Any lingering doubt that automated teller machine fees are here to stay was probably put to rest this week as Citigroup and Chase Manhattan Bank announced intentions to surcharge.
When they impose their fees Saturday, the New York institutions will become the last of the 10 largest U.S. banks to begin charging noncustomers at their ATMs.
Citigroup's Citibank unit, however, will be surcharging only outside New York State.
Coincidentally, the policies will take effect three days after the swearing-in of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who defeated Sen. Alfonse D'Amato in November. Mr. D'Amato, former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, had pressed repeatedly for anti-surcharge legislation.
Consumer advocates expressed disappointment at the Citibank and Chase decisions but did not voice immediate plans to fight them.
The result is that "it's going to be harder and harder for consumers to avoid surcharging," said Tracy Shelton, a staff attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It's a predatory practice on the part of banks to keep charging these fees."
The moves mark the end of an era of sorts in New York City, where the ubiquitous Citigroup and Chase machines made surcharge-free transactions widely accessible.
Bank of New York quietly instituted surcharges last month. Most of the smaller local banks already charged the fees.
On Wednesday, Chase said it would charge $1.50 at most machines to help cover operating and maintenance costs. Sixty ATMs in low-income neighborhoods are exempt.
Chase, which has 1,499 ATMs in the metropolitan area, said it has reduced customer fees in the last two years and hopes to make up some of the difference by charging noncustomers.
A large ATM network is "expensive to build and expensive to operate," said Jack Stack, executive vice president for consumer banking at Chase. "At this point, we think it is fair to our customers."
Citibank said it, too, would charge $1.50 but only outside New York State.
Citibank spokesman Mark Rodgers said the move is related to last year's deal to install 3,000 ATMs in Blockbuster video stores, where the bank has been surcharging.
Mr. Rodgers would not say when or whether Citibank would surcharge in New York, where the bulk of its 1,900 branch ATMs are situated. "It is one issue we have monitored for several years and one we will continue to monitor in a competitive environment," he said.
According to Chase, 70% of U.S. banks are surcharging.
"It was more or less inevitable that the New York market would follow what is basically commonplace in the rest of the country," said an industry source, who requested anonymity because of his work with a New York bank.
The moves by Citi and Chase "could rejuvenate some calls for some anti- surcharge legislation" in Washington, he said. But most people recognize that surcharging is "pretty much a fait accompli."
Astoria Federal Savings, which is active on former Sen. D'Amato's home turf of Long Island, began surcharging in December. "It was political thinking more than anything else," said George Engelke, chairman, president, and chief executive officer. "The basic logic was: Why weren't we surcharging? Everybody around us was doing it."