Unlimited or Pay-Per-Ride? Doing the MetroCard Math

A New Yorker of our acquaintance plans to go on vacation in mid-August, and this is taxing his arithmetic skills. There are serious calculations to be made about which type of MetroCard will best get him through the next few weeks.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Life would have been easier if the card providing 14 days of unlimited rides still existed. That would have carried him to his departure date. Alas, the 14-day unlimited card was terminated with the last fare increase, some 19 months ago. Its mourners are presumably few. Judging from Metropolitan Transportation Authority statistics, it accounted for a meager 2 percent of all cards used, as measured by numbers of swipes.

But what to do in its absence? Buy a couple of 7-day unlimited cards? Or maybe go for a 30-day unlimited card, since part of the vacation will be spent in the city? That requires jumping through mental hoops to guess how often he is likely to ride on subways and buses. For a 30-day pass to be worth his while at $104, this fellow would have to make at least 47 trips. Otherwise, he might do better, not to mention save a few brain cells, by going with a pay-per-ride card.

It turns out that he is not alone in performing these kinds of gymnastics. The rhythms of New Yorkers are, in many cases, reflected in their MetroCards.

During the summer, their fare-paying patterns change perceptibly, with a shift away from the 30-day card toward the 7-day and pay-per-ride varieties. A similar change can be detected in December, another season when many people take off from work for long stretches.

The adjustments are not huge: a couple of a percentage points, the transportation authority says. Throughout 2011, the market share for the 30-day card averaged 31 percent. But in August of that year, it dipped to 29 percent. In December, it sagged lower still, to 28.5 percent. When you sell millions of those bits of plastic, any disturbance in the force involves real money.

In case you were wondering — and we’re sure you were dying to learn all this — the most popular type of MetroCard is the pay-per-ride that comes with a bonus. This is the one that requires you to put at least $10 on it. Figures from May, the latest available, show that it accounts for 37.7 percent of all the cards that are used.

Here’s a breakdown of the other types. We’re sure you were dying to know all this as well:

The 30-day card is next in popularity, at 30.4 percent. It is followed by the 7-day card, at 17.5 percent; the pay-per-ride card without the bonus, at 10.1 percent; cash payments on buses — remember cash? — at 3.1 percent; and single-ride tickets on subways at 1.2 percent.

If you mix the various discounts in a statistical blender, as the transportation authority does, the average fare paid by all subway and bus riders is put at $1.63, or 62 cents below the base fare of $2.25. This is a point that may be kept in mind for the next time fares are raised, probably in early 2013.

After the 14-day card disappeared, its devotees seemed to drift to the pay-per-ride kinds. Their percentages have risen over the last year and a half. At the same time, the popularity of the 30-day card declined by a few percentage points.

There’s something odd about that monthly pass. Just ask Gene Russianoff, who is staff attorney for the riders’ advocacy group known as the Straphangers Campaign and a man who studies transit reports the way a Talmudic scholar pores over ancient commentaries. He came across this “interesting factoid” in one report: about 25 percent of those who buy 30-day cards “don’t use them often enough to get their discount value.” They’d do better with pay-per-ride discount cards.

What gives with these people? Mr. Russianoff suggested several possibilities. It could be that they don’t care about the discount and simply find the 30-day card convenient. Perhaps they go through spells when they don’t use mass transit. Or maybe, he said, they’re just “bad mathematicians.”

On that score, we can sympathize. Doing the math to settle on the right card is no snap during a period when work and vacation overlap. It’s almost enough to induce the fear of all sums.


E-mail Clyde Haberman: haberman@nytimes.com

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Bailing Out Pinky

Dear Diary:

It was my birthday and I got myself a new bike, Pinky: a small, hot pink, Ross bike. Pinky came to me by way of Craigslist for $60.

While walking out of my apartment building in one of New York City’s safest ZIP codes, I found Pinky absent from both spots where I usually park her: the bike rack and the old parking meter cemented into the ground.

Then, I crossed the street to — the parking meter? Where WAS the parking meter?

