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Preserving NYC transit history through words

June 2, 2014 pm30 3:17 pm

A little off-beat. I found an interesting bit of transit history in a funny place.

First, when New Yorkers say “car fare” – they mean subway fare or bus fare. Why?  The “car” is left over from “street car” or trolley. Brooklyn’s trolleys, the whole city’s trolleys are long gone, but they have left a linguistic trace.

Next, when the Grand Boulevard and Concourse was constructed in the Bronx, it ran from 161st Street north to Mosholu Parkway. It was opened in 1909, completed in 1914. OK, so? There is a subway station at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, opened in 1904. And on the lower platform (2 and 5 trains), the station wall gives up a little history – where an enamel sign is missing, the wall tiles spell out Mott Ave, the original name of the street. The name “Grand Concourse” – but not the broad boulevard with service roads – was extended south over the former extent of Mott Avenue.

So we have words in a phrase, and words on a wall, preserving bits of history. What did I find?

A bus ticket.

bx41 ticket

More specifically, a receipt for the Bx41 Select Bus Service. Pay in a machine on the street (I used my metro card), and out pops a paper ticket. You get on the bus, off the bus, without bothering with the driver or the farebox. You’ve already paid. (Every once in a while an inspector gets on and asks for your ticket. I assume the fine is pretty big for fare-cheating. This system is more common in Europe.)

Anyhow, what does the ticket say that interests me?  It says “Direction: S/W”

Why is that curious?  Because the Bx41 is a north-south route. Up Melrose and Webster. Down Webster and Melrose. Why didn’t my ticket say “south”?

Tickets say N/E and S/W because the old paper transfers used to be divided that way. And why were there only two kinds of transfers? Why not four: north, west, south, and east? Because they were color-coded, blue or orange, and the TA kept things simple by only using two colors (faded blue transfer, N/E, below).  When metro cards came in, and two fare zones were eliminated, paper transfers were phased out. I don’t know what year they completely disappeared, but it was a while ago. Probably between 1997 and 2003.

(Actually, there was a third color, pink, used for General Orders. The token clerks called those “block transfers” and so did we. Was it because they let you walk around the block? or because they were issued when the line was blocked?  And was the Franklin Shuttle paper transfer a different color?  I wish I’d saved some of those.)

And couldn’t they drop the S/W and N/E business, now that they are just printing the letters on a slip of white paper?

Car fare’s car fare, who cares how they print it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 2, 2014 pm30 5:12 pm 5:12 pm

    As a kid I rode the 41 bus to Fordham and Webster and then walked up the hill to Alexanders with my mom. We met my aunt there who took the 12. My mom and her changed transfers for the ride home. Sometimes there was enough time, sometimes not. Transfers only worked on connecting buses that is why routes had to be perpendicular.

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