Confusion Reigns in Express Bus

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new bus system reminiscent of fascism

by lorraine duffy merkl

i've had a taste of fascism. it's called the m15 express bus, whose route goes north on first and south on second.

let's begin at the beginning. i got on at 14th street. having just missed the local, i wandered up the block where a crowd was gathering. i figured it was a bus stop for the new limited line when i saw those machines on the sidewalk. i stood in front of one as it mocked me: "go ahead. try to figure out how to get a ticket." (fyi: customer ambassadors are no longer on hand to help.)

i'm pretty quick on the pick-up, so i pushed the silver button on the center panel, stuck my metrocard in the slot to the right, and grabbed my receipt, which spit out on the left. (the mta website offers an instructional video at

while i was training myself on how this thing works, the bus had arrived and people were getting on through the front, middle and back doors. a creature of habit, i chose the front, where a clueless woman boarded and tried to use her metrocard. i had one of those glad-it's-you-not-me moments.

the bus driver, who had probably had this same, "but why can't i use my card?" conversation more times that day (week, month) than one human being is meant to endure, directed the passenger, rather loudly, to, "go get a ticket from the machine. what do you think they're there for?" by the time the woman figured out the press button/pop in metrocard/receipt pops out rhythm, the doors were closed and the bus was on its way.

next stop: 25th street.

"get out your receipts," we were instructed over the loudspeaker.

sighs and eye rolls abounded. everyone held theirs up in that, "i dare you to give me grief over this" new york way. checking everyone's ticket wasted a good 10 minutes. (weren't these buses supposed to save time?) while we were waiting, the woman seated next to me shared that this is how the bus system works in europe. if i wanted to do things the way they do them in europe, i would probably move there.

the inspectors left the bus and with them took one prisoner, i mean passenger. yes, they had caught themselves a real, live non-receipt holder. the rest of us watched as mr. free ride stood in the bus shelter attempting to talk himself out of the ticket that the fare inspector, unmoved, continued writing. i found out a summons is $100. hardly seems worth it to try and beat the fare.

along the way, we had a couple more, "but why can't i use my metrocard?" episodes. those aside, we made it to 86th street without incident.

even though i traveled a straight run up the avenue, i got the 411 on how to get on a connecting bus: board through the front door, show your receipt and ask the driver for a transfer. also, if you buy your machine-generated ticket for the express, but the local comes first, you can use it to get on that bus instead.

all and all, it doesn't seem that complicated once you get the hang of the curbside machines. after all, we managed to get used to metrocards despite years of carrying tokens around. and really, what choice do we have? taxi fares are going up yet again.


lorraine duffy merkl's debut novel fat chick, from the vineyard press, is available at and

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