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Editorial: A mortifying moment for the MTA

An MTA rider uses a MetroCard to ride

An MTA rider uses a MetroCard to ride NYC transit. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The timing was a split-screen-perfect contrast.

On Monday, as 7,100 Long Island Rail Road commuters helplessly tried to swipe their new December MetroCards to get on city subways, Metropolitan Transportation Authority bigwigs opened public hearings on their upcoming 4 percent fare hikes.

We've supported small and predictable fare increases, but we asked at the same time that riders get a better return on their investment. Competence would be a start.

Monday's hassle for LIRR riders who buy a monthly pass with an unlimited MetroCard coded on the reverse was avoidable. As each card was swiped on the first day of the month, a software error wiped out its value. Unable to pass through the turnstiles, most commuters had to wait on long lines to purchase a ticket. At some crowded platforms, police just opened the emergency gates. Flash the card, not swipe, was the norm for the remainder of the day on subways and buses.

The MTA was quick to say it put safeguards into place so this mistake doesn't happen again, but commuters in the Mail & Ride program were told to buy new monthly passes. The MTA will add $6 to its refund credits to cover the one-day fares some riders paid. But Mail & Ride? The MTA can't yet say when it will deliver tickets straight to smartphones, but this innovation is already overdue -- but still a few years off. By then the MTA must get some more software smarts. Otherwise, asking for more money will be more embarrassing than it was on Monday.


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