NYC Subway TokenWhen I first moved to New York five years ago, it was already too late for the venerable subway token. Though I had used tokens for access to the subway system on most all of my prior visits, by 1998 the Metro Card had already become practically ubiquitous and, like so much else at the end of the nineties, tokens had begun to seem unnecessarily awkward in the new, digital age. After fifty years of use and at least five years of descent into obscurity, tokens are finally laid to rest: as of today, the MTA will no longer sell tokens at all, and by 04 May, they will no longer be accepted anywhere in the system.This may be nothing much to cry over, but it is another incremental loss of the New York some people assumed would always be here. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the sex district on 42nd Street and Checker cabs, tokens will someday soon become nothing more than trivia, and people won’t be able to imagine at all a subway system that used them.

Progress is progress, though. In honor of their passing, here are a few facts about tokens:

  • Tokens were first issued on 25 July 1953
  • Tokens were originally part of a strategy to raise fares from ten cents to fifteen cents without having to install new turnstiles that could accept both a dime and a nickel
  • There have been five token designs in the half-century tokens have been in use
  • As of this year, only 8 percent of the 7 million daily bus and subway riders use subway tokens