Photo: AP

Back in February, I documented a brief and stupid saga involving the vending machines that allow you to buy MetroCards to ride the New York City subway. Now, thanks to William Finnegan in The New Yorker, we have some more context about those machines. Hilarious context. Enlightening context. Sad context.

Let’s go straight to the videotape, which describes a situation from early May:

[New York City Transit President Andy Byford] was [at the Rail Control Center in midtown] with Sarah Meyer, at six-thirty on a Friday evening, when their phones started buzzing. Joseph Nugent, a former N.Y.P.D. lieutenant who is now N.Y.C. Transit’s police liaison, called across the mezzanine, “You two see this?”

They did.

“M.V.M.s”—MetroCard vending machines—“at forty stations can’t process debit or credit, only cash.”

“Now it’s system-wide.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’ll call my guys,” Nugent said. “No fare-beater arrests.”

Byford called I.T. and put the tech person on speaker. How quickly could they reboot the vending machines? The tech person spoke, haltingly, about a subprocessor and someone named Miguel.

“What’s that about Miguel?” Byford asked.

It seemed that only Miguel knew how to log in to the relevant subprocessor and do the reboot.

“Where is Miguel?”

He was in a car, apparently, on his way home. He wasn’t answering his cell. He lived in Port Jervis.

Byford looked at Meyer and Nugent. They shook their heads. Port Jervis was upstate, three hours away.

“Unbelievable.”

More calls were made, more cages rattled. Was it really possible that hundreds of vital machines, the main revenue engines of the subways, could be repaired by only one person at the M.T.A.? It seemed so.

That passage is from Finnegan’s profile of Andy Byford, the recently appointed president of New York City Transit, the division of the MTA that operates the city’s subways, buses, and paratransit. The profile appeared last Monday, and I saw it then, but, I’ll be honest, declined to read it, both because its headline—“Can Andy Byford Save the Subways?”—is a perfect example of Betteridge’s law of headlines but also because reading about the calamities of the subway system at this point is almost as wearying as using the subway system.

Which, it turned out, was my loss. I have since corrected that, and encourage you to read the whole thing here as well.

(h/t Jeff Stein)