Relying on unused MetroCards for revenue


Right now, in my wallet, I have three MetroCards. One is my standard 30-Day Unlimited Ride card I use when I’m not planning on being out of the city for an extended period of time. The other two have cash on them. One currently has $10.50 and the other has $1.00. The one with just a buck is set to expire at the end of September.

For me to make full use of these pay-per-ride cards, I’d have to do some fancy math. The card with more money has 4 rides with $1.50 left over; the card with a dollar is useless until I add more money. With the new fare scheme for pay-per-ride cards — $2.25 per ride with a 15 percent discount at $8 and over — I am not alone in possessing MetroCards with awkward amounts of money left on them. In fact, the MTA is counting on just this problem for some of its budget.

Heather Haddon in amNew York details how the MTA relies on unused MetroCards for millions of dollars in revenue. The agency knows that people throw out MetroCards with money, and the agency is now including these millions in its budget estimates for 2010. Haddon reports:

Straphangers threw out an estimated $40 million in unused or unrefunded fare money in 2008, according to agency documents. The MetroCard windfall was up a whopping 38 percent from two years earlier.

What’s more, NYC Transit is budgeting for that revenue to increase to $48 million next year because of the recent fare hike…

At least two other transit agencies decline to budget for unused fares, arguing the revenue is a moving target that can’t be relied on for operations. “It’s a tricky one to compute. We don’t recognize it as a revenue source,” said Cathy Asato, a spokeswoman for the Metro in Washington D.C.

A MTA spokesman said including the figure for unused fares adds transparency, and all revenue estimates are updated three times a year.

Currently, straphangers with expired MetroCards can transfer the unused fare to new cards up to two years past the expiration date on the back. According to Transit spokesperson Paul Fleuranges, the agency fields approximately 1500 refund requests per month, but with fare math becoming increasingly complicated, busy New Yorkers are content to let the dollars slip away.

This fiscal reality could lead to a conflict of interests for those in charge. Transit should tell its riders how to use all of the money straphangers put on MetroCards, but if the agency needs the revenue to meet its budget estimates, officials may be less than forthcoming with refund information.

As far as I can tell, this $40 million doesn’t include Unlimited Ride MetroCards that do not pay for themselves. The MTA could, in fact, be recovering more than just the 21 million unused rides they currently take in.

Categories : MetroCard, MTA Economics

23 Responses to “Relying on unused MetroCards for revenue”

  1. Mike HC says:

    Nice article. I never thought about all the extra revenue that is brought in from that extra dollar or two left on a card.

  2. Avi says:

    I have a card with $.25 that is practically stuck on the card. I got the remainder by using PATH on occasion, but I’m not planning another PATH trip for a while. I try to do the math to even out the card with the discount, but in this case it’s impossible. I need to add $13.33 and 1/3 cent to get a $2 bonus. The problem is the MTA doesn’t like rounding so if you try to load $13.33 or $13.34 the vending machines will reject the amount. I’m forced to either roll the balance until I use PATH again or add $13 to get a $1.95 and then add an extra $.05 with no bonus.

  3. Marsha says:

    I used to add $20 to my MetroCard under the old fare and that worked out fine knowing when I got my bonus rides. I continued to add $20 but under the new fare it didn’t work out so fine. I could never keep track of my bonus rides. Last week my MetroCard had $2 on it. I added 25¢ to it (I was tempted to charge it), used it, and tossed it. Now I will only add $45 to my cards so I know that I get my 3 “free” rides.

  4. Kevin says:

    You can have stored value cards combined at any token booth. That’s how I consolidate small-value cards, and when i forget a metrocard and ahve to get another one.

  5. SEAN says:

    If you go into the EasyPay program you’ll never have this problem. Your Metrocard gets refilled automaticly, plus you can get free rides if you ride 47 times or more per month. I’ve been using EasyPay since Metrocard came to the Bee-line & now I cant live without it. If you try it & you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

    • Jon says:

      EasyPay is another scam from the MTA. If I want that, why can’t I see the threshold and the amount that renews on the card? They want to process $40 and then another $40 every time I drop below $20.

