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Lost And Unused Metrocards Add Up To $52 Million A Year in NYC

Monday, April 18, 2011 - 11:37 AM

(Photo by: Darny / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Yorkers, have you ever lost a metrocard for months at the bottom of your purse or in between the couch cushions? Or maybe you still have one that would be worth ten dollars if you hadn't let it expire? Well, add those to everyone else's lost or unused Metrocards over a year and the total comes to $52 million.

In practical terms, riders' absentmindedness helps the NYC MTA. Say your cousin from Louisville leaves town with a pay-per-ride card with eight dollars on it: that's a service purchased that the NYC MTA needn't provide. But that money--all $52 million--could potentially be cashed in by riders. So it sits on the NYC MTA's books as a liability.

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Later this year, the authority will start charging a dollar to replace a Metrocard--partly to encourage riders to keep better track of the cards. The NYC MTA expects to reap a $20 million benefit from both the fee and having fewer Metrocards to print, program, recycle and clean up. The authority is hoping the surcharge will lower the fifteen cents it spends on fare collection for every dollar taken in.

NYC MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an email that the authority has looked into why so much Metrocard value goes unused:

"Our study concluded that the great majority...results from MetroCards that are lost, misplaced, sit in one’s bag/dresser/wallet forever and get forgotten about, or belong to visitors who’ve left town or ex-New Yorkers who’ve moved away. These occurrences wouldn’t be significantly affected by a surcharge."

Almost half of all Metrocards sold are pay-per-ride rather than unlimited. As of now, 7 and 30-day unlimited cards must be discarded when they expire. But riders will be able to refill them once the dollar fee is imposed. No date has been given for the switch.

A common problem for some New York transit users is to have a Metrocard with a leftover fare that doesn't add up to a ride. A rider can take several cards that add up to more than the cost of one ride and hand them in to a station agent. The agent can then consolidate them on a new Metrocard.

If a rider has a card that is not expired but has become damaged and is no longer working, he or she can take it to a station agent, who’ll take the balance off of the old card and put it onto a new card.

If a Metrocard has expired but still has value on it, a rider can mail it to NYC Transit for a refund within two years after purchase. Pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes are available at subway station booths and on buses. More details can be found on the problems page of the NYC MTA website.

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