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Is there anything you can't buy on that grand electronic bazaar known as the Internet? Well, not a New York City subway car. At least, not yet.
But through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Web site you can purchase the parts that make up its guts. Just scroll over to the New York City transit surplus-material sales page and peruse the listings for switch-mounting brackets, spring supports, and contact-ball assemblies. Looking for terminals, transformers, and resistor tubes? You've found them.
Of the six MTA agencies, NYC Transit, which operates the city's bus and subway systems, is the only one to broker its excess inventory in cyberspace. "Since Transit has posted its scrap sales on the Web, they have been getting more bids than they formerly did," says Robin Stevens, the MTA's deputy chief financial officer. "It has just been very helpful for that particular market."
Alas, customers aren't yet permitted to e-mail in an order. You must resort to the old-economy standby of mailing, faxing, or phoning in your bid, after which you can pick up your chunk of the F train or have a postal carrier drop it off on your doorstep.
Clued in to the commercial possibilities of the Web, the authority has a separate page for buffs seeking more easily identifiable parts of the transit system. The memorabilia and collectibles page offers "old Transit uniforms, logo caps, station signs, vintage tokens," and the like "for buyers interested in acquiring a little bit of NYC Transit's history."
The current listings aren't too exciting. Offered are extra Transit decals that read "Notice, Fan Drive and Power Steering Oil" or "Pass Safety Exit Door," along with signs for "Out of Service," "Do Not Use," and "Siamese Connection for Fire Dept." Visa and MasterCard accepted.
In addition to selling, the MTA also does some buying. The agency's site lists capital projects worth more than $10,000, but the casual browser is unlikely to bid on resurfacing the suspension span deck of the Throgs Neck Bridge or rehabilitating the overpass deck at the Newkirk Avenue subway station in Brooklyn.
It's difficult to know exactly how many subway and bus parts are being sold with the aid of the Internet, since the MTA and NYC Transit don't track how a buyer has learned of its for-sale items. One thing they do know is that a subway car has never been sold online. "In no one's memory have subway cars been posted on the Web," says MTA spokesperson Lisa Schwartz.
But a new fleet of 1080 subway cars is expected to be up and running by the fall of this year. That means there'll be a lot of excess scrap metal taking up space in Transit garages. And who wouldn't want an out-of-service 2 train to call their very own? "We are looking at a number of options right now," say a cautious Schwartz. "But I don't have a final word on what's going to happen to them."