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Thread: Farewell, Subway Token

  1. #1

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    March 15, 2003
    Farewell, Subway Token

    Subway tokens through the decades, from the original 1953 model, left, to the current, and final, version.

    The New York City subway token, tool and talisman of city life since Vincent R. Impellitteri was mayor, is dead at age 50, transit officials said yesterday.

    The causes of death were technology and economics.

    Tokens will be sold for the last time on Saturday, April 12, said Lawrence G. Reuter, president of New York City Transit. After 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, May 4 — the moment at which fares will rise, with the price of a single trip jumping to $2 from $1.50 — any token plinked into a turnstile will be spit back out. Bus fareboxes will still accept the token — along with 50 cents cash, thank you — through the end of the year.

    The death of the token has been a planned, gradual demise, conceived in the 1980's and set in motion in 1994, when the first electronic turnstile was installed and the first MetroCard sold. Handling all those tokens — emptying them from turnstiles, delivering bags of them to token booths, counting them out to riders — is cumbersome and expensive, and transit officials have long looked forward to the day when most of their business with riders would involve exchanges of electrons, not metal and paper.

    "In this time of dwindling resources, the shift away from tokens will allow us to be more efficient," Mr. Reuter said.

    The token can look forward to an afterlife as a nostalgia fetish, a cherished little piece of a bygone New York, like Brooklyn Dodgers gear, Automats and Checker cabs. "Tokens will become cuff links and buttons and watches and who knows what else," said Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New-York Historical Society. But for now, there is little lament for the token's passing. "All that rummaging through your change, all that standing in line at the booth — who needs it?" Mr. Jackson asked.

    Tokens are used for only about 8 percent of transit rides. When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority held public hearings on the fare increase, no more than a handful of people stood up to protest the elimination of the token.

    "We're not in mourning," said Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, the riders' advocacy group. "The MetroCard is a better deal for riders. I have such powerful associations with the token from most of my life, so yeah, there's some emotional attachment, but it's no more than nostalgia."

    The agency will not say what will become of the remains, 60 million of them, except that it has no plans for disposing of them.

    The system has kept older tokens in storage, occasionally dangling the prospect of bringing them back into circulation, but that never happened.

    The token was born in 1953, and then, too, the reasons were technology and economics.

    For 44 years, until 1948, the subway fare was a nickel. Not five cents, but a nickel, the only coin that would open the turnstile. For five years after that, it was a dime (not two nickels or 10 pennies).

    Then, with the fare set to rise to 15 cents, engineers could not design a turnstile that would accept two different coins. Thus, the token.

    In fact, there have been five tokens over the half-century, not counting commemorative ones issued in 1979, to mark the 75th anniversary of the subway system, and 1988, for the opening of a set of new stations in Queens. The original, a small disc with the letters "NYC" in the middle and the "Y" cut out, lasted the longest, 17 years, through multiple fare increases. A larger "Y" cutout token followed in 1970, and it was retired in 1980 in favor of the solid brass token. The "bulls-eye" token, with a lighter-colored center, was introduced in 1986, and finally, in 1995, came the last incarnation, with a pentagonal cutout in the center.

    Each fare increase over the last five decades has been accompanied by a bluffing game by the transit system as it sought to prevent hoarding of tokens at the pre-increase price. Each time, officials said they would either introduce a new token or bring back a former one, but just as often, they announced at the last moment that the token would not change.

    New York's was one of the last major transit systems to adopt an electronic fare system, and it is hard now to remember that just six years ago, transit officials were still complaining about how reluctant New Yorkers were to use the MetroCard. Not until the card was sweetened in the late 1990's with volume discounts, free transfers and weekly and monthly passes did it really catch on.

    "I don't know if New Yorkers are any more resistant to change than anyone else, but obviously, for a lot of people, being forced to move to the MetroCard was like my 84-year-old mother being forced to learn to use the computer," said John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

    "It's not as though the token was a cherished part of life, though I think it will become a cherished relic," he said. "It was just what people were used to."

    The token is survived by the turnstile and the farebox, as well as Fun Pass and other members of the MetroCard family.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    April 8, 2003
    A Disgusting Practice Vanishes With the Token

    In five days, when the last New York City subway token slides through the slot of the last booth to sell them, few people will notice and fewer will care. There will be no official ceremony to mark the passing. If there is music in the background, it will not be taps; it will be the bleating song that turnstiles sing to valid MetroCards.

    But off in a corner, hidden in the shadows where things begin to smell bad, at least a few observers will notice and care quite a lot. They belong to a sad and desperate breed of criminal that has been in decline for a long time, one that will soon become as irrelevant as bootleggers and horse thieves.

    Officially, the crime is classified as theft of Transit Authority property. But among transit police officers it is more accurately and less delicately known as token sucking. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it is exactly what it sounds like.

