Posted: November 2nd, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Urban Experience in the Networked Age | No Comments »
If you’ve ever visited or lived in New York City you’ll be familiar with the MetroCard. These little cards are used by millions of people each day to access the subway and bus system. In this project, Stepan Boltalin, Paul May and I have broken apart the MetroCard pricing structure with some interesting results. Short version – don’t buy the $10 MetroCard.
The Missing Millions in the MetroCard System
The MetroCard system has evolved over nearly two decades – it uses some pretty old technology (a magnetic stripe on the card is read at a turnstile, which updates the value on your card) and a slightly odd fare structure ($2.25 per ride plus a 7% bonus when you spend $10 or more on a MetroCard) which combine to create some unfortunate results; small amounts of value left on cards when they’re discarded.
According to the MTA the small amounts of value on cards when they’re thrown away or lost adds up to $52m (yes, million) per year. So much money goes missing that the MTA are set to introduce a $1 green fee to encourage riders to hang on to their cards. Our project’s goal is to examine the causes of this “missing” money in the MetroCard system from a number of different angles. After all, $52 million could be put to better use and $1 per card seems like an awful lot of money at scale.
The Ever-Changing MetroCard Pricing Structure
The MTA Metrocard was first introduced in 1993 with a trial run of 3000 cards. In 1998 they introduced the MetroCard Bonus giving you a 10% bonus on cards of $15 or more. At this time a single ride using a MetroCard cost $1.50. In May 2003, subway fares increased from $1.50 to $2.00. The bonus increased to 20% for any ticket amount $10 and over. (Bear with us, the background is important).
In March 2008, the MetroCard Bonus decreased to 15% for purchases of $7 or more. In 2009, subway fares increased from $2.00 to $2.25 per ride. In December 2010, the bonus decreased to 7% for tickets of $10 or more. This is the pricing structure that applies to the pay per ride MetroCards today.
The MetroCard system has changed almost constantly since its introduction – and like most transit systems has gotten significantly more expensive over time.
The $10 MetroCard is Not Your Friend
Even a quick scan of the MetroCard pricing spreadsheet we’ve put together shows some significant amounts of remaining value on cards. Let’s look at the popular $10 MetroCard as an example; a card that’s popular among visitors to New York.
A customer purchases a MetroCard for $10 and gets $0.70 of a bonus making the card worth $10.70. At a price of $2.25 per ride, the customer gets 4 rides leaving $1.70 remaining on the card. To get another ride the customer needs to add at least $0.55.
Adding value using the MetroCard vending machine is a significantly longer process than buying another $10 card – and adding whole dollar values like $10 and $20 still gets priority.
Getting the Most from MetroCard
Our goal is to find ways of getting the maximum number of rides on the New York Subway while reducing the small amounts of remaining value left on our MetroCards – avoiding problems like the ones the $10 card introduces.
Working in increments of $1 and $0.25 we identified the MetroCard values that result in the maximum number of rides for consumers with as little remaining value as possible. We also identified the MetroCards where the value of the remaining value is covered by the MTA’s own bonus.
We think the results are interesting. Check out the breakdown of the MetroCard pricing structure in this spreadsheet.
As you’ll see, the $10 MetroCard offers the same number of rides as a $9 MetroCard. There’s no “bonus” but 4 rides is still 4 rides. A $20 MetroCard gives the consumer a bonus of $1.40, 9 rides with $1.15 remaining on the card. They could spend $19, get 9 rides with only 8c remaining on the card.
There are several price points where the user gets the same number of rides as they would at a higher price point, with minimal remainder – a consumer could spend $14.75, get $1.03 as a bonus – 7 rides with 3 cents remaining; any remainder is essentially covered by the “bonus” given by MTA. You pay less, you get the same and if you happen to lose or throw away your card the MTA are paying for the remaining value on the card.
We start to see that some of the problems of missing money in the system are a product of decisions by MTA themselves. The pricing structure leads to uneven values and remaining value on cards. The design of the vending machines works contrary to adding small values, or getting a specific number of rides. It’s not wrong, in our opinion, to start questioning whether adding another $1 on to the purchase of each MetroCard is valid.
Next Time You’re In New York
Use our MetroCard pricing spreadsheet to find a card that offers you enough rides for the time you’re in town, and reduces the chances of you being left with money remaining on your card.
We’re continuing this project – we hope to find more ways of eating into these odd problems with the MetroCard system upstream. After that we’ll devise ways of using any remaining value that is left on cards in a more productive way.
Posted: September 29th, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Urban Experience in the Networked Age | No Comments »
I observed the corner of 53rd St and 5th Avenue. For my previous post I walked up and down 54th St between 6th and 7th, but I was curious how a street with more of a variety of visitors would be for this exercise. I work on 53rd St but never go to 5th Avenue from the subway station, so I was curious to sit there a while and observe.
I decided to sit on the St. Thomas Church stairs, partly for convenience, and partly because it offered a good vantage point to observe people who were more stationary, people who had decided to sit on the steps.
It was interesting to observe the different types of passersby. I started observing at the beginning of rush hour, so there were many men and women in business suits rushing to get home. Solo people tended to be more engrossed in their cell phones than people traveling in pairs. However, there were many people who walked together but did not speak to one another. Their body language and proximity implied a connection, an intimacy, but their speech (or lack of it) made it seem as though they could just as well have been on their own.
I read a selection from Goffman’s Relations in Public for another class, and it helped me become attuned to the minute body communication that people exchange as they maneuver through a busy sidewalk. Some walkers are faster than others, and they must dart and twist around a group of people walking side by side. All of this is done wordlessly and constantly. In all of my time observing I did not see anyone come into conflict or bump into one another, despite the number of people on the street.
