Before 1997, the MetroCard design was blue with yellow lettering. These blue cards are now collector's items
May 15, 1997 – The last MetroCard turnstiles were installed by this date, and the entire bus and subway system accepted MetroCards.
July 4, 1997 – First free transfers available between bus and subway at any location with MetroCard. This program was originally billed as "MetroCard Gold". Card colors changed to the current blue lettering on goldenrod background.
January 1, 1998 – Bonus free rides (10% of the purchase amount) were given for purchases of $15 or more.
July 4, 1998 – Unlimited Ride MetroCards were introduced, at $17 for seven days or $63 for 30 days. A 30-day "Express Bus Plus" MetroCard, allowing unlimited rides on express buses in addition to local buses and the subway, was also introduced at $120.
January 1, 1999 – 1-Day Fun Pass was introduced: unlimited use for one day for $4.
May 4, 2003 – Tokens were no longer accepted (except for a six-month transition period on buses where they were accepted for $1.50 credit towards the $2 ride). The 30-day Express Bus Plus was replaced with a 7-day Express Bus Plus card.
March 2, 2008 – A new 14-day unlimited-ride was introduced that cost $47.
December 30, 2010 – The 1-Day Fun Pass and the 14-Day Unlimited Ride were discontinued.
February 20, 2013 – Cards can now be refilled with both time and value.
March 3, 2013 – A $1 fee is imposed on new card purchases in-system.
May 4, 2003 – Fares were increased from $1.50 to $2; bonus free ride amount was increased to 20% of the purchase amount for purchases of $10 or more; The 1-day unlimited-ride fare increased from $4 to $7, the 7-day unlimited-ride fare increased from $17 to $21, and the 30-Day MetroCard increased from $63 to $70.
February 27, 2005 – The 7-day unlimited-ride fare increased from $21 to $24, the 7-day "Express Bus Plus" unlimited-ride fare increased from $33 to $41, and the 30-Day MetroCard increased from $70 to $76.
March 2, 2008 – The 1-day unlimited-ride fare increased from $7 to $7.50, the 7-day unlimited-ride fare increased from $24 to $25, a new 14-day unlimited-ride was introduced that cost $47, and the 30-Day MetroCard increased from $76 to $81. Bonus free ride amount reduced to 15% for purchases of $7 or more.
June 28, 2009 – Fares were increased from $2 to $2.25. Bonus goes to 15% for every $8. Unlimited cards rise to $8.25 (1 day), $27 (7 day), $45 (7 day express bus), $51.50 (14 day) and $89 (30 day).
December 30, 2010 – The bonus value for Pay-Per-Ride decreased to 7% for every $10. The 1-Day Fun Pass and the 14-Day Unlimited Ride have been discontinued. The 7-Day Unlimited Ride increased to $29, the 7-Day Express Bus Plus increased to $50, and the 30-Day Unlimited Ride increased to $104.
December 19, 2012 - The MTA voted for the following fare increases:
30-Day Unlimited MetroCard fare increases from $104 to $112.
7-Day Unlimited MetroCard fare increases from $29 to $30.
Bonus for pay-per-ride MetroCard decreases from 7% to 5% but the cutoff for the bonus decreases from $10 to $5.
Single ride MetroCard increases from $2.25 to $2.50.
During a swipe, the MetroCard is read, re-written to, then check-read to verify correct encoding.
An obsolete New York City Subway token.
The Blue MetroCard design when it was first introduced in 1993
Select Bus Service pay shelter for pre-payment of fare before boarding Select Bus Service BRT buses.
Each MetroCard stored value card is assigned a unique, permanent ten-digit serial number when it is manufactured. The value is stored magnetically on the card itself, while the card's transaction history is held centrally in the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) Database. When a card is purchased and fares are loaded onto it, the MetroCard Vending Machine or station agent's computer stores the amount of the purchase onto the card and updates the database, identifying the card by its serial number. Whenever the card is swiped at a turnstile, the value of the card is read, the new value is written, the customer is let through, and then the central database is updated with the new transaction as soon as possible. Cards are not validated in real time against the database when swiped to pay the fare. The AFC Database is necessary to maintain transaction records to track a card if needed. It has actually been used to acquit criminal suspects by placing them away from the scene of a crime. The database also stores a list of MetroCards that have been invalidated for various reasons (such as lost or stolen student or unlimited monthly cards), and it distributes the list to turnstiles in order to deny access to a revoked card.
