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9,200 MTA commuters urged to buy new monthly passes after glitch

A subway rider swipes a MetroCard at a

A subway rider swipes a MetroCard at a turnstile. Credit: Charles Eckert

About 9,200 LIRR and Metro-North commuters have to buy new 30-day MetroCards by Tuesday after their passes were rendered useless by an MTA coding error, officials said.

Some 7,100 LIRR Mail & Ride customers, and an additional 2,100 on Metro-North, swiped the 30-day, unlimited ride MetroCards on the back of their December monthly railroad passes Monday and got a message saying they had insufficient fares. The MetroCards "were not coded correctly" before being mailed to customers, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

Donovan said the problem was the "result of human error" and that the dates defining when the MetroCards would be valid were set incorrectly. "Additional controls have been put in place to ensure that this error does not happen again," he said. Donovan did not elaborate.

The MTA will credit Mail & Ride customers' accounts by $119 -- $6 more than the cost of a new monthly MetroCard, in recognition that some commuters may have paid out of pocket for subway or bus rides Monday morning, Donovan said.

The agency let customers ride trains and buses the rest of Monday after they flashed their monthly railroad passes to station agents and bus drivers. But commuters will have to buy new MetroCards to use the rest of the month.

A spokesman for the Nassau Inter-County Express, which also accepts MetroCard, said there was "a small number of issues" reported on NICE buses. In such instances, bus operators follow a protocol that includes asking customers for alternate methods of payment.

The MTA's request that riders buy new MetroCards outraged LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein. He urged the agency to honor the faulty passes for at least the rest of the week, if not the month, and mail new monthly MetroCards to affected customers.

"Why is the burden on the rider to resolve this issue?" said Epstein, who was among the impacted commuters.

Buying new MetroCards for $113 would be a major inconvenience to many riders, Epstein said, including those who can't buy 30-day MetroCards at their usual stations, get their MetroCards directly from employers, or have several commuters in their household. "It's not a small amount of money," he said.

Donovan said cross-honoring fares at all MTA subway stations for a full month had never been done and would be "less than ideal," because there are not agents at every subway station entrance and because it would be difficult to enforce.

Epstein also blasted the MTA for not communicating with riders about the problem during the morning rush. The LIRR did not publicly acknowledge the situation until after 10 a.m., when it sent out an email to customers and tweeted about "processing error."

The MTA began cross-honoring LIRR monthly passes as soon as it became aware of the scope of the problem, and station agents assisted as many customers as they could with a supply of 100 unlimited, monthly MetroCards kept on hand for riders with technical problems, Donovan said.

That supply was exhausted Monday morning, he said.

John Leviness, 52, of Massapequa Park said he got off his LIRR train Monday morning at Atlantic Terminal to find "confusion."

"There was a huge line of people and I hear all these complaints," Leviness said. Commuters, he said, eventually began entering through the emergency exit door.

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