Cashless Hop Rides on the LIRR
From: "Cashless Hop Rides on the LIRR", The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Grossman, 7/27/10
There are no ticket vending machines in Amagansett's tiny train station. And there are no credit cards accepted on Long Island Rail Road trains.
Renee Osgood, 24 years old, learned these two things the hard way Monday morning. She barely made the 5:58 to get back to New York City, and once aboard, she discovered she only had $14 on her—$9 less than she needed.
Ms. Osgood is part of what Long Island Rail Road officials say is a growing trend of debit- and credit-card-reliant young people who get on trains from the Hamptons without cash and without prepaid tickets.
They're creating hassles for conductors, who have to take down the names and addresses of ticketless passengers and give them invoices.
Passengers who ignore the invoices—which say "THIS IS A BILL" in bold letters at the bottom—just keep getting notices in the mail.
Ms. Osgood won't have to go through that. She apologized and told the conductor she wasn't familiar with the train, and that she usually drives back and forth to East Hampton with friends. He let her pay what she could.
"You don't always plan ahead to make sure that you have cash on you," said Ms. Osgood, who works for an online marketing firm. "I never really carry around cash, anyway."
At a board meeting Monday of the agency—perennially described as cash-strapped itself—LIRR President Helena Williams said the railroad is increasing signage and efforts to remind young riders that they need cash to buy tickets on trains.
"We are increasing our communications and asking younger riders to show up with cash," Ms. Williams told MTA board members.
There are a growing number of cashless passengers riding the LIRR, spokesman Joe Calderone said, but the agency had no specific data beyond anecdotal evidence from conductors.
The problem is especially pronounced on the East End, where the railroad often carries people who don't ride the system regularly and some stations don't have ticket machines, which accept credit and debit cards.
The railroad doesn't have any immediate plans to start accepting credit cards on trains.
But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is studying a systemwide overhaul of the way it collects fares. It's testing a system that allows riders to tap a transponder-equipped device on a reader at subway turnstiles, automatically deducting money from the user's bank account.
People under the age of 35 are far less likely to rely on cash than older generations, said Mike Moebs, the founder of economic research and consulting firm Moebs Services Inc. Those least likely to use cash tend to be among the most technologically savvy, he said.
Eventually, almost all MTA fares will be paid electronically. Chief Executive Jay Walder has repeatedly said the introduction of such a system—and the lower costs associated with it—is a priority.
Written By: rnybeck
Date Posted: 8/31/2010
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