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Coins weigh heavy on riders

Green LIne trip costs $3 in change

Twelve quarters. It's enough to tug at a pant leg or overburden a purse. Stacked up, they're an inch high. A dozen weigh nearly one-fifth of a pound.

It's also the number of quarters the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority expects you to carry for a one-way ride on the Green Line.

Three dollar bills would be 23 times lighter than 12 quarters -- not to mention much easier to carry -- yet when boarding the subway, signs tell users "no pennies or dollar bills please."

Riders who quickly stuff the dollars into the slot are given nasty looks from subway drivers. Feeling guilty, they rush to their seats and promise to remember to bring quarters next time.

While riders could opt to pay with 30 dimes or 60 nickels, most go with quarters.

"I plan ahead and carry the exact change; it's ridiculous," said Kristy Phillips, who lives in Newton and commutes daily to Suffolk Law School. "I'm going to get a pass next month, because I can't be carrying around all this change all the time."

With quarters an essential for daily tasks such as laundry, parking, or pay phones, some say the T's gulping a dozen at a time is making the silver-coated discs worth their weight in gold. For a daily commuter, that's 60 quarters a week, 240 -- or six rolls -- a month.

"Look, I have to save for the laundry, too," said Hollie March, who admits to stuffing dollar bills into the slot from time to time. "So the quarter situation is pretty rough. But I prefer clean clothes over [not] making the T driver mad."

Only a few of the Green Line stops in Newton have change machines, and of those, several are broken. Local banks don't report an increase in requests for rolls of quarters, but they say demand already is high.

"There have always been people coming in for quarters, particularly for parking," said a teller at Encore Bank in Newton Center, who declined to provide her name. "There's absolutely a high demand."

The $3 inbound charge -- which was raised last month from $2.50 -- is so high because the outbound trip is free after the Fenway stop.

Riders wanting to avoid the hassle can pay for a $71 monthly pass and just slide their cards when they get on the T. If someone wants to pay with dollars, he is supposed to get a white envelope from the driver and stuff the bills into the side of the machine. Most such riders don't take the time and just put the dollars into the slot. Either way, the process causes delays and angers rule-abiding riders.

Lydia Rivera, spokeswoman for the MBTA, said there are no plans to change the system, and she disagreed that it inconveniences riders.

"Most people are more apt to agree that utilizing bills is inefficient and not the smoothest way to travel," she said. "Most people want to have the change, [and] most people prepare themselves to get on the train."

Interviews with half a dozen riders on a recent Wednesday suggested otherwise.

"It's stupid," said Kristine Young, who recently began collecting her change in a bucket. "It's a form of cash, either way. I don't see what the deal is."

Rivera emphasized, though, that the rule is "not written in stone," and the T would not turn people away if they needed to pay in dollars or pennies.

"We try to discourage it, but if someone did not have the appropriate change, we would take the dollar bills, and actually we would take pennies," she said. "But we do try to discourage it."

Rivera said that to her knowledge, no one has ever paid using 300 pennies.

Matt Viser can be reached at viser@globe.com.

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