The 2013 Metrocard Math: $50 is the Magic Number

A new subway and bus fare structure arrives in New York City this weekend. So in a sequel to my public service post of 2011, I’ve calculated the refill amounts that will prevent the frustration of having a few cents stranded on your pay-per-ride Metrocard.

The disruptor that makes this exercise necessary is the “bonus” that you are given when you top up a fare card.  Right now, if you tell the machine you want a $10 Metrocard, you actually get a $10.70 Metrocard. On Sunday March 3, the bonus drops from 7% to 5%, and the base fare rises from $2.25 to $2.50. Your current Metrocard math will be useless.

First things first: you’ll have to zero out your current Metrocard on your own. When the base fare rises your current Metrocard math is going to be disrupted. I have no way of knowing what your current card balance is, so I can’t help you with this. If you can’t get the card to zero, don’t donate the money to the MTA, because that’s what they’re hoping you’ll do.  Instead, ask a token booth clerk for a postage-paid service envelope. Send it to the MTA and ask for a refund of the orphaned balance.

Here’s the new deal:

OPTION 1:  if you already have a Metrocard with a zero balance (or any balance divislbe by $2.50) it’s really easy.  After Sunday, just add $50 every time you are running low.  You’ll get a bonus of $2.50 and end up with exactly 21 rides.

OPTION 2: UPDATE: If you need a new Metroocard, I now believe $19.05 is the optimal amount.  I haven’t tried this myself yet, but Steve O. on Twitter sent me his Metrocard reciept.  The MTA has chosen to make things complicated for riders by NOT giving the “bonus” on the $1 fee, so I think it works like this:  Buy $19.05 Metrocard.  Bonus makes it a $20.00 Metrocard.  They charge you a total of $20.05 once the fee is added.

MTA Receipt

ONE-TIME OPTION 3: This is an option ONLY for this transition weekend. If you need a new Metrocard, buy it before Sunday and avoid the $1 fee. The purchase amount for the new Metrocard is $25.70, which will give you exactly 11 rides at the new $2.50 fare. (Don’t use it before Sunday’s fare hike or you’ll mess up the calculation.)

One more note: if money is tight and you don’t want to add $50, you can keep your card on the right track if you refill with amounts like $10 or $25, so that you will eventually add up to $50 and the coveted zero balance.

Finally, if all of this is too much to handle, the Easy Pay Metrocard is an easy option. You provide your credit card number and whenever your balance falls below $20 your card will be topped up automatically.


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