NYC Metrocard Math for 2011

The new MTA subway and bus fares in New York took effect today. And this means there’s an entirely new calculation to learn to make sure you’re not left with a few pennies wasted on your Metrocard. The new magic refill amount is $39.95.

It’s more than absurd that we have to calculate this ourselves. But the MTA has made three decisions that make this necessary:

1) as has been the case for many years, there’s a “bonus” for buying fares in bulk. It’s not as big a bonus as it was yesterday, but now you get 7% extra on any refill over $10.
2) though there could easily be a button recommending a refill amount that is divisible by $2.25, the MTA has chosen instead to have vending machines feature amounts (like $10) that leave you with an odd balance.
3) to further ensure that you end up with orphaned pennies on your Metrocard the vending machines only permit refill amounts in 5 cent increments.

The key piece of information is this: if you refill your card with $39.95, you’ll get a bonus of $2.80, leaving you with exactly 19 rides at $2.25 each.

You can stop reading here if you don’t want to clutter your mind with fine print.

Two other amounts under $40 also work to leave you with no leftover pennies: $35.75 and $37.85. I’ve chosen $39.95 because I think it is a number I could actually remember. Plus, if you were paying cash you could pop in two $20 bills and have a clean transaction. (Note that sometime next year the MTA has said it will start charging $1 for a new Metrocard, but for now this applies to either a “new” Metrocard or a refill.)

If you don’t like refilling $40 at a time, there are smaller amounts that will leave only a few pennies on your card. But nothing that works out evenly meets the MTA requirement that your refill be in 5 cent increments. You can run the numbers for yourself using the helpful online Metrocard Bonus Calculator tool.

I’d love to see statistics on how much money the MTA pockets each year from these orphaned Metrocard amounts. Of course, you have the right to consolidate cards but who has the time to add one 2 cent card to another 8 cent card? The best way for you to fight back is to always refill with an even number of rides. Remember $39.95 and you’re set.

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