in Fun & Random

New York MTA’s New MetroCard Fare: Sneaky & Questionable

This post is a bit off topic for me, but I felt compelled to call out the following MetroCard trick by the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Why aren’t more people speaking out?

Until a few months ago, riders would receive a $2 bonus for every $10 spent on New York pay-per-ride MetroCards. Because each ride on the subway cost $2, there was simple math in understanding how many rides you had remaining: divide the total value on your card by 2. Importantly, every time you swiped your card for a ride, the turnstile reader would indicate how much credit remained on your MetroCard.

However, new pricing recently went into effect. Says the MTA Web site:

Put $7 or more on your card and receive a 15 percent bonus. For example, a $20 purchase gives you $23 on your card. 11 trips for the price of 10, with $1 balance. Refill your card to use the balance.

We can argue the fare hike was unjustified — and I believe it was. However, the real problem is the $1 balance. When you swipe a MetroCard with a $1 balance at a turnstile, the reader (which otherwise reports your credit balance) says “insufficient fare.” All the sudden, there’s a lot of MetroCards out there with a $1 balance that won’t get you anywhere, and I’m sure thousands of unsuspecting riders mistakenly presume “insufficient fare” to mean $0 credit — and then throw out that MetroCard. Thinking back, I’ve already done this at least three times. Assuming you can keep track of the $1 balance, the MTA says you can refill your card to use it. But that’s a problem for people (like me) who regularly receive new MetroCards as part of any numerous mail-order programs or combination regional-rail-subway ticket packages. But can’t a subway station attendant transfer a $1 credit to another MetroCard? Yes, presuming a) they know how to do it, b) there’s one open and c) you have time to wait in a line.

In the end, this new fare hike will result in a significant number of $1 credits going unused. I’m sure it will total in the millions by the end of 2008.