Home MetroCard An observation on MetroCards, after a $1 fee

An observation on MetroCards, after a $1 fee

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s been six weeks since the MTA raised fares and instituted a $1 fee for all new MetroCard purchases made at a vending machine, and already, straphangers may be starting to change their purchasing patterns. The MTA won’t release official numbers on fare media liability for a few months, but if our eyes are to be believed, the fee is having its intended impact.

Take a glance down around the fare control area during your next subway rider, and you will likely see the floor. By itself, this isn’t so strange, but just a few months ago that floor would often be littered with discarded MetroCards. New Yorkers in a hurry often didn’t take the time to toss their empty cards and would rather drop them than refill them. Today, the situation seems different, and my mom — a very long-time SAS reader — offered up this observation:

There is a noticeable lack on MetroCards being tossed on the ground as a result of the $1 charge. The other day Dad needed to a monthly MetroCard, and he had tossed his old one forgetting about the $1 charge. He scoured the 96th St. station and stairs and couldn’t find one. We looked when we got out of the subway and same thing — none on the ground.

I’ve noticed the same around the Grand Army Plaza and 7th Ave. B/Q stations in Brooklyn. MetroCard litter has all but disappeared lately. I’m still awaiting word from the MTA on their own numbers, but the fee may just be working. A $1 surcharge doesn’t sound like much, but for New Yorkers who refuse to give up any extra money to the MTA if they can help, it may be enough of a deterrent to refill and reuse. What have you seen?

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al April 16, 2013 - 1:26 pm

We should had done this when the tokens went away. Maybe not $1 per new card, 25 cents would had done the trick.

addicted April 16, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Exactly. Charges like these are beneficial (reduce waste), can be avoided by the consumer if they are careful, and as a result, when they do screw up, they don’t blame the MTA for it.

I have no idea why the MTA did not always have a charge for new Metrocards.

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 3:51 pm

Because the MTA is too stupid to think of smart thing like that.

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 3:51 pm


Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 12:40 am

The pittance on bottles and cans seems to be enough to keep them off the streets. Near as I can tell, most litter is paper or wrappers.

al April 17, 2013 - 12:01 pm

Genius, lets create a redemption for paper and wrappers. Get the creative types to come up with a viable market for wrappers and chip bags.

BBnet3000 April 16, 2013 - 1:29 pm

Indeed. Supposedly there was a big difference with bottle trash when they introduced a deposit, though you wouldnt know that today (perhaps if it kept up with inflation).

I still see a few by the balance checker at my station but nothing like the pile you used to see.

I have been meaning to pick up one or two just to have an extra around for visitors.

Epson45 April 16, 2013 - 1:29 pm

Are you sure? I still see MetroCard litter @ Penn Station

Benjamin Kabak April 16, 2013 - 1:33 pm

Definitely not sure. This is all based on observation and anecdotes. Transit is working on seeing what numbers they have available. I wouldn’t be surprised if tourist-heavy stations still have a lot of MetroCard litter though.

Richard April 19, 2013 - 1:48 am

yes but there’s less metrocard litter but its not gone completely

The Cobalt Deil April 16, 2013 - 1:40 pm

Sad that you have to fine New Yorkers $1 not to be slobs. I must have purchased hundreds of MetroCards over the years and somehow managed not to throw one of them on the floor. On the upside, i found a card with $20 on it at the Times Square IRT station, so it wasn’t all bad!

Jeff April 16, 2013 - 1:41 pm

In Astoria i can say that they are not all over the place anymore, and people don’t leave them at the turn stalls. No more piles near the checking machine.

The Cobalt Devil April 16, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Which also means less homeless slobs picking up dozens of cards off the floor and checking to see if there’s any money left on them.

John April 16, 2013 - 9:13 pm

I just love your empathy and compassion.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 12:43 am

How dare the homeless try to survive by properly disposing of things others don’t want! They should buy guns and hold people up, like real Amerikans!

Eric Brasure April 16, 2013 - 2:31 pm

Yeah, how dare the homeless not bathe regularly!

I do agree that this is probably the best “quality of life” improvement that the average rider will notice, though.

Adam G April 16, 2013 - 3:28 pm

Don’t forget that you can now refill unlimited-ride MetroCards, too.

JJJJ April 16, 2013 - 3:34 pm

Maybe someone is picking them up in anticipation of opening a .50 a card shop?

