Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the subways, the law is a ass

Call it recycled money, courtesy of System D. John Jones roams the subways collecting discarded Metrocards. The truth about these cards? Not all of them are maxed out. Indeed, many of them have some small amount left on them. Jones estimates that he's salvaged $20,000 in unused fares over the past couple of years. He sells restored $5 fare cards for $4. And that's nothing: unused lost and expired cards amount to as much as $52 million in a year--meaning that lots of competitors could join Jones's business--if they had the desire and fortitude. (The Metropolitan Transportation Authority contributes to that massive amount because many turnstiles only declare "insufficient fare" when you don't have enough money on your card--without telling you that there's actually still some money on your card.

But, instead of saluting a savvy businessman who's come up with a cool discount, the MTA is unhappy with Jones. Indeed, transit cops have arrested him for "unlawful solicitation and illegal access to transit services," the New York Post reports. His crime: not that he's recovering the unused fares, but that he's combining them on new metrocards and reselling them.

The publicity has garnered Jones some unlikely supporters. The Atlantic Magazine's cities blog compared him to Steve Jobs. Benjamin Kabak, of the blog 2nd ave. sagas, who held back from endorsing Jones's resale discount, declared, "I know plenty of people who are aggressive in their pursuits of discarded fare cards." And then there's the brilliant charity called metrochange--which suggests that we all should emulate Jones, and that there should be kiosks in every subway station where people can donate the amounts that remain on their otherwise dead metrocards. And leave it to The Wall Street Journal to offer something that could help Jones better target his scavenging business: a map that shows where the most people buy 'pay per fare' cards--which will often have leftover balances on them--versus where people buy weekly or monthly cards--which are generally not discarded until they are fully used up.

[I owe several free swipes to Zach, who pointed me in the direction of this story]

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