Blog Post : "MetroCards for the Poor? No Asking in Stations"

"MetroCards for the Poor? No Asking in Stations"  | erica.frankel | Apr 16, 2013

The New York Times published an article about NYU Alumni, Zachary DuBow, and his start up "Next Stop Project." Very Impressive! Read full article here. 

"The sums are a pittance — spare quarters and dimes, perhaps less in some cases — left behind on the unwanted MetroCards tossed to the station floor. Enlarge This Image Michael Appleton for The New York Times Zachary DuBow wants to combine subway cards with leftover balances into cards for the poor. Connect with NYTMetro Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for news and conversation. But add a few together, the thinking goes, and a downtrodden rider might have enough for a swipe. Combine a few more, and perhaps a job seeker who is homeless can find his way to a few interviews. And if there was a means to recover all of the more than $50 million in unused balances wasted annually by New York City’s transit riders? Then, Zachary DuBow thought, he would really be onto something. So Mr. DuBow, 24, a consultant and recent New York University graduate, founded the Next Stop Project, in February. He would collect discarded MetroCards, ask station agents to aggregate the remaining balances into full-fare cards, and distribute them to needy residents — ideally partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to gather the forgotten passes. “Transportation is overlooked relative to food or health care,” he said. “But people need it to access those resources.” In recent weeks, though, Mr. DuBow has found himself in an unexpected tussle with the transportation authority over the spare change. The authority has barred him from placing card-collection bins in stations and from soliciting card donations there in any way. The agency could not condone the project, officials told him, because any money that the authority finds on MetroCards, however negligible, must be reported to the state, to comply with laws on abandoned property. Reminded that the authority would not be collecting cards itself under Mr. DuBow’s plan, an agency spokesman would not address how the laws applied in this case, or how they could be used to prevent Mr. DuBow from soliciting cards in the system. (Licensed charities are often eligible to operate in subway stations. The Next Stop Project has not yet applied for tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.) But officials noted that Mr. DuBow’s plan could lead to a revenue loss for the authority if prospective riders were given cards to cover fares that they might otherwise have paid themselves. The authority’s stance, combined with a newly instituted $1 surcharge on the purchase of new MetroCards, has threatened to stymie Mr. DuBow’s work before it even begins in earnest. Though he has already donated dozens of full-fare, round-trip cards to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea, much of Next Stop Project’s money has come from cash donations from his friends and relatives and from himself, not aggregated cards. “I do some collecting,” he said of foraging for cards, “but I’m trying to do it more efficiently.” The authority has estimated that $52 million a year in unused balances is left on cards. Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group, said he struggled to understand the authority’s position. “If it was Christmas, you’d call them Scrooge,” Mr. Russianoff said. “It’s not like they’re allowing people to get illegally into the system. They’re just taking money off the floor.” Mr. DuBow said he would like the transportation authority to take a longer view; he argued that helping homeless New Yorkers travel to job interviews in the short run will create more paying riders over time. Richard Trifiro, the counseling services manager at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, said visitors often had to travel to distant corners of the city to retrieve benefits, seek counseling or be evaluated for a possible shelter placement. Last week, Mr. DuBow arrived at the soup kitchen with a heap of round-trip cards, which would soon join the other stashes — condoms, toothpaste and deodorant — stowed away in containers in a small office. “Forty cards,” Mr. Trifiro said. “Jackpot.” Before connecting with Mr. DuBow, Mr. Trifiro said, the soup kitchen relied primarily on a typed statement, which the city’s destitute were told to show to station agents in the transit system. “They currently have an important transportation need that we are unable to provide for,” the note reads, above a signature and phone number from the soup kitchen. “Any help that you are able to offer in allowing them the ability to use public transportation today would be so greatly appreciated.” Mr. Trifiro said that the authority’s workers had rarely allowed for free rides. “They don’t want someone who’s going to go down there and sleep on the train,” he said. “That’s about half of our clients who look like that.”