The beginning of the end for the token can be traced to 1976, when the MTA introduced the monthly pass for $14. Tokens then cost 37 1/2 cents apiece, so the pass saved several dollars a month for the regular transit rider, The Sun calculated at the time.
Tokens have remained popular with hospitals and social service agencies, which provide them to clients to get home or to job interviews, doctor's appointments and school. A spokesman for Harbor Hospital said he didn't know the token's days were numbered, and he is not sure what the hospital will do.
"We use them constantly, for everything," said Lauren Siegel, a social worker at Health Care for the Homeless. Last year, the nonprofit medical clinic spent $65,000 on tokens. "To not have tokens would be an enormous roadblock for our clients and staff here. We just can't afford to buy everybody a one-week bus pass."
Few people seem to view the tokens with much nostalgia. Those who use them say it's more about convenience and saving a penny here and there. And tokens, they say, are a lot tougher than the smart cards that are on the way.
"I went out last week and purchased four bags as a hedge against inflation," said Sue Glickstein, 48, of Mount Vernon. "The last time they increased fares, I bought six or seven bags of the things. I'm almost through with them now."
Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.