Back in the dark ages of the New York City subway, before the dawn of the MetroCard, fare hikes were momentous occasions around my house. My parents, who kept 10-packs of tokens in a Keds shoe box, were always prepared to beat the system when the MTA announced higher subway fares.
Unlike with MetroCards where computer chips can be programmed to deduct different amounts after a fare hike is instituted, tokens were a fixed-value item. Buy a token on December 30, 1991 for $1.15, and while the fare on January 2, 1992 may be $1.25, that token still cost you just $1.15.
So my parents would traipse off to the station at 93rd St. and Broadway and buy the maximum number of token packets allowed by the MTA. First, my mom would go and then my dad. Then, we would all head down to 86th St. and do it all over again. We beat the system.
Now, with a fare hike upon us, a lot of my readers have asked about Unlimited Ride MetroCards. These cards are facing the highest increases – as much as 6.6 percent for 30-day passes – and straphangers want to know if they can buy six months’ worth of Unlimited Ride MetroCards at $76 to use until the cards reach the expiration date printed on the back.
Well, not so fast, says the MTA. In a poster soon to appear in a station near you and available here as a PDF, the MTA lays out their policies regarding the potential stockpiling of Unlimited Ride MetroCards:
Unlimited Ride MetroCards currently being used for travel purchased prior to March 2nd will be valid for the full 7 or 30 days, even if some of those days are after the fare change.
In addition, customers who purchase an Unlimited Ride MetroCard prior to the fare change can take advantage of a “grace period,” allowing these cards to be used after March 2nd.
NYC Transit will monitor the number of cards in circulation and will announce at a later date the exact duration of the grace period. The MTA and NYC Transit assures its customers that, at a minimum, cards bought for normal, personal use will be valid for their full duration (1, 7 or 30 days) as long as the first day of travel is March 10 or earlier.
In plain English, riders can, after the fares go up on Sunday, continue to swipe Unlimited Ride MetroCards that are currently in use. My current 30-day pass expires around March 20th; I can use it for the duration.
Then, comes the grace period. The grace period hasn’t been defined, but if the MTA notices a run on 30-day passes this weekend, they could institute a grace period that is as short as eight days after the hike goes into effect. In other words, you won’t be able to use more than one of those stockpiled Unlimited Ride cards without paying extra.
However, if riders are judicious in their stockpiling, that grace period could be extended past March 10. Maybe the MTA gives riders a month or two; maybe just a week. But my words of advice are simply to beware. Overzealous commuters looking to save a few bucks may end up getting stuck with cards that can’t be used until the balance is paid anyway. Be judicious.
Meanwhile, my parents and I will just pine for the days of stockpiled tokens. Somewhere, that Keds box sits empty, wishing for a time when the system was beatable.