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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Also, if you legitimately do need to leave and re-enter a station in a short timespan, a station agent can always help. I’m not saying to abuse that, just that people who are legitimately using their metrocards likely won’t be too hurt by this. What’s funny is that I’ve never encountered these shady types, even though I use stations like Columbus Circle all the time, and through the less common entrances too. No, you have to wait 18 minutes. Sounds like your mileage may vary. Yes, happened to me on the bus, I made a run uptown and could not get on the downtown bus for the period. Just a little errand made more difficult for the MTA. They should allow you to travel in the opposite direction on the same line.
And I have had the lock out several times after multiple swipes, not getting in and then seeing card just used. The nice thing about the 18 minute delay is it’s almost something people don’t have to worry about. 200 million in fraud losses, I can see why the MTA would push for it. But, as Dan said, I have never seen people trying to exploit unlimited cards and am concerned increasing the time delay will have minimal impact on the loss. Most subway lines do have a duplicate bus line, so in a lot of cases, you could probably take the bus to the next station. If they are scamming rides, they are also likely doing other things I don’t want. That’s why I always call the police and have them arrested.