Home MetroCard The Sandy MetroCard conundrum

The Sandy MetroCard conundrum

by Benjamin Kabak

Through the fortunes of good timing, my monthly MetroCard for October expired on Friday, October 26. Despite embarking on a weekend trip to Florida that day, I didn’t plan it that way; it just happened that I wrapped up that 30-day period a few days before Sandy took out the subway. Once the trains in my neck of the woods were largely offline until this past weekend, I didn’t start my next 30-day card until November 4. In fact, I didn’t take the subway again until November 4. Not everyone enjoyed such fortuitous timing.

On Thursday evening, while swiping through at Times Square, I noticed that the person in front of me hadn’t enjoyed the same luxury. His unlimited ride card was set to expire on November 24 — which means he started it on Thursday, October 25. With Sandy knocking out the subways for a few days last week, he missed time on his unlimited card. With the 30-days cards, time is indeed money as more time equals more swipes and more swipes equals more savings.

This story isn’t unique to the person in front of me. Across the city, cards lost time during the transit outage and subsequent restart. Some people couldn’t use their cards because the trains weren’t running between boroughs; others couldn’t use their cards because the trains simply weren’t running. And in the aftermath of Sandy, one question I keep hearing from subway riders concerns their unlimited ride cards. Will the MTA offer a refund or free time?

I reached out to the MTA for clarity on this issue earlier this week, and so far, the topic is not on their minds. “We haven’t made a decision either way, while we’ve been trying to get the system back,” an MTA spokesman said to me. Compensating MetroCard users for their lost time isn’t on the top of anyone’s to-do list.

But what should we expect going forward? By now — nearly two weeks since the MTA cut the subway system off — it seems unlikely that we’ll enjoy extended time on our cards. The age of the MetroCards leaves them a bit inflexible, and it’s not immediately obvious how the MTA can compensate unlimited card users for a few lost days. Seven-day cards have long since expired, and a good number of 30-day cards were due to do the same during the outage. Only those cards that began their 30-day periods before the hurricane and continue today could even be eligible for any benefits.

Ultimately, losing a few days on those MetroCards is a small price to pay for the hurricane, considering the state of some areas of New York City. So we’ll begrudgingly go without a few free days on the back end, and maybe one day, the technology will allow the MTA to put a pause on unlimited card usage. For now, though, the early 1990s MetroCards offer no such flexibility, and that’s what we have.

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JJJ November 9, 2012 - 1:24 am

New jersey extended all October passes until today, which was a good touch.

Avi November 9, 2012 - 1:38 am

I was fine with losing the time when the subways were closed, I wasn’t going anywhere anyway. But then Cuomo decided to give pay per ride users a free 2 days of subway use. Why should they get 2 free days while my clock was still ticking? If the governor wants to give some riders a free pass, then everyone should get one. But if they can’t extend the date or give a credit to unlimited ride users, then no one should have gotten free rides.

JMP November 9, 2012 - 8:25 am

That’s all well and good for people who are just out a couple of days, but the folks in the Rockaways have a much more complicated situation until the A train is back, which could be a while.

What happens to non-car owners who live in the Rockaways and work in the city, who get a monthly Metrocard through TransitCheck (or a similar program)? They’re paying for a card that’s completely useless for getting them to work. They can take express busses to Manhattan, but they have to pay the full fare, because their Metrocards are not accepted on those busses. Moreover, they can’t just not buy their next monthly card, because there’s a lag between stopping the payroll deduction and it actually taking effect.

Now that the MTA has managed to restore most services to most of the city, they need to focus on medium term measures for those who will feel the impact of the storm for much longer. Is the solution to run more busses to Lefferts from the Rockaways? Perhaps the solution is to honor regular Metrocards on the express busses that serve the Rockaways, or at least make them good for a discount off the express bus fare. Doing nothing is a slap in the face to people who have already borne the brunt of the storm.

Benjamin Kabak November 9, 2012 - 8:38 am

What happens to non-car owners who live in the Rockaways and work in the city, who get a monthly Metrocard through TransitCheck (or a similar program)?

They can either halt their TransitCheck orders or stockpile MetroCards. I realize you address this in the same paragraph, but ordering a TransitCheck doesn’t mean the 30 days starts from when you receive your card. It starts from when you first swipe. So if a few people end up with a spare card or two, they’ll just sit on them until service is restored.

Abba November 9, 2012 - 8:41 am

I think the fact that the MTA got the system running so fast people really shouldn’t be complaining about an extra couple of days.This is my opinion.

Gamma November 9, 2012 - 9:12 am

Did the MTA do something about card expiration years ago when the transit strike happened? I suspect that they are likely to do now what they did then.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 9, 2012 - 9:00 am

[…] Should the MTA Refund Monthly Metrocard Users for Lost Time? (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Marge November 12, 2012 - 10:04 am

The MTA is not paying for the repairs directly, it’s covered by insurance and FEMA (though the MTA does lose the revenue due to lack of ridership during this period). I use the G and L trains as well, which was out for 2 weeks, and represents almost half the cost of the card. While I don’t see this as an issue that should be at the top of the list, I do think it should eventually be dealt with by the MTA. My company pays for my metrocard and has suffered thousands of dollars of loss and has no way of recouping it. It is much more difficult to ask individuals and small businesses to swallow these types of costs, than for a massive organization like the MTA.

