In the Letters to the Editor section of the 12-17 New York Daily News, Brooklyn’s Ed Temple asks “Why is it that some poor soul who was caught shoplifting cans of tuna and a box of Pampers was subjected to harsher judgment and scorn than the people who expedited the fraudulent loans that brought our economy to its knees?” Good question, Ed–I’ll answer it below.
I know that when I moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s, it wasn’t Pampers thieves that had me looking over my shoulder–it was muggers. The streets and subways were rife with them, and I didn’t know a single person living in NYC who didn’t have a friend or neighbor who was mugged, or who hadn’t been mugged themselves.
Today the situation is light years better. According to the FBI, New York is now the safest biggest city in America. Young women and older neighbors go out at night without the slightest fear of being attacked and robbed. For the most part, yesterday’s muggers have vanished–but a new, more insidious breed of mugger has moved in to take their place.
When I ride the subway today, I have no fear of fellow passengers ripping me off. But those running the subway? That’s another story. For the second time this year, I have been ripped off by the MTA. Last week I tried to replenish my Metrocard and inserted my credit card. Cancelled–cannot be completed at this time flashed on the screen.
Although my card wasn’t replenished, I was charged anyway. The same thing was done to me earlier in the year. I know others that this has happened to and am starting to believe this is no accident. Many people don’t carefully check their credit card statements, and the MTA makes a significant amount of money ripping people off in this manner. But that’s not all…
Ever get stuck with an “insufficient balance” on your Metrocard? You have three choices: dump it and lose the balance, try to refill it at a machine, or if you have more than one such card, follow the MTA guidelines of going up to a station agent who supposedly will consolidate the small amounts left on several cards onto a brand new Metrocard.
Two problems: 1) more and more of these machines are out of order, and 2) it is nearly impossible to find a station agent, and if you do he or she will invariably tell you to take it up with MTA headquarters (don’t even bother to ask for a postage-paid addressed envelope unless you enjoy public humiliation).
It is also no accident that the cards are rather flimsy, quite unlike the sturdy cards offered in London, Hong Kong, Boston and numerous other cities.
The result? The MTA pocketed a cool $52 million in profit this year alone from unused, lost or damaged cards. And they don’t even have to knock you down to steal your money in this manner.
Meanwhile, AOL continues to make the bulk of its profits charging people for high speed internet that they are already paying for elsewhere or e-mail service that is free. Is AOL informing their older, less tech-savvy users of this fact? Nope, just continuing to mug them electronically.
To be fair, these new muggers are much more polite than the old breed of mugger. When my subway car is stuck at a station, the MTA immediately apologizes for the delay and promises to be moving shortly. Even if that’s usually a lie, it’s the thought that counts. And when I call my bank to wonder about some new, mysterious fee they’ve instituted, they play sweet, soothing music while I’m on hold until I pass out.
Oh yes, the answer to Ed’s question about why the Pampers thief is arrested while multi-millionaire crooks, big corporations and banks walk scot-free for much bigger offenses? Because the tuna/Pampers thief has a legal aid lawyer and no clout. Because we scorn the indigent and worship the rich. Because it’s easier for a judge to pamper a fatcat with political influence then show mercy to a Pampers thief with none.
Sorry Ed. Don’t kill the messenger.