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NewsNew York

MetroCard machines increasingly getting jammed by crafty crooks

More crooks are “swiping” money from the MTA and ripping off riders by jamming MetroCard machines, amNewYork has learned.

The vandals, who force straphangers to buy swipes from them after they bust the machines, are targeting stations without token clerks, according to union leaders and machine repairmen.

An average of 236 MetroCard machines are vandalized daily, with incidents rising 26 percent last month compared to April 2009, NYC Transit data shows.

“We can’t keep up with it. (The crooks) have a big circuit they do,” said Pete Foley, a union leader for those who fix the machines.

The crooks alter the machine to prevent it from taking bills, forcing riders to buy a fare from them or a clerk. Last Monday, the line at the Port Authority token booth snaked throughout the station after a row of machines were jammed.

“It’s an inconvenience for everybody. They’re taking advantage of the system,” said Anthony Lin, 35, a straphanger from Bayside.

“Swipers,” as the crooks are called, have tampered with MetroCard machines for a decade, but they seem to be becoming more methodical. One gang of swipers will bounce among stations on a line, blocking security cameras with tape and using kids as lookouts, transit workers say.

“I think there should be personnel there to prevent that,” said Steve Kenny, a Queens rider.

The crooks tend to target stations without booth workers, such as 174th Street on the D and 168th Street on the A. The cash-strapped agency is laying off station agents to save $21 million a year.

“These guys are not dumb. Anywhere there is no booth, they are running rampant,” one repairman said.

One evening last week, there were 190 service calls that repairmen couldn’t get to in Manhattan because of the backlog of jammed machines, union figures show. The average time a machine is out of service is six hours, according to transit data.

Machine jamming is “definitely an issue,” Transit Police Chief Raymond Diaz said. Arrests for tampering with the machines are low, but police have developed a special unit to target hotspots that’s starting to reduce fraud and vandalism, a transit spokesman said.

(Katherine Lieb contributed to this story)


7,091 incidents of a jammed MetroCard machine in April 2010.
5,620 times machines were vandalized in April 2009.
6 hours is the average length of time a machine is out of service.

(Source: MTA)

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