The older blue MetroCards were not capable of the many kinds of fare options that the gold ones currently offer. The format of the magnetic stripe used by the blue MetroCard offered very little other than the standard pay-per-swipe fare. Also, gold MetroCards allow groups of people (up to four) to ride together using a single pay-per-swipe MetroCard. The gold MetroCard keeps track of the number of swipes at a location in order to allow those same number of people to transfer at a subsequent location, if applicable. The MetroCard system was designed to ensure backward compatibility, which allowed a smooth transition from the blue format to gold.
Cubic later on used the proprietary Metrocard platform to create the Chicago Card, which is physically identical to the Metrocard except for the labeling.
Fares and card types
A SingleRide Ticket
The SingleRide Ticket (introduced to replace subway tokens and single cash fares) is a piece of paper with a magnetic strip on the front, and with the date and time of purchase stamped on the back:
$2.75 for one subway or local bus ride, with one free bus/bus transfer (issued by Bus Operator upon request). No subway/bus or bus/subway transfers are provided on this card. NOTE: No transfers from Select Bus Service to any other buses with Single Ride Tickets.
SingleRide tickets expire two hours from time of purchase
SingleRide tickets can only be purchased at MetroCard Vending Machines.
Although the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard is accepted on PATH, the regular SingleRide ticket is not. However, a PATH SingleRide ticket is available from MVMs in PATH stations for $2.25, valid for 2 hours and only on PATH.
$5–80 initial value in any increment (though vending machines only sell values in multiples of 5 cents).
Card purchases or refills equal to or greater than $5 receive a 5% bonus (ex. $50 buys 21 rides).
$2.50 deducted for each subway, Staten Island Railway, or local bus use, excluding valid transfers.
$6 deducted for express bus use (NYCT bus or MTA Bus).
$2.25 deducted per use on PATH (no transfer privileges).
Up to 4 people can ride together on a single Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard.
Transfers available within two hours of initial entry:
One free transfer from
subway to local bus
bus to subway
bus to local bus
express bus to express bus
bus or subway to Staten Island Railway
subway to subway between the 59th Street (456<6> trains) or Lexington Avenue – 59th Street (NQR trains) stations and the Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street (F train) station
Two consecutive free transfers are available with the MetroCard for the following transfers. The transfers must be made in order or in reverse order, and must be made within two hours of each other (e.g. when one makes the first transfer, he or she has two hours to make the second transfer).
Works just like a pay per ride or unlimited MetroCard, but is automatically refilled from a linked credit or debit card .
An EasyPayXpress account is opened with $30 or 30 days ($112). For pay per ride customers, another $30 is automatically added when balance drops below $20.
All rules for standard pay per ride or unlimited cards apply.
EasyPay customers can review the account and ride usage on-line.
Reduced-fare EasyPay version converts from Pay-Per-Ride to Unlimited rides (during that billing cycle) once the value of fares used meet or exceed the cost of a reduced-fare 30-Day Unlimited Ride card. Express bus fares do not contribute.
Cannot be used on PATH trains.
JFK Airport Airtrain Discount MetroCard
10 trips on the Airtrain JFK at $25. This card can only be purchased at specially marked MetroCard Vending Machines. It can be refilled, and once done so, becomes a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard.
7-Day Unlimited Ride Card, $30 for unlimited subway and local bus rides until midnight on the seventh day following first usage.
30-Day Unlimited Ride Card, $112 for unlimited subway and local bus rides until midnight on the thirtieth day following first usage.
7-Day Express Bus Plus Card, $55 for unlimited express bus, local bus, and subway rides until midnight on the seventh day following first usage.