      Why would I want $60 hanging out on a Metrocard? So the MTA can earn the interest on it instead of me?

  6. Kevin P. says:

    I have found the NYC MetroCard Bonus Calculator to be useful for getting odd balances off my PPR cards.

  7. Nowooski says:

    I tend to think that the MTA should do whatever it can to increase revenue. As someone who recently moved to New York, I think the MTA is a bargain compared to my old transportation costs (approx. $700/month in car, insurance and gas) and would happily pay more to use it.

    Perhaps the MTA should look at hiring some of those laid-off hotshot consultants to play around with free ride discount amounts and default purchase options to maximize to maximize the amount of leftover revenue.

    Underhanded, sure. But getting another buck or two out of tourists and pay-per-ride users would probably go down a lot easier than a fare hike.

  8. JP says:

    step 1. ride until there’s less than a fare left
    step 2. add the supplemental cash to use up the last fare.

  9. Duke87 says:

    They no doubt garner a lot of extra revenue from computer error, too. Sometimes you’ll get a “please swipe again” but the turnstile will have already deducted $2.25 off your card, making you pay twice. Most people probably don’t notice unless you start out with, say $3.00 on the card and the “please swipe again” ends up being followed by “insufficient fare”.
    I’ve also had bus-subway transfers charge me again when they should have been free on more than one occasion. It’s annoying.

    Of course, this would be impossible to compute. And it’s no doubt already accounted for by the leftover balance figures and by extra rides in the ridership figures which weren’t actually taken, anyway.

    • JP says:

      I’m currently waiting for the MTA to review my case for having a subway-bus transfer deduct a fare. The gent on the phone said they were backlogged and haven’t opened mail postmarked after August 6th. This is the hardest I’ve worked for $2.25, ever.

  10. digamma says:

    Yeah I’m amazed at how many people don’t know this: you can put any amount of money on a Metrocard. Take your $1.50 card and add $0.75 to it. You can even charge the $0.75 to a credit card.

    Or do what Kevin did and combine them at a booth.

    • 23skiddoo says:

      I’m sure you’re right. Squares with my current nightmare with my EasyPay Metrocard (see the link for my story). It is worse than all other options. If you’re getting it because you want to save time or money….don’t. They have 1) NO fraud protection and bad policies to boot (i.e., you don’t activate your card that you receive in the mail like any other credit card) 2) you have no real ability to monitor usage unless you login via the web (i.e., doesn’t report your balance in the turnstile) 3) horrible customer service. If you lose this card – hope that nobody finds it. My dispute with the MTA started at $60 and is now up to $210. Someone is getting a lot of free rides and I can’t shut it down with the MTA.

  11. Avi says:

    Yes, I’m aware you can put any amount I want on the metro card. But if you don’t put $8 on the card you don’t get the 15% bonus. Sure losing that bonus is better than losing the remaining value, but I want to keep the bonus and zero out the card.

  12. Josh says:

    This wouldn’t be a problem if our fare card weren’t intended to be disposable. Another reason to switch to smart cards. (For instance, Ben could have a single card storing both his 30-day pass and $11.50 in additional declining-balance value.)

  13. Maxx says:

    Also keep in mind those of us not lucky enough to actually live there – Every time I come to visit I’m usually there for about 10 days. I usually end up getting a 14 day pass because it’s quick, easy, convenient, not going to be too much of a price difference, I won’t catch shame from friends cause I’m not efficiently using my card, and it’s a vacation – I don’t want to do too much math or be bothered with it too much. I would imagine I’m not the only tourist-folk who does this. I try to give it away on my way out, but usually that doesn’t happen.

  14. mark says: is a good site for figuring out how to even up an odd metrocard balance.

  15. lorien says:

    I started this movement on Facebook to show our frustration with this. Please become a fan!

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