Along with a set of higher transit fares in early March came a $1 surcharge on all new Metrocards purchased via an in-system Metrocard Vending Machine. The fee, first introduced as a concept in the early part of this decade, was years in the making, and the MTA justified the levy as part of an effort to cut down on the costs of producing Metrocards. The $1 fee is supposed to act as a deterrent against purchases of new cards while the old one is still valid, but even if Metrocard littermay be on the decline, the $1 surcharge may be having more of an impact on the MTA’s bottom line than on straphanger purchase patterns.
According to the latest from Pete Donohue, the MTA is drawing in more money than expected as straphangers continue to buy new cards even in the face of the $1 fee. Specifics from the MTA are scarce as the agency hasn’t yet released any firm revenue figures, but here’s Donohue’s take:
The MTA is raking in more dough than expected with its controversial $1 MetroCard “green” fee — and that could put more pressure on transit officials to make system improvements or restore service that was cut three years ago. The surcharge, tacked on when someone buys a new MetroCard, went into effect in March with the latest round of fare hikes. The goal, transit officials said, was to encourage riders to refill and keep using their existing MetroCards.
It’s simple enough. Recycle and save a buck. And it’s good for the environment. But old habits die hard. In the first month after the fee went into effect, more riders than transit officials predicted continued to buy new MetroCards — and paid the extra $1, a transit executive said last week. If the trend continues, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will exceed the $20 million in new revenues and savings that it anticipated when drafting the budget, the executive said.
“I’m surprised,” Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said. “Anecdotally, in my many subway rides, I have seen fewer MetroCards littering the ground in subway stations. But apparently many riders are not reusing.”
It’s nearly impossible and ill-advised to draw any conclusions from one month’s data and when no firm figures are available. It’s more likely, especially during March, that most customers weren’t aware of the $1 surcharge, discarded an empty card and then had to buy a new one — and pay the $1 — when next they encountered a Metrocard machine. We’ll have wait until we have a good batch of substantial data to back up the claim that New Yorkers aren’t changing their habits and that the MTA is flush with the cash from the $1 surcharge.
Still, the idea of the surcharge is still worth a closer look. The MTA claims it will enjoy added revenue — some in the form of the surcharge and some in the form of fare media production costs — of around $18-$20 million a year annually from the so-called green fee. If New Yorkers are still buying up new Metrocards more frequently than they should, the MTA will take in more in surcharge revenue, but that revenue will be offset, in part, by higher fare media production costs. The $1 more than covers the cost of a new Metrocard though so the MTA would be better off if more riders will buying more cards.
Yet, it’s too early for conclusions. We can speculate, but revenue figures are out, all we know is that the $1 fee is a work in progress, hopefully just like the plans to replace the Metrocard as well.