    The criminal carefully jams the token slot with a matchbook or a gum wrapper and waits for a would-be rider to plunk a token down. The token plunker bangs against the locked turnstile and walks away in frustration. Then from the shadows, the token sucker appears like a vampire, quickly sealing his lips over the token slot, inhaling powerfully and producing his prize: a $1.50 token, hard earned and obviously badly needed.

    Even among officers who had seen it all, it was widely considered the most disgusting nonviolent crime ever to visit the subway.

    "It gave you the willies," said Brendan J. McGarry, a veteran transit police officer. "We've had cases every so often, these guys would end up choking and swallowing the tokens. Then what do you do? You've got to wait for the evidence to come out?"

    In truth, most token suckers usually had enough evidence already in their pockets to warrant locking them up — some of the most dedicated were able to extract more than $50 worth of tokens a day. And deterrence, when dealing with someone willing to clamp his mouth to one of the most public surfaces in all of New York City, was next to impossible.

    "These guys were on their last legs," Officer McGarry said. "If they were going to jail, it was just an inconvenience for them." (In an interview with a reporter for The Los Angeles Times in the early 1990's, one token sucker acknowledged the depths of his desperation. "Hard times makes you do it," he explained, adding: "Anyways, I've kissed women that's worse." )

    Eddie Cassar, a retired transit officer, recalled making his first token-sucker arrests in the late 1970's, and by the time he retired in 1982, there was already a dedicated corps of inhalers, mostly teenagers and homeless men, working the station at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue. By 1989, with the rise of the crack trade, token sucking reached almost unbelievable proportions.

    During a typical summer week, repair crews were sent on 1,779 calls to fix turnstiles in a system that had 2,897 turnstiles in all. More than 60 percent of the calls involved paper stuffed into the token slots. (A related subway crime involved people who disabled the turnstiles and charged riders cut-rate fees to enter through the gates, to which they had stolen keys. These criminals, somewhat higher on the social ladder than token suckers, were known affectionately as trolls.)

    Occasionally, methods other than incarceration were employed to dissuade the suckers. Token booth clerks were known to sprinkle chili powder into the token slots most often jammed. Some officers resorted to spraying a small amount of Mace around the regular slots and keeping an eye out for the usual suspects. The ones with bright red lips were then arrested.

    By the time the MetroCard was introduced in the mid-1990's, token suckers could sense the beginning of the end. But Officer McGarry said that even the introduction of advanced new turnstiles did little more than thin their ranks. By the late 1990's, he said, he was on a first-name basis with many of the sad token holdouts, who would probably never adapt to MetroCard crimes.

    "It was almost like having some kind of rapport with these guys," he said. There was one tall, thin homeless man, he said, who was even pleasant about the whole process. "He'd say, `Hi, Mac,' when I caught him. And I'd say `Hi' back, and he'd just walk up to me like a poodle, and I'd tell him to turn around and put his arms behind his back."

    Lately, he said, he spots only three old-time token suckers around the Midtown area and only one who is still known to be at it occasionally. But Officer McGarry can't even remember the last time he locked the man up. In the end, he said, technology may have killed the token sucker. But the crime itself did a pretty good job.

    "These guys had a lot of various diseases," he said. "You name it, they had it. You don't last too long in that line of work."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    The human nature is full of surprising resources.

  4. #4

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    That reminds me, I have a token sitting in my desk drawer that I keep forgetting to use...

  5. #5

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    Be honest, you want to keep it, right ?

  6. #6

  7. #7

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    Sorry, Fabb. *I used it -- *To go check out the Libeskind model at the Wintergarden, actually.

  8. #8

  9. #9

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    Great, they ship overseas (unlike the MTA shop). I might get the key ring.

  10. #10

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    MTA may be sitting on a mini gold mine. What to do with a mountain of tokens? May help them out of their [ahem] financial difficulties.

    I was also thinking about that key ring.

    (Edited by ZippyTheChimp at 12:36 pm on May 26, 2003)

  11. #11

    Default Farewell, Subway Token

    August 24, 2003


    Bending the MetroCard, Breaking the Law


    The token suckers are gone. The MetroCard benders are here.

    Once, there was the clatter of tokens being dumped into pails from turnstiles, to be returned to station booths and resold. Now, there is the litter of discarded MetroCards.

    The New York City transit system is completing its high-tech revolution in fare paying. The MetroCard, introduced in 1994, became the sole way to buy a subway ride in May, and it will become the only currency on buses on Jan. 1.

    With the switch have come more sophisticated system-beating schemes. Before, thieves broke open turnstile boxes to steal tokens wholesale. Or they stole them one at a time by jamming turnstile slots with paper; after a deposited token became stuck and the frustrated passenger left, the culprit slipped in to suck the token out.

