Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NYC Subway: On Waste and Wasted Money

Last night, I ventured into Manhattan to enjoy a meal with a friend in town for the holidays. While waiting for the subway, I noticed an emotionally intelligent sign on a trashcan:

Penn Station Uptown C waiting area, NYC
Playing on both the subway motif and the dictum "The Buck Stops Here," the sign is clever, convincing, and empowering—instilling a sense of pride in those who take their civic responsibility seriously. I've written before about emotionally intelligent signs and continue to enjoy the signs posted by Daniel Pink on his blog, but this is the first time I've spotted such a great example in the field.

On a related note, as I prepared to board the subway, I noticed that I had two old Metrocards in my wallet, and when I checked the balance on each, I discovered that both had just under fifty-cents remaining. (A one-way subway ride in New York City costs $2.25, and riders use a declining balance swipe card, a Metrocard, to pair the fare.) While I refilled one of the cards—and was thus able to utilize the balance on it—the other card seemed like a burden. I didn't want to carry it around in my wallet since I only ride the subway occasionally, yet I didn't want to throw it away. (And, unfortunately, the Metrocard vending machines don't allow riders to pull a partial balance from one card and apply it to another.)

This evening, I came across a fantastic idea (via The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal) for what someone like me could do with the remaining balance on a Metrocard. A group of student social entrepreneurs have developed MetroChange, a product that could allow subway riders to donate card balances to charity. Here's a video detailing their product:

As an aside, I wonder the extent to which the MTA benefits from subway riders tossing away cards with small balances—just as retailers benefit from unredeemed gift cards. Might widespread use of a device like MetroChange result in a fare hike?

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