The old cemented not-in-use parking meter that suddenly did not even have an actual meter attached on top of its steel pole? Ridiculous!

I called 311 and was instructed to speak with my local precinct and pick up a voucher, go into Brooklyn, then walk 30 minutes from the G train to a huge warehouse where rows and rows of bikes rested in stasis.

At the warehouse, as I bailed out Pinky, I asked the warehouse officer if I could theoretically swap bikes, since it seemed no one else would ever go to the same lengths as me. The answer was, “No,” because these bikes, collected by the City of New York for various reasons, are sold on a Web site similar to eBay. All I could do was nod like a bobblehead.

I’m proud to say that Pinky escaped the block; she is now safely locked up with a proper lock on a proper bike rack and reunited with her proper owner who now knows where NOT to park her bike. New York City may be one parking meter less, but it sure won’t be one bike more.


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At a Queens Badminton Club, Hoping a Malaysian’s Olympic Whoosh Brings Gold

The sounds came in rapid-fire succession:

Whack! Whoosh! Whack! And eventually, a scream or slap of a high-five.

Inside the jam-packed the CP Badminton Club in College Point, Queens, on Saturday, 28 players spread across seven courts lunged, dived, stabbed and slammed at shuttlecocks, sending them back and forth in spirited doubles matches.

About a dozen people sat in a waiting gallery, regripping rackets, gulping down bottled water or stretching their legs before rotating back into play.

And in a corner, four men huddled around an iPad, speaking in a blend of Cantonese and Hokkien, watching one of the first badminton matches of the Olympics.

The men, all Malaysian immigrants, expressed casual interest in the contest, as Jing Yi Tee, a female Malaysian player, battled Yeon-Ju Bae, from South Korea. Ms. Bae won.

But they were fervently excited about the prospects of another Malaysian: Lee Chong Wei, one of the world’s best players and a top contender for a gold medal in London.

“I really hope he wins,” said Leon Liond, 60, who lives in Corona, Queens, taking a break from watching on the iPad. “I hope he gets the gold medal for Malaysia.”

The badminton club’s manager, Dennis Ng, 39, also originally from Malaysia, put it in more stark terms while standing in the club pro shop.

Mr. Chong Wei, he said, “is the only hope we have right now” for Olympic glory.

If that sentiment sounds melodramatic, consider that Malaysia, a badminton-crazed nation of more than 28 million, has never won a gold medal in any Olympic competition.

Malaysian competitors, in fact, have won only four medals in Olympic history: two bronze and two silver, all in badminton, a sport traditionally dominated by China, South Korea, Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, Denmark.

Mr. Chong Wei is the country’s most recent medal winner, claiming silver in Beijing in 2008. That performance earned him the designation “national hero” from the country’s deputy prime minister.

And the stakes are higher this year: a gold mine owner who owns a badminton club in Kuala Lumpur has said he will give a 27.5-pound gold bar worth more than $600,000 to any Malaysian badminton player who brings home a gold medal, and a furniture store in the country and a sports organization are both offering rewards of 1 million ringgit (about $315,000) to any Malaysian gold medalist, regardless of sport.

Mr. Chong Wei is playing his first match on Monday.

“When he is on the court, people will get around a big TV and watch,” said Jimmy Tan, 50, who was standing near the entrance to the badminton club’s pro shop with his 10-year-old son. “We’re pretty excited.”

Mr. Ng, who began playing badminton as a child in Malaysia, opened this badminton club about three years ago, believing there was a lack of sites in the city for the sport.

Several clubs – including the New York City Badminton Club, which has locations in Manhattan and Queens, and the Brooklyn Bensonhurst Badminton Club – host games in high school gyms. But the lighting in those gyms, Mr. Ng said, can make it difficult to track a flying shuttlecock, and the hardwood floors are not a traditional badminton surface.

Also, he said, he had discovered a subculture of badminton players in the city, and they wanted to be able to play every day.

“We love the sport,” he said.

