The LIRR Meets the 21st Century

by John Delach

Glory be; I could not believe my eyes as I opened the Wednesday, July 6th edition of Newsday! But there it was in black & white, the LIRR had begun to use electronic tickets that very week on the Port Washington branch (my line) and Governor Andrew Cuomo had guaranteed that it would be available on all branches and on Metro North’s systems by the end of the summer.


I quickly went to the app, MTAetix, downloaded it to my IPhone, registered and purchased a round trip senior off peak ticket for my planned lunch planned for the following Thursday with Mike Scott and my son at Foley’s.


To explain the momentous occasion of this event please indulge me in a brief history of the LIRR’s ticketing policies. When I first began commuting between Port Washington and New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1977 passengers had to hand their tickets to the crew member assigned to that car who hand punched a hole in the ticket’s appropriate place to signify it had been seen. Monthly tickets, then the same size as a dollar bill actually had 64 spaces, 32 on each side that the conductor punched every trip. These tickets also identified the commuter by sex as the “M’ or “F” box was also punched at the start of each month. (This would frustrate teenage daughters who used their father’s tickets for weekend jaunts to the city.)


You can imagine how ragged these tickets became near the end of the month. Over time, the process was simplified to eight boxes. Even though you still had to show it twice a day every day, the conductor only punched it once a week on days that were changed randomly. Identification by sex also disappeared after years of protests.


July 7th was to be the dawn of a new era for me. I practiced at home how to use the app and press the right buttons to display my new ticket but I didn’t activate it as I correctly sensed it had a time element. Being anal, I also carried my old paper ten-trip ticket with one ride remaining just in case. When the conductor entered the car soon after we pulled out of Port Washington, I opened the app, activated the ticket and found the bar code for scanning. As she approached me, punch in hand, I said, “Today I am attempting to enter the electronic age” as I showed my phone to her.


“Oh,” she said, “I can’t scan that. Can you show me the ticket and not the bar code?”


I did and she said thanks. As she went to leave, I asked, “Why can’t you scan it.”


“No scanner.” She replied. “They haven’t given most of us those yet. But I know what to look for and the ticket will expire in a couple of hours.”


The same thing happened on my return ride later that afternoon. So much for technology but I did have fun showing my electronic ticket to three cute Manhasset bound college coeds. They were impressed and one actually said to me, “Wow, you are really tech savvy.”


Needless to say I was relieved that she didn’t complete that sentence with…”for an old fart.” or if she was a bit kinder…”for someone your age.”