Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Turnstile Is Sending A Message!

As I sit here watching the Super Bowl, my mind has wandered to subway behavior. Why, you ask? Because my mind always wanders to train behavior. And because I haven't written a blog entry in a week. So, it's time to delve into subway behaviors. 

Mostly I write about things I see on commuter trains, but the subway has its own flavor of oddities. Much has been said about the things people do on the subway, such as eat, dance, preach, hug the poles, sell candy, and sing. But I'm not going to do that. No, I'm going to look at the things people do before even getting to the platform.

Hovering around station entrances on a phone call. Many times I've walked briskly to the subway, only to find myself dodging people standing in front of the entrance. Why are they standing there? They're talking to each other, finishing up a call before going down and losing cell phone connectivity, or trying to figure out what to do next. Should I walk? Take the train? Decision-making can be tough. 

What's the big deal about this? I'll tell you. If you need to go to the bathroom when on a drive, do you stop in the middle of the road so you can relieve yourself, blocking other cars from passing by? I hope not. Don't you pull over to the side of the road before you take care of your business? Yes? That's what I thought. So why is it ok to stand in front of the stairwell and chat on the phone? The rule is simple. If you approach the entrance, enter the station. If you need to perform an activity that is not related to entering the station, move to the side.

The turnstile is telling you something! Sometimes you swipe your MetroCard and a message pops up indicating "Insufficient Fare." Hey, it happens to all of us. You don't always know your card balance until you swipe. But I've seen people who refuse to take that message for an answer. They stand at the turnstile card reader with that MetroCard and swipe several more times. 

Swiping five additional times doesn't change the reality that the card requires a refill. Said differently, you don't have enough funds to ride the train. To make it clear, you need to put more money on the card. To really drive home the point, your funds are in a deficit. What I'm trying to say is that a lack of money on the card is your key issue. 

People With Multiple Worthless MetroCards. This is an extension of the point above. Some people approach the turnstile with many cards and swipe them as though they were at an unfamiliar door with a janitor's ring of keys. How did they get so many worthless cards? 

If they scribbled clubs, hearts, spades, diamonds, and numbers on them, we could play Canasta. Sir, you should go to the friendly token booth (nice anachronism, huh?) worker and ask to combine the values on the cards. I've got places to go.

MetroCards have been around since 1997. They replaced tokens, which had been the subway payment method for about 829 years. The MTA will at some point retire MetroCards in favor of a "tap-based" turnstile payment method. I don't care if they change the system to wampum and trinkets. Why? It's not because MetroCards are a problem for me. I like the idea of a new payment method, because it will create new idiosyncrasies.

New idiosyncrasies will give me brand new blog material.  I'll hover around station entrances watching people try to master the new method. I'll try to stay out of your way if you're in a hurry.
Happy and safe commuting, and may you encounter uncommon sense.
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  1. Don't forget -

    1. The really odd "Swipe again at this turnstile" message. What breaks if I use a different turnstile?

    2. People who pass through the turnstile and think, "Sure, the platform is empty, but this is a perfectly good place to stop. It's not like anyone else will come through the turnstiles after me."

    3. People who think "I must be first on the train. And I must wait just inside the door."

    4. People who step onto the car...then look around like they've never been in a subway car before. (Personally, I've never seen a subway car as a sightseeing opportunity.) Meanwhile, all the empty seats fill up.

    I could go on... :-)

    1. Excellent points. "Swipe again at this turnstile" always frightens me. I feel as though my MetroCard will be compromised if I try a different turnstile.

      The "stop for no reason" people are an epidemic in all walks of life. Their natural habitat is the grocery store, in the middle of the aisle.

      The "wait just inside the door" people are often performing a strategic activity. I know that when I get on the A train at Penn, I know that standing by the door is most desirable because that side doesn't open again until Chambers Street.

      The tourists who stare admiringly? Well, that's a topic for another blog post.