    With MetroCards, fare filchers found that bending or folding a card in a certain place destroyed the data that deducted value when a ride was taken. While some benders used the extra rides for themselves, others "sold swipes" at a discount.

    When turnstile reprogramming in 1998 ended that scheme, another bending ploy permitted one illicit extra ride on a discarded card.

    Last week, a spokesman for New York City Transit said card benders were stealing an average of 500 rides on a weekday, worth $260,000 a year.

    By contrast, the system lost $5 million last year to turnstile jumpers, illegal gate entrants and the like, transit officials say, though they are pleased that this compares with $70 million a year in fare and token thefts in the late 1980's.

    Environmentally, discarded MetroCards are still "not a major problem in terms of bulk," the transit spokesman, Paul Fleuranges said, though his agency urges riders to refill cards rather than buy new ones.

    There is an economic reason as well. A new card costs the agency 7 cents, he said, and an average of 14 million are sold per month. Only 3.5 million of those are refilled.

    Yet the transit agency itself does not reuse cards discarded in the station receptacles meant for them and on the station floors not meant for them, he said. Why? The cost of retrieving cards "from all the possible discard locations," he said, "and then reprocessing them, would be prohibitive."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  12. #12

  13. #13


    New York Daily News -

    Last token falls into history


    Friday, January 2nd, 2004

    Just before the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve, somewhere in the city a token dropped into a bus farebox for the last time.

    Now Transit Authority officials are on the hunt to find the token that marked the end of an era.

    The metal disks - for 50 years an emblem of New York grit, as much as the sprawling subway and bus system they unlocked - have been useless for train rides since May, when the fare jumped to $2 from $1.50.

    Though tokens are still used by riders on the Roosevelt Island tram, as of yesterday they can no longer be used toward the fare on city buses.

    Transit officials were unsure whether they would be able to pinpoint where and when the last token was plunked. But transit buffs said the hunt is worth it for the sake of history.

    "It's an interesting question," said Paul Kronenberg, a subway buff whose Brooklyn home is decorated with transit memorabilia. "[But] I'd be surprised if they could cough up that kind of information."

    Tokens already are a collector's item.

    On the online auction site eBay yesterday, bidding had reached $49 for a collection of 12 tokens from 1953 to present. The phased-out $1.50 tokens were going for about $3.

    Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said the end of the tokens marks progress toward a modern era of transit.

    "The token has nostalgia, but the MetroCard is something we pushed for for years," said Russianoff. "The token was just never going to survive."

    The token's demise is the direct result of the rise of the MetroCard, which was launched in 1994 and offers riders discounts.

  14. #14


    January 4, 2004


    One Last Look at a Tiny Icon That Helped Define the City


    On Wednesday at midnight, the venerable New York subway token completed its final circulations through the city's turnstile system. Its birth and death dates are now set: 1953, when 48 million were minted, each one good for a 15-cent ride, to 2003, after which the token was replaced by the MetroCard.

    Compared with the flexible MetroCard, the token was dumb. But it had a totemic durability, even as it passed through seven styles, from the original with the small cutout Y to the more recent brass and metal alloy bull's-eye.

    Ric Grefé, the executive director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, an advocacy group for good design that has an office on Fifth Avenue, spoke to Jim O'Grady about the loss of this symbol of the city.

    "What there is to lament is that there are very few enduring icons of urban culture. The token was one. Although it may not seem like an extraordinary aesthetic object, it was something that was immediately recognizable.

    "There are very few objects that have that kind of branding. It was ahead of its time. Branding became an important concept in the 70's and 80's, when the token already had worldwide recognition. It generated a visceral response. Nobody ever mistook a New York City token for a São Paolo token. Nobody ever said, is that a Denver token?

    "Its image was sustained because it was used over and over again. There are very few brands that have had this enduring impact. Nike is certainly a global brand. The Ford logo, dating to the 20's, is another because they never changed the script. The Yankees logo. General Electric. I.B.M.

    "But there is very little in the public sector to rival those identities in the way that the token did, except maybe the American dollar bill. With the token, as with the greenback, the object is the brand. For a while, you could go to the Transit Authority shop in Grand Central Terminal and see the token in a museum case, which is pretty shocking because you could also go downstairs and buy the thing for $1.50.

    "One recent token had steel in the middle. But the token was best when it was a single piece of brass, especially the one with the 'Y' punched out of it. That's when it had design integrity.

    "There's a term in the restaurant business, when you pick up a melon, that 'it gave good weight.' Well, the subway token gave good weight. It did not feel trivial. It was of a scale that when you reached in your pocket, you could normally distinguish it from the other coins in there. Its sustainable reuse was pretty impressive.

    "And now it's gone. The demise of the token is part of the end of an era of everyday objects. Soon the only brassy artifact of New York culture will be the attitude itself."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  15. #15
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003


    I still have a few lying around, if anyone is interested...

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