So in the summer of 2008, he found a warehouse to rent in College Point. Then he imported what he said were tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of floor mats, nets and overhead lights. Several corporate sponsors helped him with the initial financing, he said.

Today, Mr. Ng, who left his job in information technology  to run the club full time, estimates he has more than 400 active members, about one-fourth of whom are Malaysian.

But, he said, his membership roll is eclectic. On Saturday, there were players from Burma, China, Jamaica and, yes, New York on the courts.

Malaysians, however, are an inevitably large part of the club, he said, since badminton is essentially the country’s national sport.

“You hardly find anyone in Malaysia who doesn’t play badminton,” he said.

And their zeal for the game was on full display on Saturday, as they took to the court, doing their best imitation of their Olympic idol, Mr. Chong Wei.

The only thing that seemed to dampen their spirits was discussing the chief obstacle Mr. Chong Wei faces in his quest for gold: Lin Dan, the Chinese player who currently sits atop the world rankings, and who defeated Mr. Chong Wei in the 2008 Olympic final.

The two are widely expected to meet again in the gold medal match on Sunday. And if that happens, said James Chong, sitting courtside between matches, there’s only one outcome that will satisfy.

“If Lin Dan wins, I’ll only watch the match once,” he said gravely, holding up his index finger.

Then he smiled.

“But if Lee Chong Wei wins,” he said, “I’ll watch and watch and watch.”

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Seeking a Stamp Without a Statement

Dear Diary:

The Chelsea post office on 23rd and 10th is so full of dysfunction, I couldn’t possibly write down every quip I overhear there.

But one woman’s recent outburst caught me completely off-guard. She went to the window and asked one of the station’s trademark surly tellers what kind of stamps they had.

“Well, we have Black History Month stamps, Disney stamps, Georgia O’Keeffe flowers — ”

“No,” the lady said. “Don’t you have any gender-neutral stamps?”

Gender neutral?

Everyone in the line started to chime in.

“Come on, lady, stop conversating!” an older woman said.

“Gender neutral? What does that mean? Like, a rock?” the teller asked the customer.

“No, a rock is too male,” a hip young man with a shaggy ’80s mullet said. “A neutered cat? A flower?”

“Too vaginal,” I said.

The lady literally spent 10 minutes at the window, debating about which stamps were the most “gender neutral.”

Finally, in a huff, she asked for a book of flags.

“You sure about those flags?” the mullet guy joked.

And the lady stomped off.


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In a Neighborhood Unaccustomed to Violence, Disbelief Over a Shooting

Late Friday, a waitress in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was taking a cigarette break at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North Ninth Street as the usual night crawlers of the fashionable neighborhood hustled by. Then came an unfamiliar sound.

Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.

“It was like someone dropping a big metal can,” said the waitress, Laurel Medlinger, 24. No one budged on the busy street, she said. No one took cover.

The five (or, by some counts, three) pops, which came in rapid succession, were gunshots that hit a man just steps from a bar called Trix, where Ms. Medlinger works.

The man, whose name was not released, was found by the police shortly before 11 p.m. facedown on the pavement in a pool of his own blood after a 911 call was made.

The police said the man was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center and was expected to survive. No arrests had been made as of Saturday night.

For New York neighborhoods where gun violence is common, news of a shooting like this might be greeted with resigned shrugs and shaking heads. But on Bedford Avenue on Saturday, the reaction was more of disbelief and confusion. Narratives of “this would never happen here” have slowly begun to creep up in an area widely regarded as a center for young hipsters, new families and artist types.

The part of Williamsburg where the shooting occurred is in the 94th Precinct and had 1 murder, 3 rapes, 129 robberies and 93 assaults in 2011, according to police records. That is compared with 17 murders, 30 rapes, 446 robberies and 359 assaults in the adjacent 83rd Precinct, which encompasses much of Bushwick.

Some residents of Williamsburg and nearby Greenpoint say there is a sense that because both areas have been transformed by gentrification and a much younger and more affluent crowd moving in, crimes of this nature are unusual – but the shock is eclipsed by a pervasive, festive atmosphere.

