Legal tender on express buses? Not anymore


Have just $5 on a MetroCard? Forget about using a handful of quarters to make up the difference to the new rate of $6.75 on the BxM2.

Express bus riders better have their MetroCard loaded, because coins are no longer being accepted for fare.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been quite open about its planned fare tweaks — including a 25-cent increase for express bus rides. But the new policy eliminating coins from the longer-range buses was tacked on without much ado.

Now, riders must pay their total fare with a MetroCard, or get left on the curb.

Eliminating coins stemmed from fare hikes, said Vittorio Bugatti, the founder of an express bus advocacy group that has worked closely with the MTA to improve service both here and on Staten Island. Group members report delayed and missing buses to the agency, letting them know when riders in the outer boroughs are being let down.

“When they proposed raising the fare, they began talking about eliminating coins,” Bugatti said. “Their reasoning was that roughly 1 percent of express bus riders use coins.”

MTA officials did not respond to questions behind the change, but Bugatti said it came down to saving a little time and money.

Many Bronxites rely on express buses to take them to and from Manhattan. Large swaths of the Bronx have fewer or no subway stops close enough to make them reliable travel options, Bugatti said. Express bus routes allowed those in so-called “transportation deserts” a fast and direct commute every 10 to 30 minutes.

They also are a lifeline to the elderly and the disabled, especially since there are so few handicapped-accessible subway stations citywide.

Doing away with the fuss of counting coins would theoretically make routes more efficient. But Bugatti feels the MTA didn’t consider that, in order to fill a MetroCard, a rider needs to be close to a train station with kiosks or a store that sells the passes.

“Most of us are not close to a subway station,” he said. “Taking myself as an example, the nearest station would be a 20-minue walk. I have to assume that, once at that station, the MetroCard machines will actually work. Sometimes they’re all down.”

Some stores sell MetroCards, but Bugatti said they are frequently sold out, leaving riders turning to their trusty standby — a pocket full of quarters.

“Let’s say I have some sort of balance on my MetroCard and I can pay the difference with coins, well then I don’t have to go through all that to put more money on the card,” Bugatti said. “I can just get on the bus, dip my MetroCard, and use coins to pay the difference.”

But not anymore. Now regular express rider Mike Hudson has to be diligent how much money is on his MetroCard.

“Since most of the BxM3 commuters live far from the subway, it’s not easy for us to refill our card,” Hudson said. “This no-coin policy has further made my commute worse.

“I have no way to refill my card when going to Manhattan. I can’t dip in two MetroCards to pay for the difference, because it takes the full fare off of both.”

He’ll now have to take the Bx9 local bus to the subway station to refill his MetroCard before taking the 1 train to 42nd Street in Manhattan — all of which adds an extra half hour to his daily commute.

Many regular riders depend on unlimited ride express bus cards, which now cost $62 and are good for one week.

“But if we are not able to buy a new card — or if the machines are down, or the card does not work, or we lose our card — we have to pay money to get on the bus,” said Judith Kardos, a daily BxM1 rider. “How else will we be able to get to work if we cannot use money or cash?”

The express bus advocacy group wants the MTA board to reconsider the no-coin policy, Bugatti said, until it completes a rollout of the new electronic fare payment system, OMNY, or One Metro New York. In that new system — which isn’t expected to roll out until 2021 — riders can pay fares with their smartphones instead of adding value to a physical card.

The new system is being piloted in select subway stations, but is still a few years off from being implemented wide scale on buses.

“We didn’t think the board would vote to (eliminate coins) until they installed the new system,” Bugatti said. “Now there’s a scramble as people realize this is happening.”

The MTA’s solution to the coin problem is the EasyPayExpress MetroCard, linked to a rider’s bank account and refills automatically once the balance falls below a certain amount. But some riders would rather walk than give the MTA direct power over their money.

“The reason why is because EasyPay refills it to a big amount, and it does it automatically,” Hudson said. The card requires a $30 minimum deposit, and then automatically refills another $30 every time the account dips below $20.

“I’d rather do it myself and in person so I can keep track of my transit purchases and refill it only on what I need since I use a mix of single fare and subway unlimited,” Hudson added.

Even some riders who do use EasyPay lament its flaws. Carol Radel signed up for the special fare card to pay for her daily express bus commutes, but it’s not a perfect system. She has two EasyPay cards just in case one is lost or damaged.

“A few weeks ago I forgot my card, so took out that regular card, went to pay, and it had expired,” Radel said. “There is nowhere nearby to get a new card. So even as prepared as you want to be, sometimes you have an emergency where you need to pay cash.”

Implementing the no-coin policy on express buses but not local buses is a slap in the face to taxpayers who have waited patiently for the MTA to provide for their transportation needs, Bugatti said. Taking away payment options will have a real negative effect on the community.

“We have a lot of elderly, senior residents in Riverdale who aren’t necessarily the most mobile, and getting to stores or a subway is a problem,” Bugatti said. “And those are the people who are going to be the most impacted by this plan because they are going to want to pay using coins when in a bind, and they won’t be able to.”