turnstile slot and waiting for the green GO signal did something for my self-esteem, and also gave me a genuine feeling of being in New York. Maybe you had to be there to understand.
In 2012, I bought my first MetroCard. It wasn’t as traumatic as expected, but the magnetic striped card was something I associated with a chain sandwich shop replacing a favorite deli.
(Note: I suspect a favorite deli from 1994 and 1995 was indeed replaced by a mediocre, run-of-the-mill sandwich shop. It was on Lexington. Maybe I’m confusing it with a different storefront. It’s hard to be precise after you’ve stayed away for seventeen years.)
Tokens were expensive for the MTA to handle, and the tokens I remember from the $1.25 days were as heavy as quarters in passengers’ pockets. Tokens were phased out gradually and finally eliminated as passengers gave up on tradition and switched to lightweight MetroCards.
Now the MetroCard is considered obsolete, although it’s still used by the MTA. Cities with more modern systems, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, currently rely on more subtle technology. We just tap the card on a reader, and in most instances we’re all set. Sometimes New York’s MetroCard has to be swiped repeatedly.
In San Francisco, it’s still possible to pay cash fare on buses and the surface portions of the subway/light rail lines (I don’t know the policy in L.A. because I used only the card the last time I was there). Thin paper transfers are issued to passengers who pay cash, and some of those transfers end up littered on the sidewalk. One of the perks of tap card technology is an electronically loaded transfer. Our fine city is tidier now because of it, but a few litterbugs still pay cash. I can tell by looking at the ground when I step outside.
Sometimes, modern technology proves to be a dud. In San Francisco, tap cards have been an improvement. Just sayin’.
Yesterday, Nikhita Venugopal posted an article on DNAinfo explaining how the subway system in New York plans to catch up with more modern systems. If they’re implemented right, the upgrades will make the system safer, cleaner and more efficient. The changes will alter the NYC experience on public transit, and not always in a good way. If you were disappointed when you were told to stop carrying tarnished brass tokens, you may feel the same letdown if you find a platform screen door in your favorite station. The benefits of the screen door are obvious, though.
Here’s a link to the DNAinfo story: