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have I stumbled upon a vast Metro Card conspiracy?
July 19, 2010 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Difference between Monthly and pay-per-ride Metro Cards "swipiness?" (NY Subway here)

I am a typical New Yorker who rolls eyes at the tourists who do not know how to swipe Metro Cards. I usually get a monthly, put it in my wallet w/o any attempt to protect it. I almost never have problems.

When I buy a pay-per-ride Metro Card (say I'll be on vacation for two weeks) I almost always have problems swiping. I invariably get the dreaded "please swipe again at this turnstile."

Since I am using the same technique, store it in the same place, and go to the same subway stations - and - this has happened to me often, as in every time I got a pay-per-ride in the past two years, I am wondering what could cause this.

Hypothesis 1. The monthly needs to store less info on the stripe, ergo, it can lose more data or be dirtier. That is, it can be lossier but still retain enough info to get me into the subway. This works if it is in fact true that the monthly needs to store less info.

Hypothesis 2. The MTA has a secret plan. Since the MTA can't steal a ride from a monthly, there is no incentive to make it hypersensitive, whereas a pay-per-ride, well if they can frustrate enough so that they might be charged twice, and if a large percentage just curse and then go about their business, it can be a nice bit of gravy to their coffers.

Hypothesis 3?

I am aware of confirmation bias, but since my pay-per-ride metro purchases are directly connected to vacation, I don't think I would forget all those times pay-per-rides worked since this happens only on vacation time (say 4 x/year).
posted by xetere to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
 
I personally have never noticed a difference and I use both. But here's my hypothesis:

Maybe you hesitate slightly when swiping a pay-per-ride in anticipation of reading the screen to see how much is left. The result would be that you swipe the pay-per-rides less smoothly than the monthly which causes more errors.
posted by NormieP at 5:11 PM on July 19, 2010


As someone who regularly uses a pay per ride metro card, I have no issues swiping. I've never used a monthly.
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:37 PM on July 19, 2010


I've used both recently and with frequency, and never have trouble. That is, I suppose I do very occasionally have to swipe again, but not more with one kind than another.
posted by rustcellar at 5:40 PM on July 19, 2010


I go back and forth between an unlimited and pay-as-you-go metrocard (unlimited in winter and pay-per in summer as I usually bike commute) and don't notice any difference. In my opinion it's certain stations that are more likely to present problems than others. In my mind I've decided it's because their machines are "dirty" (or maybe just faulty?).

I've always assumed that the tourists have trouble because they haven't mastered the walking swipe. The machines are calibrated to read the cards at a particular speed and angle - that of someone walking and swiping at the same time. Tourists don't have the motion down pat, so their metrocards fail more often.

And if you don't think you can "lose a ride" in a swipe error on an unlimited, I am here to tell you that, yes, it is entirely possible. And then you are at the mercy of the attendant in the booth or stranded there for 20 minutes.
posted by Sara C. at 5:41 PM on July 19, 2010


confirmation bias.
posted by JPD at 6:15 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've used both and never had a problem.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:21 PM on July 19, 2010


Never had a problem with one versus the other. Let me also suggest the EasyPayXpress card, which automatically refills when it needs to (available in pay-per-ride and monthly varieties).
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:37 PM on July 19, 2010


I don't have an answer to your real questions, but as an ex-New Yorker who knows how to swipe, I can say that I have problems perhaps 1 out of 10 times with the pay-per-ride cards, but I often expect it because I can tell I swiped oddly. Non-New-Yorker friends who visit the city with me have trouble perhaps 3-5 out of 10 times depending on how klutzy they are. Perhaps, therefore, you are experiencing a minor inherent flaw -- but it is the swiping incompetence that people really notice in "tourists"?
posted by obliquicity at 7:10 PM on July 19, 2010


I had have the same issue, and I have used both kinds of cards frequently (unlimited in the winter, pay-per-ride all other times). I'm pretty sure the unlimited cards are slightly thicker, which makes it easier to read the card. The pay-per-ride thinness doesn't allow the reader to pick up the information as well.
posted by msk1985 at 7:55 PM on July 19, 2010


I've had the same issue. The turnstiles steal at least one ride a month on my pay-per-ride Metrocard, often negating the "bonus" rides. I'll be glad to go back to an unlimited card next month.
posted by Fuego at 10:11 PM on July 19, 2010


There's no difference in thickness between an unlimited MetroCard and a pay-per-ride MetroCard—the underlying cards are identical.

The real problem is that pay-per-ride MetroCards need to have the new fare written back to the magnetic stripe before they leave the slot (the most important part of "swipe again at this turnstile" is the last two words). I can't think of any reason why it would be necessary to write to an unlimited-ride MetroCard other than on its first use.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:30 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've also never noticed a difference.

And if you don't think you can "lose a ride" in a swipe error on an unlimited, I am here to tell you that, yes, it is entirely possible. And then you are at the mercy of the attendant in the booth or stranded there for 20 minutes.

I could swear this has happened to me before, but I can't cite anything specific.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:03 AM on July 20, 2010


omdtlp, wouldn't the swipe date/time need to be written on an unlimited-ride card? is that what prevents you from using one again until 18 mins have passed?
posted by nevers at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2010


I like omdtlp's hypothesis the best. Since I am assuming that on the unlimited, the reader has to check only if the card is valid and that it hasn't been used for the last 18 minutes and set a new timer value, whereas the pay-per-ride has to validate that there is enough money, deduct the amount, write the new amount and update the timer (timers are on all metro cards) perhaps my usual "fast swipe" is too fast for a pay-per-ride.

NormieP I don't think I subconsciously hesitate slightly because I usually forget that I have a pay-per-ride because I usually have a monthly (only get a pay-per-ride when I know I will be on vacation and thus have no need for the unlimited and the pay-per-ride is a better deal)

I am glad a few other people have noticed this. I also asked friends and quite a few people have reported having the same issues, ONLY with pay-per-view.
posted by xetere at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2010


wouldn't the swipe date/time need to be written on an unlimited-ride card? is that what prevents you from using one again until 18 mins have passed?

Since the 18-minute limit applies only at the same station, you should be able to have all the turnstiles at a given station communicate with each other to enforce the limit (based on serial number) without having to consult the central database. The turnstiles on the TTC in Toronto enforce a similar 15-minute limit on weekly and monthly passes, and I'm pretty sure that the stripe on those is read-only.

Now that I think about it, though, I think buses enforce a similar limit, so it may be that the last swipe time and place can be written if necessary.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:02 PM on July 21, 2010


...and now that I think about it some more, the MetroCard readers on buses all control the speed of the card mechanically, rather than relying on a human to swipe at the correct speed.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:52 PM on July 21, 2010


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