MetroCard ‘Green Fee’ details coming into view


For the last twenty months, the MTA has talked on and off about instituting a $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard fees. Instead of refilling a non-expired unlimited or pay-per-ride card, straphangers would have to pay $1 for a new card. The MTA says such a surcharge would net them $20 million annually in fees and savings, but many New Yorkers have called it a typical nickel-and-dime move. Mostly, it’s just been an idea on paper.

The idea, though, reared its head earlier this week as the MTA’s fragile 2013 budget includes an interesting line item. In the four-year projections, the MTA is, starting in 2013, relying on $20 million annually from the MetroCard “Green Fee” and Cost Savings. That seems to jibe with the revelation from October that the fee would not be instituted until 2013.

Today, Pete Donohue has a a piece on the surcharge. While the news isn’t, well, new, some of his details are. According to Donohue, as Transit is pushing the surcharge as a production savings, the reality is that it’s more of a fee. The agency will realize $2 million in cost savings from reduced MetroCard printing volumes while enjoying $18 million in added revenue from the fee.

“We want people to use fewer MetroCards,” Adam Lisberg, MTA spokesman, said. “It’s good for the environment and will reduce litter in our stations. Everyone has had the experience of walking into a station and seeing MetroCards littering the ground. If it costs $1 to replace your card, you won’t see that anymore.”

I’m mostly intrigued to see the impact the surcharge will have on the MTA’s fare media liability total. I’ve speculated in the past that encouraging straphangers to reuse their cards could actually cause decline in other revenues. Meanwhile, the MTA has plans to replace the MetroCard in 2015 (or so) and has offered up no date yet on when this “Green Fee” surcharge will actually be put into place. Perhaps all this hand-wringing is for naught.

Categories : MetroCard

29 Responses to “MetroCard ‘Green Fee’ details coming into view”

  1. Christopher says:

    “Perhaps all this hand-wringing is for naught.” Really? In NY media? SHOCKING!

  2. Terratalk says:

    Actually, I never understood why the cards have an expiration date on them to begin with. I presently have four perfectly good cards that I have to bring the the subway (I normally take the bus) to have them emptied into a new card because the old cards expired before I used up the money on them … what a waste!

  3. aestrivex says:

    $1 seems a prohibitively large surcharge that far exceeds the marginal cost of printing an additional card. The piece Ben linked to above says that the MTA spent $9.5 million printing 160 million metrocards. That comes out to around 16 cents per card as average total cost. The marginal cost of creating additional cards is impossible for me to estimate, but probably much lower. If the stated desire is to reduce the cost of printing cards, it would be nice to charge the marginal cost of the card, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to also charge the $.16 cents to also cover the fixed cost of printing these cards. If you want to make modest revenue on it and further discourage resource waste, you could increase the charge to say $.25. Charging $1.00 instead is truly exorbitant.

    And yes, the MTA is insanely strapped for cash and every little bit of revenue that they can come up with helps, but essentially you are now charging a hugely excessive fee for new cards, which also disproportionately punishes a subset of consumers, especially those who use metrocards infrequently. Is that the objective?

  4. John says:

    For comparison against the next highest ridership subway system in the US after NYC, as of July 1 WMATA in DC now charges an extra $1 for every TRIP using a paper farecard, but you can buy a reusable card for $5.

    • Emily says:

      While the permanent card does cost $5 in DC, you can also carry a negative balance of up to $5 on it before refilling it. (The permanent card is also required to pay for parking at DC metro stations.) I visit DC 3-4 times a year, and kept a permanent card for those trips just to avoid the hassle of getting a new one every time I visited. Now, it’s almost essential.

  5. SEAN says:

    Is there a problem? All you need to do is either refill your current Metrocard, or transfer unused ballence on to a new card when the old card expires. in both cases you avoid the $1 penalty.

  6. Michael says:

    The MTA should start charging for metrocards solely to prevent waste. From that perspective, I’m not sure if $1 is enough to get most people to reuse their cards, its less than 1% of the cost of a monthly metrocard. With a $5 charge per card, many more people would reuse them. Replacing damaged cards should remain free.

    I see no problem if they also generate income in the process of stopping people from disposing of perfectly usable Metrocards.

    It would be even better if when you purchased metrocards using a credit card that it would give you the card for free if you set it up for auto-refill (easypay) on that card. I’m not sure if the ticket machines are capable of creating auto-refill accounts and issuing easypay metrocards, but this could save the MTA even more money by reducing the use and demand on ticket machines.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Fine with me, as long as we can finally put passes and cash on one card.

  8. Phantom says:

    As previously noted, some Trqnsitcheck eqivalent plans still mail new Metrocards each month, whether the are unlimited oe per ride.

    My plan is like. I can’t reuse the cards now.

  9. Chet says:

    When do we get a tap and go card like the London Oyster?

    • Miles Bader says:

      C’mon, they need some time to create an inferior and incompatible-with-everybody-else system from scratch. This is America!

      • Chet says:


        Actually, wouldn’t it be great if many of the major transit systems- NYC, London, Paris, DC, Boston, Toronto, Tokyo, etc. all were able to use one “World Transit Card?”

        Nah, never happen… Fox News would call it a world takeover of our transit systems.

        • Alon Levy says:

          More important than this, wouldn’t it be great if the systems in the US, plus the tollways (i.e. EZ-Pass), plus various vending machines and convenience stores, let you use the same kind of anonymous tap card?

