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Boro riders use last token as buses refuse brass coins

The brass token, a symbol of New York City like the Empire State Building and the bagel, has ended its half-century run as the legal tender of the bus and subway system.

Only for those using the cable tramway linking Roosevelt Island and Manhattan’s East Side, will the token still buy a ride.

The token was rendered worthless on the subway May 4 when transit fares rose from $1.50 to $2. Those using tokens aboard Transit Authority buses after May 4 were required to add 50 cents in change.

But buses finally stopped accepting them New Year’s Day.

The token was introduced on July 25, 1953 when the subway and bus fare went from 10 cents to 15 cents. The turnstiles could not be adjusted to accept any combination of coins totaling 15 cents.

Straphangers dropped nickels into slots for the first 44 years of the subway system, then a dime and finally, the token.

Transit riders who still have tokens can cash them in but must telephone Transit Authority headquarters at 370 Jay St. in Brooklyn and make an appointment to do so.

The demise of the token was brought about by the introduction of the MetroCard in 1997. As the end neared for the token, transit officials said only about 8 percent of bus and subway riders were using the coins.

The Transit Authority is a big winner with the end of the token. Savings in the millions of dollars will result from employees no longer constantly having to retrieve millions of tokens from turnstiles for reselling.

The last tokens were sold on April 12, a few weeks before they were taken out of circulation on subways. Subway stations began limiting sales of them to no more than two per person on March 30.

The token actually had a predecessor on the subways. When the subway first opened in 1904, riders bought paper tickets from clerks then handed them to a ticket collector.

Tokens were manufactured in many designs and sizes in the 50 years they were used with a steel center bull’s-eye token introduced April 21, 1986 to combat counterfeiting.

Officials of the Roosevelt Island Tram say that even there, the days of the token are numbered. They have speculated that the MetroCard will probably replace it sometime in 2004.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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