Home MetroCard On the detrimental impact of the $1 Metrocard fee

On the detrimental impact of the $1 Metrocard fee

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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John-2 May 13, 2013 - 12:24 am

It would be interesting to see a cash vs. credit/debt card breakout on whether one or the other is more prone to simply buying the new Metrocard and paying the $1 fee. In other areas, people who aren’t actually handing cash but are making their payments in plastic tend to be less careful about spending; it wouldn’t shock me if that turned out to be the same situation here.

Larry Littlefield May 13, 2013 - 7:13 am

This kind of lazyness is a little annoying. How hard is it to refill a Metrocard? It’s what I’ve always done, and never considered doing otherwise.

Perhaps those not refilling are those who get weeklies or monthlies, which were once not refillable? People who don’t believe they can refill their Metrocards? That may be it. They may think that if you have a 30-day with one day left and you get a refill, then you have 30 days left, not 31.

Bolwerk May 13, 2013 - 4:04 pm

You’re probably right. They’re lazy and obstinate. If things had always been this way, we never would have heard a peep. But then, people gnashed their teeth about the token too.

Rob May 13, 2013 - 10:31 pm

For infrequent users, the expiration date is a source of confusion. We don’t want to get stuck with a stale card. I’ve got a stack of ’em. And the Metrocard is so frustrating in its inability to tell you how much you have left on it.

tacony palmyra May 15, 2013 - 9:47 am

You can go to a token booth clerk and have the values on all your cards combined into one, at no charge. There’s no reason to let your cards expire. There’s also no reason to obsess about having the “perfect” amount on a card not to have any leftover.

Ian MacAllen May 28, 2013 - 10:44 pm

Metrocards are a pretty poor technology easily damaged, crinkled, dirtied or otherwise de-magnetized. This wouldn’t really be much of a problem if the MTA didn’t take 6 months to replace a card.

For $12 a year, always having a new, clean, less likely to fail card is worth a fee. And now that they come with a clean-up-after-me fee, I don’t bother worrying about finding a trash can.

Richard July 24, 2013 - 9:24 pm

all metrocards are refillable with anything now.

Billy G May 13, 2013 - 7:28 am

This attests to the fact that in a world where a $20 can get 4 coffees from many places in Manhattan, a dollar is of trivial concern.

Raise the “fee” to a $10, and the remaining problem will go away. Of course, that’s a bit harder to justify for a piece of laminated paper with a magstripe, right now…

SEAN May 13, 2013 - 8:31 am

It maybe harder to justify as you say, however remember most transit agencies that have implemented smartcard payment like WMATA & MBTA charge a fee to aquire a card. It usually runs about $5 or less depending on what system you are talking about. In the WMATA case, you can buy a $30 Smartrip card that contains $25 of value + the initial fee.

JJJ May 13, 2013 - 8:40 pm

False, smart cards on the MBTA have always been free.

SEAN May 14, 2013 - 8:32 pm

The MBTA is unusual then as most agencies as I said do charge for a card. Nice to see.

Jared May 13, 2013 - 9:36 am

Billy, I totally agree. The card fee should be higher. The price should float based on the % of cards that are not refilled (which is easily tracked).

Kevin May 13, 2013 - 9:38 am

It’s probably way too early to extrapolate any sort of purchase pattern from the new fee because the public is only just becoming aware of the extra dollar they have to pay. I’m sure it will normalize in the next few months to be in line with MTA expectations.

Scully May 13, 2013 - 9:51 am

So basically, we native New Yorkers should just milk our same metrocards (especially now that you can add time or value) for as long as possible, and let tourists pay the surcharges.

Tsuyoshi May 13, 2013 - 9:52 am

I would not be surprised to learn if the people most likely to toss their old Metrocard on the floor, instead of into a trash can, were also more likely to care, or even notice the $1 surcharge.

Mike May 13, 2013 - 9:52 am

Sometimes the fee is impossible to avoid — e.g. there’s no way to refill a 10-ride AirTrain MetroCard. Seems like a scam.

Stephen - nyc May 13, 2013 - 1:53 pm

There’s a fee to buy that card? But I don’t take the AirTrain, so I didn’t even know there was a card for it.
But, as I was at JFK the other day, I saw the fare is $5 for the AirTrain plus the subway fare if you’re going to be going on the subway. I don’t know, I thought you could transfer for free from the AirTrain to the subway. I certainly understand the need to pay extra (like the difference) going from the subway to the AirTrain.

Tower18 May 13, 2013 - 10:31 pm

AirTrain has always been separate. What I like is how the screaming PANYNJ staff at Howard Beach funnel everyone through the $7.50 turnstiles. I have an unlimited card for my subway rides, but occasionally get fooled when coming through Howard Beach after a redeye flight, follow the masses, and wind up getting charged for the subway ride that should be free.

D in Bushwick May 13, 2013 - 11:21 am

I fully support the $1 new card fee but when I needed to renew my 30-day unlimited card, I couldn’t refill it but had to purchase a new card adding another $1. What the heck?!
And there was no place near the machine to “recycle” my old card.
Discourage waste but the MTA has really screwed up on this one.

Benjamin Kabak May 13, 2013 - 11:23 am

Did you do something wrong? The 30-day cards are refillable and have been for some time.

Bolwerk May 13, 2013 - 4:06 pm

I believe if there is a problem with a card, you can just go to a token booth and trade it in.

