- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) The first one was about the size of a dime and didn't cost much more. New Yorkers eagerly stuffed them into bus fare boxes and subway turnstiles and went on their way.

During the next 50 years, the transit token became 10 times as expensive and went through six makeovers, with names such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Bull's-Eye. Artists turned them into key chains and cuff links; some motorists tried to use them to feed parking meters.

This year, they may become a memory.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city's subways and buses, is considering eliminating the token to save the $6 million it costs each year to make the coins and fish them out of turnstiles.

"I'm always saddened when certain things go out of vogue," said Miriam Tierney, archivist at the New York Transit Museum who nonetheless says she uses a MetroCard, the system's fare card, to get around.

The popularity of the MetroCard, introduced in 1995, is a leading cause of the token's demise. The MTA says token use once the only option aside from paying cash on buses, something a small percentage of commuters do has fallen to 9 percent of fares.

Still, some commuters prefer using the tokens with the pentagon-shaped hole in the middle and the words "Good for One Fare," saying it's easier to understand than the rules of the discounted fare cards.

"They are convenient because they don't expire," said Benjamin Duncan, 19. "You can put one in your wallet, and they last forever."

They also move commuters quickly through turnstiles, saving the occasional hassle of swiping a MetroCard multiple times until the card is read by the turnstile.

"If you're in a rush and you have that token," Mr. Duncan said, "you're through."

But even commuter advocates say the token may have outlived its usefulness.

"New Yorkers are as sentimental as the next person, but ahead of sentiment comes bargain hunting," said Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a group representing riders.

He said commuters don't favor tokens like they used to because tokens don't offer discounts. Certain MetroCards offer unlimited monthly, weekly or daily use; others offer 11 trips for the price of 10.

Chicago's transit system did away with its tokens after more than a century in 1999, two years after introducing its fare cards. Smaller systems in Philadelphia and Boston still use tokens. Washington's Metro system uses fare cards.

The MTA targeted tokens as it tried to cut costs wherever it could, after saying it was billions of dollars in the red and may have to raise one-way fares from $1.50 to $2.

Public hearings begin in February on the fare increases, closing 177 token booths and the elimination of tokens. The agency hasn't set a date for eliminating tokens, although spokesman Tom Kelly said it would happen sometime after a fare increase takes effect.

The city's tokens were redesigned several times, usually when fares rose. They were created in 1953, when fares rose from 10 cents to 15 cents and the turnstiles weren't able to accept two coins at once, Miss Tierney said. The token, with the cutout Y in the NYC logo, was remade in 1970 as a 30-cent token. The so-called Small Y cutout became the Large Y cutout.

In 1995 the current, $1.50 Five Borough token came into existence.

Will the disappearance of the token create a collectors' rush? With 2.7 million circulating, probably not, said Clark Rohmer, secretary of the National Token Collectors Association.

"I don't think they'll become any more valuable," said Mr. Rohmer, whose association members get more excited about hundred-year-old, 5-cent tokens that could be traded at saloons for drinks.

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