The MTA, the Airtrain, and Out-Of-Towners: Corporate Incompetence, or Clever Way to Add Profit?

wpid-20140425_081235.jpgIf you take the Air Train to JFK with any regularity, you know how the $5 one-way fare can eat into your travel budget. A few months ago, I learned that you can buy a 10-ride pass for just $25, as opposed to paying $5 every time you go to or from JFK airport. If you commute to the airport for frequent travel, or are an airline employee, then paying $25 for ten rides is obviously a much better bargain than springing the full $5 every time.

Since my family does a fair amount of travelling to and from the city, we’ve started to buy the $25, 10-ride cards. Yes, there’s always the risk of losing the card between trips, but if you’re careful to keep track of it (I carry mine with my regular unlimited metrocard) then you can save 50% of the cost of travel to and from the airport from the subway stations at Jamaica or Howard Beach.

Unless, that is, you ask an MTA employee whether it’s OK to add money to your card for the regular subway. And they tell you yes. And you believe them. That happened to my sister this morning. As she made her way back to JFK, she asked a station attendant whether it was OK to add money for her subway ride to the same metrocard as her Airtrain fare. They told her yes. She took their word for it.

Upon reaching the Airtrain station, she found out that adding $2.50 for the subway ride had wiped the remaining 5 rides from her Airtrain metrocard. So she had to pay a full $5 fare to take the Airtrain to JFK, because she’s on a budget, doesn’t make a lot of money, and didn’t have an extra $25 lying around once she’d been robbed of the remaining rides on her card thanks to wrong advice from an MTA employee.

What can she do about the situation, or to get her money back? Pretty much nothing. I’ve asked her to send me a photo of the back of the card, on the chance that the MTA can trace how many rides were used from the card’s serial number, but from past experience I know that even if that’s possible, the MTA has a charge for processing refunds that makes it a waste of time to even bother. Even if you buy a card from a vending machine and it doesn’t work, they charge you enough to process the paperwork for a refund that it usually negates the amount you’d get back (unless you carry hundreds of dollars on your metro card, and who does that). I know that because several years ago when my brother and I bought cards for the Air Train and then they showed zero fare when we tried to use them, the Penn Station ticketing attendant’s advice was, “Always buy from the ticket window because if the machine messes up we can’t help you, you have to write in and they’ll charge you ten dollars per ticket to process your refund.” The Airtrain/Subway tickets we had purchased were a total of $7.50 each.

It seems wrong to me that a public service company like the New York City MTA can lie to out-of-towners with seeming impunity, with the result being that their pockets get lined by nonredeemable fares. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am angry. My sister didn’t deserve to be lied to, and if the employee had given her the correct information she still would have had to pay an extra dollar for the extra metrocard she would have had to buy, so the MTA would still be making extra money on the transaction.

I’ve sent a few tweets (included below) to both the MTA hashtag and the MTA Twitter account, and I’d just love to hear their explanation for why it was OK for their employee to give my sister false information that led to her being out a total of $17.50.

Storify story included below.


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