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75 cent T Tokens

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One man's junk is a T rider's treasure

By Robin Washington/Roads Scholar

Monday, February 23, 2004

The classified ad in the local shopper paper sounded like the ultimate T scam:

``MBTA tokens - $75 per hundred! UPS delivery to your place!'' it read - a savings of 50 cents off the $1.25 fare and a price that hasn't been seen since the 1980s.

Following the instructions to ``Save $$$, call Mark'' we dialed, reaching Materials Recovery Co. in Troy, N.Y.

``They're real. They're a little bit beat-up, but they work,'' said Mark Womeldorph, who didn't volunteer where he got them.

At that point, we didn't ask, figuring it to be either the best way to beat the fare increase or the biggest T money-room scandal ever, and quickly sent the money order.

In just days he delivered, with a note saying he'd cut the price further if we ordered a larger quantity or wanted to sell them for him.

``Uh, great,'' we said, ``but where did they come from?''

``We're a recycling company. It comes from municipal garbage,'' he said.

Womeldorph said his company recycles tons of metal, out of which is sifted everything from loose change to the T tokens, as well as those for the New York subway and New Hampshire toll roads.

The coins are repurchased by the U.S. Mint, which pays face value. But the tokens are a harder sell.

``We tried to redeem them at the MBTA but they had no interest in them at all,'' he said.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo confirmed that, saying it costs less than 5 cents apiece to mint brand-new ones.

``More importantly,'' he added, ``the MBTA does not purchase product from Fred Sanford or any other junk dealer.''

Maybe not. But the T isn't the only potential customer.

``We have a couple hundred pounds,'' Womeldorph said. ``If we could, we'd sit at the station and sell them, but we're not in Boston.''

Surprisingly, Pesaturo said there's no prohibition against it. And as long as they're sold for less than face value, it isn't considered scalping.

At Park Street, we tried it, offering them at Womeldorph's suggested retail price of $1.

``They're counterfeit, right?'' said Eastie's James Serrano.

Told they were genuine, he said he'd go for it except he has a pass.

Green Line rider Diana Tim was game, though cautiously so.

``I'll pay you if it works,'' she said. It did and she anted up. So did Boston's Juaquin Sims.

``I'm cool with it,'' he said. ``It doesn't hurt anybody, I don't think.''

A T inspector suggested otherwise, however.

``Do you have a permit?'' he barked.

A permit?

``Yeah, a permit from Joe Pessamorie, for soliciting,'' he said. ``You have to take it outside, 25 feet out the door.''

As we complied, the logic of the enterprise sank in to him.

``That's outstanding. I'd buy them for my family,'' he said.

Two T cops chimed in, one even offering ideas what to do with about 10 really beat-up tokens too bent to fit in the turnstile.

``You could put it in a vise if you're really desperate,'' he advised.

In the end, we sold only a handful, with the whole spiel of where they came from being a little too much to explain to riders running for a train.

Hey, what if we made a sign?

From The Boston Herald

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I should by a box and varnish them into a tabletop!

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Yup, supposedly, 'someday' they will change to a smart card system. Most residents use monthly passes however.

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Those stupid smart cards in NYC are good if you are a commuter or a tourist but I live near my job and don't commute into the city. I use the T on weekends so I buy two tokens, use one and put the other in my watch pocket of my jeans for the way back. no BS ;)

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I loved the MetroCard when I lived in New York. You get free bus to subway and subway to bus transfers. You get volume discounts, a free ride for every $15 (I don't know what it is since the fare went up). You can buy a monthly on your schedule. If you didn't have $63 at the beginning of the month, no worries, monthlies work on a schedule from when you first use them, not the calendar month. You can scan multiple people in on a debit MetroCard...

Rhode Island is introducing SmartCards in 2005, I can't wait!

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One time near Central Park South, at one of those small unmanned stations I screwed up swiping my card and I was stuck on the other side of the turnstyles as my wife. Fortunately a nice older gent came and had one of the debit ones, imediatley recognised my accent and explained to me that his wife was born in Worcester but they hardly left Manhatten for years.

At that point I asked myself if I had a bad attitude towards NYers... Then someone walked by with a Yankees hat and I said NAW!! ;)

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Seriously the transfers are key and the 'all-day passes' in NY are a much better deal than the T offers.

Yes Thumper, they do still use tokens!

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