30-Day Unlimited and 7-Day Express Bus Plus Cards that are purchased using a credit, debit or ATM card from a MetroCard vending machine can be reported lost or stolen to receive a pro-rated credit for the card.
In New York City, issued to some New York City public and private school students allowing discounted access to the NYCT buses and trains, depending on the distance traveled between their school and their home. The card program is managed by the NYCDOE Office of Pupil Transportation.
In Nassau County, Student MetroCards are issued by individual schools which have pre-paid for the cards.
Four types of cards:
Orange Full fare K-6 (New York City)
Green: Full fare 7-12, half-fare K-12 (New York City)
Students who receive a full-fare MetroCard must live:
More than 0.5 miles away if they are in grades K-2
More than 1.0 miles away if they are in grades 3-6
More than 1.5 miles away if they are in grades 7-12
Students who receive a half-fare MetroCards must live:
Up to 0.5 miles away if they are in grades K-2
Between 0.5 and 1.0 miles away if they are in grades 3-6
Between 1.0 and 1.5 miles away if they are in grades 7-12
New York City subways and buses (1/2 Fare cards are only accepted on buses)
Staten Island Railway (full-fare only)
Nassau Inter-County Express (blue and purple cards only)
* (When produced, allows reduced-fare ticket purchase except for NYC-bound trains during morning peak hours)
Reduced-Fare MetroCards (in any variety) are not accepted at PATH stations.
Reduced fare customers who do not have a MetroCard may purchase a $2.50 round trip MetroCard from a subway station agent by presenting proof of eligibility.
MetroCard Bus Transfer
MetroCard Bus Transfer (Face)
The MetroCard Bus Transfer is issued upon request to passengers who pay cash fares on buses accepting MetroCard. The transfer is inserted into the fare box on the second bus, which retains it. Westchester Bee Line bus system and Nassau Inter-County Express and MTA New York City Transit bus is free to transfer from one bus to another bus that is accepted with MetroCard. The bus transfer is paper like the SingleRide Metrocard. This transfer does not grant cash customers subway access.
For suburban transfers, if the fare paid to get the transfer is less than that required on the second bus, the difference must be paid on boarding. For transfers from NICE to New York City Transit, no step up fee is required.
The predecessor to the MetroCard bus transfer was the original bus transfer. These paper tickets allowed bus to bus transfers. Available in pads of several different colors for use at different times, boroughs or directions, they would be torn at a certain time-marked line to indicate when the transfer would expire. A version of this still exists today as the "General Order Transfer" (aka "block ticket") which is provided to customers as they leave the subway system during service disruptions to re-enter the system at another point (often via a shuttle bus).
All new MetroCard purchases are charged a $1 fee, except reduced fare customers and those exchanging damaged / expired cards.
Subway station booths
Booths are located in all subway stations and are staffed by station agents. Every type of MetroCard can be purchased at a booth with the exception of the SingleRide ticket, and MetroCards specific to other transit systems (PATH, JFK Airtrain). All transactions must be in cash.
MetroCard vending machines
MetroCard Vending Machine
MetroCard Vending Machines (MVMs) are machines located in all subway stations, the Staten Island Ferry terminals, the Roosevelt Island Tramway station, the Hempstead Transit Center, Eltingville Transit Center, just inside the Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, at the Howard Beach and Jamaica AirTrain terminals near John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the NYC Visitors Center on 7 Avenue & 53 Street. They debuted on January 25, 1999 and are now found in two models. Standard MVMs are large vending machines that accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards and are in every subway station. Cash transactions are required for purchases of less than $1, and they can return up to $6 in coin change. There are also smaller versions of these machines that only accept credit and ATM/debit cards. Both machines allow a customer to purchase any type of MetroCard through a touch screen. The MVM can also refill to previously issued MetroCards. PATH fare vending machines can also dispense MetroCards.
The machines are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 through use of braille and a headset jack. Audible commands for each menu item are provided once a headset is connected and the proper sequence is keyed through the keypad. All non-visual commands are then entered via the keypad instead of the touch screen.