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 4:17 pm

I think that the MTA should lower the price of the surcharge to purchase a Metrocard. Maybe lower it to $.50, perhaps?

Though, I agree, the surcharge has resulted in cleaner floors near the vending machines.

Eric Brasure April 16, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Okay I’ll bite, why do you think that?

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 7:43 pm

Because if a card expires, we don’t want to pay a surcharge so damn high.

Steve April 16, 2013 - 8:28 pm

There is no surcharge when your card expires.

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 9:02 pm

But there is one to pay a new card. That’s my point.

John April 16, 2013 - 9:16 pm

No, that’s not your point. You stated your point, which was that you (incorrectly) believed that there was a surcharge when your MetroCard expired. It’s okay to make mistakes and be misinformed once in awhile. It’s not okay to blindly change your position/opinion/point on things when your’e called on them just so that you come off as correct, albeit inarticulate instead.

Ned April 16, 2013 - 9:42 pm

Am I right in thinking that the TVM replaces your card for free if it’s “expiring” soon, but if you try to add value to an already-expired card, you have to pay the $1 fee?

If that’s the case, this sounds like an extension of the MTA’s revenue stream in preventing charities from collecting donated cards with fractional values for the homeless…

Chuck G. April 16, 2013 - 11:34 pm

Yes and No.

Yes, The machine will ask you if you want to replace a soon-to-expire card a new card, with no surcharge.

No, even if your card does expire, you can exchange it at a MVM, station agent booth, or at 3 Stone St. without getting charged the $1 fee.


Once again, Ryan/Someone posts without actually doing research on the subject and is proven wrong. Wonder what the ridiculous excuse will be this time. I’m guessing “my cat ran over keyboard, logged into using my “shared” email account and typed in wrong things with his paws.”

Epicgenius April 17, 2013 - 8:09 am

He probably means to pay a new card WITHOUT exchanging the card, which is foolish on his part.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:28 am

So my expired card from a trip to NYC five years ago can now be exchanged at a Metrocard Vending Machine, and I won’t have to pay the $1 fee. I’ll remember that for my next visit.

Richard April 19, 2013 - 1:55 am

when your metrocard expires you have 2 years to redeem them 1 year at a subway station.

Chris C April 16, 2013 - 5:12 pm

Surely the ‘fee’ (fine) needs to be set at a level that makes people start to think about not throwing cards away. $1 is that level – anything below that is just ‘change’.

In London there is very little ticket litter – even in tourist heavy stations. But part of that is if you buy just a single paper ticket the gates retain it on exit as you need to insert it to get through the gates which you don’t have to do in NYC.

And Oyster cards have a higher initial fee to buy (£5 so about $7.50) so are probably valued more. But you do get that back if you return the card – which is probably the last thing a tourist thinks of when leaving London

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:31 am

Tourists most definitely remember to turn in their Oystercards; you can do it at the ticket office at either of the Heathrow Airport stations.

Rob April 16, 2013 - 6:15 pm

I live in Bensonhurst near Bay Parkway and I’ve actually noticed more cards thrown on the ground and not less. This hasn’t made sense to me and I’m wondering why it’s happening. Maybe some people have been saving their cards up, tried to use them to save the $1, and abandoned them when they realized they were expired. I really have no idea because I would expect that people, trying to save $1, would not just throw them on the ground. It’s really weird.

Spendmore Wastemore April 17, 2013 - 9:06 am

“cards thrown on the ground….why it’s happening”

Fundamentally, because they’re pigs.
MTA could make some nice change by charging less, say 25 cents for a new card, and $100 if you throw it on the ground. Plus 15 minutes of your time while the cop runs an outstanding warrant/records/fingerprint check.

BoerumBum April 16, 2013 - 8:13 pm

I wonder if there would be even less litter if the $1 surcharge were reduced if you’re replacing an expired card. That way, there would be an incentive for passengers to pick up old discarded cards, even if they’ve already expired.

D.R. Graham April 16, 2013 - 10:08 pm

That was just mentioned above. There is no need for a reduction of the fee for replacing an expired card because there is no fee when replacing an expired card. One hand washes the other.

Skip Skipson April 16, 2013 - 10:24 pm

So far, no broken bins (from the bottom) where you discard old metrocards at my station.

I wonder about the impact on the fare media liability, as of 2012 the media liability was around $82mil. Long term, I would expect a small decline in this figure.

I won’t be able to collect ‘free’ metrocards where the advertising is on the front of the card!


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