Monday, 26 April 2004

Fare fraud on the Airtrain to JFK Airport

In New York last week for the Travelcom travel marketing, distribution, and technology conference and trade show, I had my first chance to ride the new Airtrain shuttle between the terminals at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Howard Beach station on the New York City subway's A-train, and the Jamaica station on the Long Island Rail Road.

It was all very comfortable and convenient, even with luggage, but a lot of New York locals, arriving at the Airtrain for the first time, were unpleasantly surprised to find that the former free shuttle bus has been replaced with a US$5 (one-way) train.

That's $5 just from the terminal to the subway (plus $2 for the subway), but that's not what I found most objectionable. After all, $7 from the airport to anywhere in the City, even with total travel time of an hour and a half to or from mid-town Manhattan, is still a considerable improvement over a $35-40, 45-minute or more (depending on traffic) cab ride. And for $21 you can buy a 7-day "Unlimited Rides" MetroCard -- the same MetroCards are used for payment on both the subway and the Airtrain -- so it seems like for only $7 more than a round-trip from the airport by subway and Airtrain, you can get a week of unlimited travel throughout the city.

So I did the math, and I bought the pass, only to find out that the "Unlimited" MetroCard is limited to the subway, and not accepted on the Airtrain at all, even though the only form of payment accepted on the Airtrain is a per-ride MetroCard. If you're still with me, that means the only form of MetroCard not accepted on the Airtain is the so-called "Unlimited" MetroCard. Go figure -- or go complain.

That's false advertising and fraud, and it's a fraud perpetrated by the airport itself, the largest share of whose victims will be first-time visitors, since locals and frequent vistors will learn that in this case "Unlimited" doesn't mean what it implies. How naive we are to think the operators of the airport would be trying to protect arriving visitors against getting ripped off for hidden extra fees for their transportation into the city!

I've written a letter to the responsible parties asking them to end the scam. I'll let you know if I get a response. [See links below to my non-responses.]

Lest this confirm whatever opinion you might have of swindling New Yorkers, let me hasten to remind you that this was the doing of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and that one should never to judge the character of a people or place by the character of government agencies or officers.

On this same visit, I left my mostly full steno pad of notes -- a journalist's most irreplaceable possession, and none of which have I previously lost -- sitting open on the steps of a fountain at the southeast corner of Central Park, at rush hour on a weekday, with thousands of people going by. I came back half an hour later to find my notebook still open to the same page, with even my pen sitting on it undisturbed.

And if that's not enough to restore your faith in New Yorkers, consider this: all this happened on Patriots' Day, after the Red Sox had beaten the Yankees at Fenway, and while I was wearing a Red Sox hat -- than which nothing could be more calculated to provoke hostility in the heart of a New Yorker.

As security expert Bruce Schneier reminds us in the book I'm currently reading, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World:

The world is a dangerous place, but it's also a good and decent place. People are good. People are kind. People are nice. Even in the worst neighborhoods, most people are safe.

Even Red Sox fans in Manhattan. Or gringos in Mexico City: a high point of my latest vacation was a Mexican League game at the Foro Sol between the Diablos Rojos de la Ciudad de México and the Piratas de Campeche. (How can a New Englander not like a league with a first-division team called the Lobstermen?) The doormen-cum-taxi-touts at our downtown hotel tried to persuade us it would be too dangerous to take the subway to the game. But it was about as friendly, while still enthusiastically partisan, a sporting crowd as I've ever encountered. And I think we were in less danger getting there than walking from the subway to our house in San Francisco.

After almost 20 years in San Francsico, I'm still a native New Englander. And I still hate the Yankees, in a sporting sort of way (whatever that means). But here's something I never thought I'd hear myself say: I love New York.

[Addenda: Replies from the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (17 May 2004) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (16 June 2004)]

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 26 April 2004, 21:22 ( 9:22 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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