Home View from Underground MetroCard sales: How we pay

MetroCard sales: How we pay

by Benjamin Kabak

Earlier today, the MTA Board held its first meeting of 2010, and prior to that meeting, the agency released its board materials. As I’ve done in the past, today, I’d like to take a look at some of the myriad transit statistics offered up in these presentations. Let’s delve today into the Transit Committee book (PDF). In particular, I’d like to explore how the subway riding public purchases its MetroCards.

First, as the above table shows, we can explore how those who ride the subway pay for their trips. This chart shows the number of non-student passenger trips, and it appears as though the Unlimited Ride/Pay-Per-Ride gap is evenly split. According to Transit, 50.7 percent of riders used an Unlimited Ride card with the bulk of those employing the 30-day unlimited ride card. Those are the frequent commuters. Of the remainders, 45.3 percent resorted to the pay-per-ride card with the majority of those taking advantage of the MTA’s bonus discount program. Four percent — bus riders — paid via cash.

What we see here, then, are smart commuters. Over 86 percent of all subway riders are taking advantage of the MTA’s discount fare offerings and are what I would consider to be daily or near-daily riders. The remaining 14 percent are most likely tourists and visitors to the city who do not understand the pay-per-ride discount or find themselves rarely using trains. Of course, some tourists will buy unlimited ride cards as well. Interestingly, the 14-day MetroCard isn’t seeing much traction, but I wonder if those numbers increase in December when vacation times increase.

Beyond the pure fare card numbers here, Transit presented various other facts about MetroCard use. For example, those who purchase their 30- and 14-day passes from a MetroCard Vending Machine with a credit card can take advantage of the MTA’s automatic loss insurance. Transit reports 5387 lost MetroCard claims in November 2009 for an average refund amount of $51.09. Apparently, straphangers lose and report their MetroCards well before the midway point of the month.

The agency then runs through a variety of numbers. Employer-based providers of pre-tax transportation benefits purchased 209,110 MetroCards valued at $13.9 million in November, and the mobile sales unit generated just over $97,000 in sales. Meanwhile, the EasyPay Xpress Unlimited program — an auto-bill program that charges a user’s credit the $89 for a 30-day card once a month — isn’t generating much use. While 2794 customers are enrolled in this program, they rode just 120,831 times in November. That 50-trip average drops the price-per-ride of the 30-day card to $1.78, not much lower than the pay-per-ride discount.

Finally, we have monthly totals as well. The MTA’s own MetroCard Vending Machines saw 13.3 million customer transactions in November for a total revenue intake of $171.1 million. Of note is this fact: “Debit/credit card purchases account for 66 percent of total vending machine revenue while cash purchases account for 34 percent. Debit/credit card transactions account for 36 percent of total vending machine transactions while cash transactions account for 64 percent.” The average cash sale, says Transit, is $6.87 while the average credit and debit card purchases are $26.10 and $19.71, respectively.

And that is how we rode in November and how we paid for our rides.

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Jonathan D. January 25, 2010 - 3:36 pm

Just for reference, the 14% paying with a method other than Bonus/Unlimited are much more likely to be impoverished residents than they are tourists. They’re also more likely to be older, less educated, and a minority. Clearly all of those things are closely interrelated. The big one that I can’t quite put my finger on is the 7 day. This group does actually seem to have quite a few tourists. It also seems to be a group of people who are too poor to cobble together the money for a monthly, but realize (or perceive) some level of savings over the bonus/pay per ride fares. The major issue is that the demographic numbers have to come from a survey independent of these numbers, which are collected by the system. This makes some comparisons challenging.

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2010 - 3:38 pm

Thanks, Jonathan. The socioeconomics of the pay-per-ride non-discounts users didn’t occur to me. I do believe you’re right that a big number of users in that 14 percent are as you describe. The clarification is much appreciated.

pete January 25, 2010 - 4:25 pm

True, the 7 day helps people with poor cash flow. But some people have temporary jobs, work a few days, then be off, work a few days, then be off. Tourists are most likely to use a 7 day rather than buy funpasses unless they are day trippers. A 7 day doesn’t save money if you use only 2 trips a day M-F. Some people never leave their neighborhood except for work.

Regarding cash and buses, it says non-students, but some students get half fare cards that only work on buses, are they part of the 4%?

Alon Levy January 25, 2010 - 3:41 pm

Ben, I believe this method counts total cards sold. If you count by swipes, then the unlimited monthly has a majority. (Or at least did a few years ago).

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2010 - 3:43 pm

I’m actually a little unclear on that point. The text above the table I included in the post says, “Actual November 2009 fare media market shares of non-student passenger trips…” I assumed that meant swipes, but it could just mean sales.

Jonathan D. January 25, 2010 - 4:30 pm

I believe it’s likely to be sales. The numbers for Cash/Coins on a bus are usually much closer to 1% in terms of usage (Trips). I can’t confirm that though, and you may want to check with the MTA.

Jonathan January 25, 2010 - 4:36 pm

Sounds like the mobile MetroCard van should be on the chopping block. Do you have figures on how many MetroCards are sold in stores as opposed through vending machines?

AK January 25, 2010 - 4:55 pm

That would be an interesting stat. The only time MetroCards in stores are remotely useful, from my perspective, is when they are located at/near bus hubs, but far away from subway stations. For instance, the Kips Bay Deli at 34th and 1st Avenue sells the cards, which I find useful for crosstown bus service when friends who lack unlimited cards are in town and I resist their calls to take a taxi across town 🙂

Benjamin Kabak January 25, 2010 - 4:56 pm

That I do.

Out-of-system sales (which are retail, employer-based programs and joint ticket programs) were $52.7 million in November. Retail sales accounted for $28.8 million of that. That’s a pretty good take, I’d say.

SEAN January 25, 2010 - 6:14 pm

I’m surprised that EasyPay card percentages are so low. With EasyPay you don’t need to keep buying cards every month wich is good for the environment. That could be a way to drum up useage. I’ve been useing an EP card since April, 2007 & I cant live without it.

rhywun January 25, 2010 - 8:12 pm

I used to use the EasyPay back when it was for the express bus only; I didn’t realize they have it for the Unlimited card now. This is a bit of a turn-off, though:

“*If you choose the 30-Day Unlimited Ride option, we require two (2) credit/debit card accounts.”

Andrew January 25, 2010 - 8:40 pm

That makes it pretty much unusable for anyone with a TransitChek (or similar) debit card.

Pearl Tin January 5, 2015 - 8:00 pm

Hi Ben,

Happy New Year! Thanks for this post. You have an awesome website.

Do you know what MetroCard sales look like today?


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