(Someone correct me if I’m mistaken.)

Patrick May 13, 2013 - 10:53 pm

Only Pay-Per-Rides (unless it’s unreadable/too damaged). Unlimited Ride cards must be mailed or brought in-person to the Customer Service Center in Lower Manhattan
-Patrick W/O A Blog

Richard July 24, 2013 - 9:27 pm

select add time the cards are universal

Somebody May 13, 2013 - 4:20 pm

Wow, what a scam. As commenters have said above, this fee is swindling money out of people when impassable situations arise with their MetroCards. At least they should be allowed to replace it with a similar card for free.

Benjamin Kabak May 13, 2013 - 4:22 pm

Which part is a scam? The part where the MTA allows you to replace expired and damaged cards for free?

Chris C May 13, 2013 - 4:49 pm

Why do some people deliberately post inaccurate statements when it is so easy to find out the accurate information.


” You will be issued a new MetroCard at no charge if your card is expiring or damaged. ”

So no scam, just a bit of trolling.

Ian MacAllen May 28, 2013 - 10:47 pm

The scam is the interval of time it takes to get cards replaced that still have value on them. Not everyone can wait 6 months to get their replacement card in the mail.

Kevin Walsh May 13, 2013 - 7:11 pm

What is passengers’ rationale for discarding spent cards? I always check the expiration date, which is over a year for a new card, and keep refilling it over and over again till the very end.

SEAN May 13, 2013 - 7:54 pm

Afew weeks ago my GF found a card lying on the platform at our train station & to her surprise there was nearly $15 on it. I guess someone lost it.

John May 13, 2013 - 8:23 pm

I had a damaged 30 day card that I had to send in for it to be replaced. Usually takes 4-6 months to be reimbursed. Since then I’d rather pay $1 than refill a flimsy card that I’m guessing is more likely to malfunction the longer it’s used.

Tower18 May 13, 2013 - 10:33 pm

I get a new MetroCard once per year as part of the EasyPay program. I’ve been doing this 5 years now, and have never had a card go bad on me. These things are really not that fragile.

SEAN May 14, 2013 - 8:29 pm

You’re lucky. I’ve had three Easypay cards die on me last year & two of them in one week! Needless to say, I ended up dealing with a superviser who got me a new card in a week.

Harry May 14, 2013 - 8:55 pm

You’re lucky then. I’m happy for you but you really need to speak for yourself. In the past year, I’ve had 4 cards that I kept sectioned away neatly in my wallet with my other cards that had to be swapped out and I know many other people who have had random experiences. My cards weren’t bent, scratched or visibly compromised in any way, no magnets or anything near it and yet I still run into problems. If the cards were a bit sturdier and reinforced or could be reimbursed within a normal time frame, I wouldn’t have an issue with paying a fee for a new card because these issues would be less likely to happen but to add this fee along with a fare hike is ridiculous. Those MTA board suits never take public transit and are completely out of touch with straphangers and their issues. All of you guys supporting this measure should be ashamed of yourselves! These are the same guys that compromised your service and had the audacity to raise fares after their two sets of books were exposed and it became public knowledge that they were in surplus!

Doug Helm May 31, 2013 - 1:25 pm

Hey, does anyone know exactly what MVM’s &/or Stations are giving out the GREEN EARTHDAY Metrocards? There’s five different cards [World, Skyline, Foot, Train, & Bus]. If you know where they are please let me know [doughelm78601@gmail.com] the exact station &/or MVM location & which one of the cards it’s got. I’ve got some of a couple of these & would be willing to trade to get the others or provide info on where I found them.

Rip Off June 18, 2013 - 10:48 am

MTA will utimately force you to pay the $1 fee even if you want to reuse the cards. It will expire w/in a year and they won’t replace expired cards. I have a stack of expired cards that I can’t reuse. If you have value on the expired card, then you will have to “mail it in” for credit. They’ll probably hope it’ll get lost in transit (or in the process 😉 and then they will make even more $$. Great business plan!

Let’s see if they will generate $30 million per year w/ this plan.

Kevin July 3, 2013 - 2:14 pm

Last month, I bought a new Metrocard since my old one was near the expiration date. It was news to me that there is a $1 fee. I was then surprised when I looked at my new card. It was not the standard yellow one I’ve been seeing for so many years. It was a white one, with donkeys dressed in colorful clothing. Weird. This morning, I went to refill it, and the machine spit it back out, saying I am unable to refill this card. WTF? So I had to pay another $1 fee. What a ripoff

Richard January 18, 2014 - 3:03 pm

You can trade in expired metrocards under 1 year for new ones for free

Brian July 20, 2013 - 1:21 pm

Right on, Harry! And Kevin, yeah i was shocked and annoyed when I got the card with the three donkeys from a machine yesterday. It’s what brought me to this forum.

jennifer January 22, 2015 - 9:42 am

I am not sure why when you take the air train youre not allowed to used your metrocard to load the fare.
They also charge that extra dollar coming and going and then it creates so much extra waste. I have 7 extra cards right from the AIR TRAIN. Shouldn’t they give me my seven bucks back?

I’m not cheap it’s just that I don’t like to pay it when I always have a perfectly good monthly I can load it on/??OR EVEN AIR TRAIN CARD?? And it creates waste, just think how many travelers are forced to buy coming through. That creates a huge impact and as far as I know these are not green.

Somebody chime in!!


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