SEWELL CHAN; Andy Newman and Mathew R. Warren contributed reporting. New York Times
Because of technical problems, scores and possibly hundreds of MetroCard vending machines throughout the subway system could not accept credit or debit card payments at various times on Monday, inconveniencing riders who have come to depend on the machines to pay for their transit fares without using cash.
The problems were particularly acute from about 8:30 to 10:30, at the tail end of the morning rush, and prompted New York City Transit, the arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that operates the subways and buses, to issue a service alert warning riders of the problems.
Officials noticed that the problem started to recur around 5:20, during the evening rush. At about 6, at one entrance to the Times Square station, signs on the vending machines indicated that they were not accepting credit or debit cards, and a station agent opened the exit gate and ushered passengers through without making them pay.
At the Union Square station, the machines were having similar problems, but a station agent told customers that they had to pay by cash, whether at machines that accept cash or at station booths. But at the Pacific Avenue station in Brooklyn, at 7:30 p.m., the machines were working.
''We had a widespread problem this morning, and then we were told it was resolved around 10 a.m.,'' Paul J. Fleuranges, the top spokesman for New York City Transit, wrote in e-mail messages responding to questions about the problem. ''The debit/credit issues re-emerged this afternoon. I do not believe, however, that it is as widespread as it was this morning.''
Mr. Fleuranges added, ''We are still trying to identify the root cause.''
At one entrance at Grand Central Terminal about 8:20 p.m., only one of five MetroCard machines was accepting credit cards. Some riders chose to pay cash while others played what looked like a game of musical machines, going from one to the other until they picked a winner.
''In terms of me trying to get home, it was annoying,'' said Leticia Bido, 31, of Gramercy Park, Manhattan. ''I'm glad I was victorious. I would have hated to have to have gone to an A.T.M.''
The problems highlighted not only the extent to which New Yorkers depend on credit and debit cards for basic, everyday purchases, but also the changes in buying patterns as the MetroCard, introduced in 1994, gradually supplanted the token, which was phased out in 2003. Now, few riders pay the base fare ($2); most buy cards of at least $7 (making them eligible for a 15 percent bonus) or unlimited-ride cards valid for 7 days ($25), 14 days ($47) or 30 days ($81).
There are two types of MetroCard vending machines. Both accept credit and debit cards. The larger model, which is more common, accepts cash and dispenses up to $6 in change; the smaller model does not take cash.
In recent years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has tried to improve security and reduce fraud by requiring passengers using credit cards to enter their ZIP codes.
July 29, 2008, Tuesday Late Edition - Final
Section: B Page: 3 Column: 0 Desk: Metropolitan Desk Length: 581 words