          Oh, wait, I forgot. It has to be linked to a credit card, because privacy and ease of use are only for sissies and East Asians. Unlike the famously civil libertarian constitutions of China, Japan, and Singapore, the US accepts much more surveillance over everyday life and is more obsequious toward bureaucratic authority.

    • Michael says:

      Why does every transit agency in the US need to invest in their own, incompatible smart card system? This is a massive burecratic waste of money.

      Wouldn’t it make more sense for the federal government to fund development of one open standard for storing pre and post tax transit cash, multiple passes, transfers… With an interoperable standard set, transit agencies could contract with competing companies like cubic or banks to provide the financial back end, and the cards would work on any system for cash rides or pass purchases.

      Ideally, any new system would eliminate the need to pre-purchase multi-ride passes by evaluating your ride history and providing you with multiride discounts/passes once you spend the required amount. Buying transit passes shouldn’t ever be a gamble.

      Unfortunately, our highly fractured government ensures that as many competing and incompatible systems as possible are designed and implemented because that insures the most consulting industry profits.

    • Eric says:

      Right after they finish Phase 4 of the SAS.

    • Andrew says:

      In about three years. Except that you won’t have to actually go and obtain and fill up a special card; you’ll be able to use the credit or debit card that’s probably already in your wallet.


  10. mike d. says:

    Bad for tourists.

  11. AMM says:

    I _don’t_ refill my MetroCard, because my experience is that, as I use up the card, it gets more likely that I will have to swipe my card multiple times to get through the turnstile. I buy 16-trip cards, and the first few trips, I almost never have to “swipe again.” By the end, I’m routinely having to swipe several times.

    I don’t know for sure that the problem is with the MetroCard, or that refilling it wouldn’t fix it, but I have nothing but my impressions to go by. The MTA and its shills keep claiming that having to “swipe again” is not a problem and that almost nobody has to do it (I’ve had people tell me I’m imagining things), but if I see three people ahead of me at a turnstile, I can pretty much count on one having to swipe again, sometimes a half-dozent times or more.

    It’s not uncommon for me to swipe and swipe and watch my train iopen and close its doors and leave while I’m still trying to get the turnstile to give me the “OK”

    This BTW is why I think depending on high-tech “solutions” is a stupid idea in places like the NYC subway. If the MTA can’t get something simple like fare cards right (on a single-fare system!), and resorts to denial as an alternative to actually fixing the damn thing, I shudder to think what would happen if they tried things like driverless trains.

    • Alon Levy says:

      These aren’t contradictory. Here, the trains are driverless, but Translink hasn’t figured the trick of making monthly passes available at ticket vending machines. You have to go to convenience stores to buy them. Although I still Translink is the most competent transit agency in North America, the MTA is far ahead of it on the matter of ticketing.

    • Andrew says:

      If your card stops working or expires, you’ll be able to trade it in for a new card for free.

  12. ajedrez says:

    I’d just like to point out that this surcharge will not apply to MetroCards bought outside of the system (corner stores, etc), just those bought at a token booth clerk. They probably figure that if fewer people buy them, they can let go of some more station agents.

  13. BoerumBum says:

    How will this interact with pre-tax paycheck deduction programs that send you Metrocards by mail? Will people who use those services get a reoccuring $1 surcharge that they can’t avoid?

    • Michael says:

      I don’t see why the pretax mailed metrocard shouldn’t be subjected to the fee.

      Transitchek and other pre tax transit services also offer transit debit cards to access your transit cash rather than the mailed tickets. These can be used to reload passes or cash onto metrocards at vending machines or you can use the card to automatically refill an easy-pay metrocard.

      • Kai B says:

        I wish these Metrocards were offered in an “autopay” format like regular cards so that I could use one card for months at a time.

        Right now you have to either immediately start carrying your new card or remember when your card expires and not walk out the door without taking the new one with you.

        Sending me a debit card every four weeks is not only as environmentally wasteful (if not more, that’s thick plastic), it also wastes my time.

        • Michael says:

          I agree that the fixed amount disposable transitchek debit cards are terribly wasteful, but there is also a refillable transitchek debit card where you keep the same card and you pretax transit money is automatically deposited every pay period.

          This transitchek card can then be used to auto-refill an easypay express card so that you are never stuck without fare and never have to reload the card at a machine. The easy-pay unlimited card even lets you change the card to pay as you go if you are going to be out of town and need to delay getting a new monthly pass.

          I’ve had one card for 9 months and never had to worry about getting on a bus with an expired card or insufficient fare. I have used it as both a monthly metrocard and suspended it to a cash card when I have been traveling.

          All the admin is done online. It’s pretty simple.

          My only complaints are that it cannot be a cash card and unlimited at the same time, and that the cash portion cannot be used for PATH or the Airtrain. So I need a separate metrocard for those few occasions.

          • Kai B says:

            Ah, interesting. I’ll make the switch then. I’e actually used their online interface before (and discovered I have a little extra money in there too).

  14. Matthias says:

    I’m in favor of anything that will reduce MetroCard litter. From my perspective, this is fairer than depending on cryptic fare/bonus formulae to keep people from using all of their card’s value.


  1. […] Some technological problems led to a delay, but now, as part of the 2013 budget, the MTA is gearing up to introduce the surcharge. We don’t know when the surcharge will go into place; we just know that the MTA will cut […]

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