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Redesigned MetroCards Confusing Tourists and New Yorkers

By Jill Colvin | October 8, 2012 3:08pm | Updated on October 8, 2012 4:28pm

MIDTOWN — The MTA's decision to add advertising to the front of MetroCards for the first time  may be bringing in extra cash — but it's also causing new confusion for tourists and New Yorkers alike at the turnstile.

Visitors found themselves struggling Monday, unsure of which way to swipe the cards, a day after the MTA began to roll out the redesign, which features a large advertisement for The Gap instead of the iconic blue and yellow “MetroCard” logo.

The new cards are missing the traditional arrows running along the bottom indicating which way to swipe and the instructions “Insert this way/This side facing you." They also give no indication of which side is the front and which the back.

“We don’t know which side. We had to put it this side,” said Sander Volker, 51, of Germany ,looking confused after struggling to get his family through the turnstile at Grand Central Station.

It was the same story for Marie Crosetti, who is visiting the city with her daughter for the first time.

“I looked this way and I did it this way, and I should have done it this way," said Crosetti, 75, demonstrating her confusion about which way to swipe as she entered Grand Central Station on her way to the 9/11 memorial.

“It made it extremely difficult,” agreed her daughter Joann Monroe, 46, who said a simple fix would be adding “something visual” indicating which way to swipe — just like the old arrows and instructions, she said.

Hanne Guri Hellevand, who is visiting from Norway, also had trouble with the new cards, which the MTA began to roll out Sunday at select stations.

“We struggled a bit,” said Hellevand, 51. “If there was [something saying] ‘This way’ showing the direction” it would help, she said.

The cards, which have looked virtually the same for the past 15 years, also proved confusing for some New Yorkers, unused to the redesign.

“He had to try it a few times,” said Westchester woman N. Hill, who is in her 80s and was on her way to the doctor with her husband, Rodman, who was having trouble.

Messenger Joshua Alvarez, 28, who lives in the Bronx and rides the trains all day, said he sees tourists struggling with MetroCards constantly — and said the MTA shouldn't be making them any more difficult to use.

“It says it there and they’re still confused," he said, pointing to the instructions on the traditional cards. “Even if they don’t know how to read, the arrows are there helping them out."

Still, he said he understood the MTA’s desire to cash in on the cards — more than 100 million of which are handled a year.

“I guess they’re doing whatever it takes to get the money,” he said.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said it’s too soon to tell whether the confusion with the new cards is widespread, but said that the agency will monitor the situation.

“We'll continue to monitor and evaluate," he said. "It's an evolving program."

The MTA has already said that future ad campaigns will include the word “MetroCard” on the back of cards, above the zone available for advertising "to remove any doubt a customer could have about what he or she was purchasing," the agency said.

The new card — which offers holders a 20 percent coupon to The Gap's renovated flagship store in Herald Square — are being randomly issued at machines at stations close to the store, and are expected to comprise about 10 percent of cards sold throughout the system in a typical month.

Many of the stations are among the city's most tourist-heavy, including 42nd Street-Grand Central, Times Square-42nd Street N, Q, R, S, 1, 2, 3, 7, and the 34th Street stations.

The cash-strapped agency hopes the new placement will help boost ad revenue from the cards, which have never managed to bring in more than $165,000 a year.

The MetroCard design has remained virtually unaltered since it was introduced back in 1997.