In general, the largest category of person was a solo walker, mostly passing quickly. Then there were couples, either romantic or friendly, and these people passed more slowly. Couples who also happened to be tourists took their time the most. They paused to look at their maps, to window shop, to take a break, to buy drinks from the pretzel vendor.
Near me sitting on the steps were a variety of demographic. There were tourists taking a break, people on their own killing time (usually absorbed in an iPhone or Blackberry), but the dominant characters were a group of two homeless men, who were mostly shooting the shit with each other but periodically would yell out to the general direction of the sidewalk, “help the homeless, let me get something to eat tonight.” The men were the only African American people I saw for a long time at the intersection. A young black man came walking by carrying mixtape CDs, and instead of asking him for money the homeless men greeted him. Here are my notes detailing the encounters that the homeless men had with people they seemed to know:
homeless men fist pound man with mixtape cd, they seem to know one another, but he is in a hurry.
homeless men know another guy with baseball cap. Almost everyone else on this street is white, and the two people they’ve been friendly with have been black.
another african american man approaches the homeless men, possibly homeless as well. He decides to sit
one homeless man left and was replaced by another
many people walk by with shopping bags. no one with shopping bags gives anything to the homeless men.
homeless men greet a man in a nice suit, a very well dressed white man, this makes me feel better for some reason. he goes into the church. perhaps that is how they know him.
the homeless men they to a white homeless man. he seems in not the best way.
In general the people who lingered the longest were homeless, and 3 out of the 4 homeless men I observed on the steps were black. There were hardly any other black people I saw walking on the street, and the few that I did see were dressed professionally.
Here are my categories for the types of people I observed, ranked according to length of time staying in one place, from least to most:
Runners – run by
Rush hour people – pass by extremely quickly
Shoppers – walk by at a more leisurely pace than rush hour people
Tourists – take a bit more time on the sidewalk
People killing time – have decided to sit on stairs
Workers – here until the job done
Homeless – here until they decide to go somewhere else
I would say that networked devices have definitely shaped the ways that people encounter their surroundings. The payphones installed on the northeast side of the intersection remained unused the entire time I was there. At this point they are vestiges of a previous world. While most of the time smartphones made people interact with their device more than with their surroundings, there were two tourists who stopped for a long time to look at content on one of their iPhones. This seemed to be a kind of social interaction, albeit indirect.
Here are a few more photos I was able to capture of the scene from my vantage point on the stairs.
Tourists look at both a paper map and a map on a tablet. Eventually they abandoned the tablet for the paper map.
Workers across the street stand on scaffolding to take apart a billboard. Two men in dress shirts and slack stand there observing them for the whole time the men worked.
Posted: September 22nd, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Urban Experience in the Networked Age | No Comments »
For the Networked Streets Walking assignment, I decided to walk a block close to where I work in Midtown. I knew that midtown Manhattan would offer a fertile selection of networked objects, especially surveillance cameras. This was certainly the case. It got to the point where I found myself snapping pictures of things almost every step I took. I started walking at the southeast corner of 54th Street, where it meets 6th Avenue. There is a large Hilton Hotel on the corner that takes up a large part of the block. I continued walking west on 54th St toward 7th Ave. Then I crossed north to the other side, and started walking back down 54th St heading east until I reached 6th Avenue again.
There were a few objects that I had no idea how to identify, but they seemed to have some sort of networked quality to them. Meaning they had conduit coming out of them, or were mounted to the side of a building for no other discernible reason. Here are a few that puzzled me:
Wraps the corner of the Hilton Hotel. Not sure they're cameras, but they could be.
Some sort of speaker embedded in a granite wall?
I'm not sure what this black thing attached to the wall could be
DEP = Department of Environmental Protection. I'm thinking this could be some sort of energy saving measure, like an electricity meter or similar
I saw many many surveillance cameras along my way. Most of them adhered to the standard boxy long rectangular form factor, while others definitely went for the globe enclosure, which might protect them better if they do swivel. My favorite cameras by far were ones mounted not too far above eye level inside a public lobby area on the south side of 54th St. They looked like little camera robot people, and it seems they’re designed more to influence people’s behavior by knowing they’re being watched, because they’re really hard to ignore.
I think these are the cutest cameras of them all
The other interesting quality about walking this street on this particular day, is the heightened security in place to prepare for the Clinton Foundation’s inaugural kickoff at MoMA the next day. There were many secret service men (and even dogs). There was also a news crew there to report on the heightened security, or possibly something else related to the Clinton Foundation.
The Secret Service are an interesting take on networked people, since they are stereotypically so networked to one another, with an ear piece constantly in their ear giving directives or what not. Yet I think they also operate completely separately from the network that most of the rest of the people and objects do. I know a museum curator who had organized an exhibition opening that former president George HW Bush attended, and he told me that the Secret Service actually put up their own networks for all communications wherever they go. At this museum they had tech experts come in to lay their own cable for servers and telecommunications. He said they were highly efficient and it seemed like they did it routinely.
In general, I enjoyed this experience. I realized that there are an incredible amount of networked objects, cameras especially, that we encounter every day. At times I also felt watched, since I was doing something a little odd by taking pictures of so many things on one street for a very long time. This was especially heightened as I got closer to the Secret Service men, since I was sure they’d at least ask me why I needed to take so many pictures of buildings. But in the end they didn’t care. It’s New York and I’m sure they’ve seen weirder.
In order to spatially locate the numerous pictures I took during my time walking each side of this street, I put my images into a Google Map, which can be accessed here.
View Networked Street in a larger map