Phantom November 12, 2012 - 11:14 am

-Some- of the repairs are covered by insurance.

There is a captive ( self owned ) insurance company arrangement, with excess reinsurance in place….the MTA is responsible for a very large retention ( deductible ) before they can access that reinsurance.

KTK November 9, 2012 - 9:58 am

I thought about this early on. I lost more than just a couple of days on my Metrocard, since the G and L lines were not in service until just recently. I am fine losing a few days—-I’m sure the repairs are quite pricey in and of themselves. What I object to is what JMP describes and the Rockaway riders losing weeks of Metrocard use, while the rest of the city is up and running, then having to pay for an express bus on top of that. It smarts a little being left a little longer without service in North Brooklyn, but it is what it is.

Also, stating the obvious, but what Benjamin is saying about the TransitCheck cards makes sense except that you’d have to stop your payroll deduction and use your saved up cards while you are not participating in the program. Otherwise, the cards DO have an expiration date, and aren’t useful when you already have a card in use….

Steve November 10, 2012 - 10:21 pm

I won’t weigh in on your G/L service issue and whether there should be a refund, but as to the Transit Check it really is no big deal. I get Transit Checks as a 30-Day card, and once a year or year-and-a-half I stop getting the payroll deduction for one month because my monthly cards start to arrive about the same time that I am starting a previous card – due to not using a day or 2 here after one card expires (maybe I didn’t travel on the weekend) or a week or 2 there because of vacation, one card “catches up” to the following one. So, I put in a request to stop the Transit Check deduction, then reinstate it a month later. Easy.

Realname November 9, 2012 - 10:39 am

By all rights the MTA should reimburse Metrocard holders every penny that the shutdown cost them in unused fares paid — in other words zero. It would be one thing if someone had paid extra to enter the subway during the past two weeks only to find that their train was not running. But that’s not what happened (at least not to unlimited Metrocard users.

It’s not a lot different than if someone caught the flu and missed five days of work. Would they be suggesting that the MTA consider extending their Metrocard by five days?

BBnet3000 November 9, 2012 - 11:34 am

I considered it a donation, except that Cuomo made fares free for people who didnt have unlimited cards (lets make the distinction and not say it was free for everyone), which kinda sucks. It fell square in the middle of my monthly period D-:

Frank B November 9, 2012 - 12:04 pm

Again, I have no problem with a kind of reasonable kind of compensation provided to unlimited ride users; so long as The State of New York, and not the MTA, pays for it; the MTA ran free trains by order of the governor; this whole storm in repair damages alone, (without calculating the money lost in fares not collected vs. services still provided) will easily cost the MTA millions.

Thank goodness it doesn’t have to pay to upgrade a lousy LIRR line to Nassau Coliseum. 😛 (Thank you, Barclays Center!)

John-2 November 9, 2012 - 1:43 pm

Bump the unlimiteds’ expiration back by 3-4 days, which would be roughly an average for the time span across the entire system as to when service was restored after Sandy (and since Cuomo ordered the R-32s trucked out to the Rockaways to run Mott Ave.-Rockaway Park service, as along as the shuttle buses from there to connect to the A train on Liberty Ave. and eventually at Howard Beach aren’t being counted towards the card’s free transfer swipe, I don’t see where you can do much else there. The service may be horribly inconvenient and long for the next 4-8 months, but it is service).

SubwayNut November 9, 2012 - 1:51 pm

I got totally screwed on my monthly, activated on October 17, although I did have to make a point of taking Metro-North downtown on Friday since it was free. I should have just abused the system and called up to cancel my Unlimited (claiming I lost it) the day Sandy hit.

Two other agencies have announced refunds (in addition to the NJT and MNR/LIRR pass extensions):
-SEPTA (in Philadelphia) gave their Monthly and Weekly pass holders the price of two days off their November passes for the two days lost from the storm
-PATH has a complicated refund policy for their Unlimited Ride SmartLink card users

Oxford November 10, 2012 - 11:30 am

I assumed bus and subway fares were suspended so as to speed up boarding, rather than to compensate riders for days when there was no public transportation.

Theorem Ox November 10, 2012 - 2:30 pm

Frankly, I am disgusted by the general lack of consideration (at best) or outright contempt (at worst) that the MTA has with unlimited ride Metrocard holders.

This is whether the situation is normal (take a look at the last few fare hikes and with the upcoming fare hike proposals. Compare the prices of PPR and Unlimited ride cards every time) or during storm emergencies (where MTA representatives utter something along the lines of: “Well, we didn’t even think about that and frankly, we don’t care!)

This time around, I feel like I got even. Let’s just say my usage of Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road over the fare free days would amount to half of the 30 day Metrocard cost if I had to pay all the way.

Phantom November 12, 2012 - 10:25 am

This is one of the few wrong notes in what has otherwise been a flawless pre and post storm performance by the MTA. As noted by others, its a relatively minor matter, but….

They need to at some point tell us what their decision is and how they reached it.

MTA: No Sandy-related refund for unlimited MetroCards :: Second Ave. Sagas November 13, 2012 - 9:58 am

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