“Down here it’s always a party, and I think people are particularly unguarded,” said Kiley Bates-Brennan, 37, who used to live in Williamsburg but now lives in Greenpoint with her husband and newborn.

“I don’t think that they’re concerned about something like this happening. There are enough people partying and walking around at 4 a.m. totally plastered not thinking about how they’re going to get home.”

Ms. Bates-Brennan added that she hoped the neighborhood would not feel too threatened by the shooting. Others did not have such a positive outlook.

“The thing is with this neighborhood is that everyone thinks it’s getting all gentrified and all the people who may have been like, ‘Oh I don’t go to Brooklyn,’ all those people are coming here now. I hope this scares them back into Manhattan,” said Jacob Liddell, 28, who lives off Bedford Avenue.

Marzena Witkowska, 29, said she frequently visited her grandmother, who helps take care of her children in an apartment a few buildings away from the site of the shooting. She said she heard gunshots from the apartment at around 10:45 p.m. Ms. Witkowska, who is from Poland, said she had hopped from neighborhood to neighborhood since coming to New York City 12 years ago.

“The neighborhood lives 24 hours, 7 days a week. You can go out whenever because there are always a lot of people,” she said. “It’s getting pretty hippie and artistic, but I’ve always felt safe here. Now, I feel goosebumps.”

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Outside City Hall, Ministers Call on Churches to Do More to Fight Gun Violence

Five days after a 4-year-old boy was shot and killed in a Bronx playground, a coalition of clergy members and politicians gathered at City Hall on Friday to call on city churches to play a larger role in preventing gun violence in their neighborhoods.

The clergy members, all leaders of black or Hispanic churches, pledged to build personal relationships with local police officers, to use their pulpits to speak out against carrying guns and to steer local youth away from gangs through mentoring.

“We’re asking them to not just have their activities on Sunday mornings,” said the Rev. Joseph Mattera, the senior pastor of Resurrection Church in Brooklyn, standing in front of a crowd that held up signs with anti-gun slogans. “We’re encouraging them to be more holistic to serve their communities.”

He and the other speakers pinpointed family problems and the lack of jobs for young people as root causes for the violence — issues that community leaders could work to address, they said. Mr. Mattera said he hoped clergy members could persuade local business owners to hire young people to keep them busy and off the streets.

But most important, they said, clergy members could use their influence to draw awareness to the issue and serve as intermediaries between the police and youth, turning churches into safe spaces where people could turn in guns or report gun possession. Others suggested using churches as places where those convicted of misdemeanors could perform their community service.

“There is power in the pulpit,” said the Rev. Michael Faulkner, the pastor of New Horizon Church in Harlem. “That power has to be used to bring stability and security to our community.”

Several of the clergy members spoke about the gun violence that has broken out across the city this summer, like the gunfight on Sunday that killed the 4-year-old, Lloyd Morgan.

State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, a Democrat from Queens, who is pushing for state legislation that would prohibit people with certain mental health issues from buying guns, said the city’s shootings were reminiscent of the crime that gripped the city in the 1980s. “We won’t go back, and we can’t go back to the way things were,” he said.

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Update on the Cause of Action Lawsuit

Some of you have probably thought to yourselves sometime recently, “whatever happened to the lawsuit against Governor Markell?” After accusing us of being a right-wing think tank who opposes jobs for the middle class, Team Markell has asked for an extension of time to respond to the Cause of Action Lawsuit. No official word on whether the five named members of the Public Service Commission have responded to the suit, but we believe they too have asked for an extension to review the lawsuit. None of them commented on the case at the time it was filed.

Additionally, Mr. Nichols filed an appeal of the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board’s (CZICB) decision last month to deny him standing to pursue a grievance against Bloom Energy. His court date against them will be in September. A win for John means the CZICB will have to re-hear John’s case. A win for the CZICB means the decision in June will stand, and no further challenges can be made.

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