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Little Appreciation for MTA Tokens

Buddy, can you spare a token?

With the MTA bus fare going up Thursday from $1.10 to $1.35, the 90-cent token is the best transit bargain in town.

So says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which accepts tokens in lieu of the $1.35 cash fare.

But don’t tell that to bus and train riders who can no longer buy monthly passes.

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Not only will they have to pay more for the pleasure of using public transit, they’ll have to chase after buses and trains with their pockets jingling all the way.

“It’s going to make things a lot more inconvenient,” grumbled Stephen Linowiecki, who rides buses and trains between his Torrance home and Pasadena job but now plans to return to solo commuting.

He may be alone in his car but not on the freeway. The MTA has projected at least a 5% drop in ridership because of the new fare policy.

Linowiecki and other riders are angry over the MTA’s decision last month to increase fares and eliminate monthly bus passes for all but the disabled, elderly and students.

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The passes, which have been in use for decades, were popular because riders did not have to worry about fumbling around for exact change every time they boarded a bus or the Blue Line or Red Line.

MTA officials said they eliminated the passes because the truly disadvantaged couldn’t afford the $42 price and ended up subsidizing those who could. Officials also said the passes were subject to counterfeiting.

In an attempt to soften the blow from the fare hike and elimination of regular monthly passes, the MTA has been promoting use of discount tokens.

The tokens also are less costly for the MTA to process than the dollar bills that are often stuffed into fare boxes.

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“We are encouraging people using dollar bills to use tokens,” said Marcelo Melicor, supervisor of the MTA’s cash-counting operations. “Besides getting a good price on tokens, it can help us. The tokens are easier to process.” Tokens can be counted by a machine, unlike dollar bills, which must be processed by hand.

Currently, tokens are used by only about 6% of MTA riders. The transit agency has increased its supply of tokens from 5 million to 25 million. They’re sold in bags of 10 for $9.

MTA also has increased token sales outlets from 350 to 460.

That may seem like a lot. But try finding a convenient place that sells tokens.

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To make it easier to spot sales outlets, the MTA has supplied stores with signs that read “WOW"--a token appears in place of the ‘o'--to be posted up there with those familiar Lotto signs.

Even with the discount tokens, riders losing monthly passes complain that they will be bearing a heavy burden--namely a pocket full of metal.

“It’s so easy to have a bus pass,” said Julie Walker, who has used a pass to commute from her Hollywood home to Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena. “Sometimes, you don’t have exact change. . . . When you have the bus pass, you just don’t think about it.”

She said that when she has to carry change, “people bug you for money. It’s going to be a hassle.”

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Linowiecki, who lives in Torrance, rides the Blue Line and Red Line to Union Station, where he catches a company shuttle to his Pasadena job. He has used public transit because of the convenience of flashing a $42 bus pass, of which $21 has been paid for by his company. (The passes have been popular among companies, which have offered them to employees at a discount as a way to reduce solo commuting as required by air pollution laws. Many firms now will buy vouchers called TransitCheks, which are redeemable for tokens.)

With passes being eliminated, Linowiecki said he will need to buy a ticket every time he wants to board a train--whether or not he uses tokens.

“Everyone is going to have to use the machines, and that creates a problem, especially if you’re having to run for a train,” he said. “I’m going back to the car. I’m not going to hassle with the ticket machines, having to stop and buy tokens, make sure I have the right change.”

Bill Costley, a paralegal at Arco headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles who commutes by bus from San Pedro, also is unhappy about the elimination of the bus pass.

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“The most outrageous thing is the tokens don’t even cover the whole zone,” he said. “You have to pay cash in addition.”

He figured his $3.35 ride from San Pedro to Downtown Los Angeles will cost three tokens plus 20 cents. (A token is only good for the first $1.35 cents of the fare. Tokens can be used for the additional fare but are worth only 90 cents.)

“So, I’m carrying six tokens plus 40 cents each way every day,” he grumbled. “This is one more thing you have to worry about.”

David Brancaccio, a monthly pass user, recalls being short a dime at a bus stop. “There I was, a middle-class commuter out on the street begging for a dime,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to spend more time on the street corner begging.”

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Exact change, please.

For information on token sales, call ( 213 ) 972-6235.


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