A war pitting state against state is never a pretty thing, and so it was with some relief that New Yorkers noted that an armistice was at last at hand in the Connecticut/New York City Token War.
It's been a nasty little episode. Newly minted 17 1/2-cent Connecticut Turnpike tokens have been used in the subways of New York, where tokens go for 75 cents, with nary a note of concern emanating from neighboring Connecticut.
There was a lot of concern in New York because, as the state of Connecticut was heard to point out, it was "New York's problem." Connecticut tokens--known in the local criminal justice jargon as "slugs"--have, in the two months of battle, cost New York an estimated $30,000. Equally irksome to New Yorkers was that when the Metropolitan Transit Authority asked Connecticut officials to stop selling tokens until a solution was found, they refused outright.
Originally Mayor Edward Koch "referred to fare-beaters and slug-users as lepers," said MTA spokesman Jeanne Edelson, "and we called the anti-slug patrol Operation Leper." Then various leprosy associations called to complain and the mayor publicly apologized.
What battles it fought, the renamed Pariah Squad. Perhaps one day, when the principals are pensioned, the full stories will be told. As it is, the MTA is very secretive about its undercover operations.
Nonetheless, there are legends that remain: the young woman apprehended with 41 slugs on her person; the man arrested with a roll of slugs who admitted he had made a special trip to Connecticut to see if the scam would work.
"This was real white collar all the way," said Edelson, "an account executive from E.F. Hutton, a stockbroker from Lehman Brothers, a CBS TV person . . . . We did quite a bit of talking about that here . . . . How someone with a good job would risk being booked, fingerprinted, photographed, having a criminal record . . . . "
A criminal record for using a slug?
"Two classes of misdemeanors," said Edelson. "Class A for theft of service. Class B for the unlawful use of slugs. Penalties of up to $1,000 or a year in jail. Nobody's gone to trial yet, but I hear the D.A. had said he's going to go for stiff penalties. The mayor would like to see some of them go to his work camps."
The number of arrests, the MTA says, has now diminished. The city has found a way of capping the token machines so that most of the slugs are rejected and word is getting around. And this week, there was another important development: Connecticut announced that it has found a way to modify the size of its tokens so they can never be used in New York.
There is only one problem: modification would cost $15,000, and Connecticut seems to have a firm idea of who should pick up the tab.
"It's obvious the loss is being incurred by New York City," said Connecticut Department of Transportation chief Ed Mickiewicz. "Therefore they would have more of an interest in the solution than us."--Joyce Wadler