MetroCard bus and van
A MetroCard sales van
A number of MetroCard sales vans and a MetroCard bus (a retired bus converted for sales duty) routinely travel to specific locations in New York City and Westchester County, stopping for a day (or half a day) at the announced locations. MetroCards can be purchased or refilled directly from these vehicles. Reduced-fare MetroCard applications can also be processed on the bus, including taking photographs for these cards.
The MetroCard van serves all five boroughs and Westchester County, while the MetroCard bus serves Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and parts of Brooklyn.
Neighborhood MetroCard merchants
Vendors can apply to sell MTA fare media at their business. Only presealed, prevalued cards are available, and no fee is charged. A comprehensive listing can be found on the MTA website.
Railroad Ticket Vending Machines
Railroad ticket vending machines (TVM) for the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad offer the option to purchase combined tickets/passes and MetroCards. A $5.00 MetroCard is available with a round-trip ticket, $30 MetroCard with a weekly pass and $40 MetroCard with monthly pass. In addition, the machines sell separate $20 MetroCards. TVMs at Jamaica Station and Penn Station sell AirTrain monthly passes on the back of LIRR tickets. All cards sold from these machines are on thick paper stock.
Beginning in 2007 with the start of service on the S89 bus, a combined HBLR monthly pass and monthly MetroCard is available at NJT Ticket Vending Machines at HBLR stations.
In 2006 the MTA and Port Authority announced plans to replace the magnetic strip with smart cards.
On July 1, 2006, MTA launched a six-month pilot program to test the new "contact-less" smart card fare collection system, initially ending on December 31, 2006 but extended until May 31, 2007. This program was tested at all stations on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line and at four stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. The testing system utilized CitibankMastercard's Paypass keytags. This smart card system is intended to ease congestion near the fare control area by reducing time spent at paying for fare. MTA and other transportation authorities in the region say they will eventually implement system-wide.
Beginning October 7, 2012, MetroCard vending machines scattered throughout Manhattan dispensed something other than the classic blue and gold MetroCard. The MTA has begun to sell advertisement space on the front and back of the card to raise additional revenue. The ad appearing on the cards was purchased by The Gap and reads: "Be Bright NYC" with multicolored letters on a navy blue background. It encourages New Yorkers to visit Gap's newly remodeled flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway starting October 10, 2012. Customers who present the MetroCard at any Gap store were entitled to a 20% discount on merchandise purchases through November 18, 2012. The MTA had been running advertisements on the back of MetroCards since its inception, earning advertiser fees along with expired card value (accruing when purchased fares wind up not being used on a card deemed a collectible by fans). Deals were arranged as early as 1997. However, this is the first time the front of the cards have changed in over 10 years. Approximately 10% of the MetroCards sold throughout the system in a typical month will carry the Gap ad. Future MetroCard advertising campaigns will include the word "MetroCard" on the back of the card, flush right in the white space above the zone available for advertising.  Recently, the MetroCards have displayed Grand Central Terminal advertising the 100 year anniversary of the infamous clock, encouraging tourists and New Yorkers to visit said clock. The back of the MetroCard states: "Meet Me at the Clock. The clock on top of the Information Booth in the middle of Grand Central Terminal is one of the most recognizable icons in New York City and has been a famous rendezvous spot for 100 years."
Fraud and scams
The MetroCard system is susceptible to various types of frauds, perpetrated by con artists. Usually these frauds involve the con artist preventing or dissuading the commuter from using his or her own MetroCard, and then charging the commuter for entry to the system (entry is gained by a method that costs the con artist nothing).
Also, Metrocard Vending Machines are programmed to disable the bill or coin acceptor after a series of rejected bills or coins, which can result in a row of MVMs all saying "No Bills" or "No Coins".
If a con artist is not using a stolen or broken card, he or she can use an array of unlimited cards. Multiple cards are needed because of the 18-minute delay between each swipe at the same station. Using unlimited cards, a con artist is able to sell rides for $1 instead of $2.
A report from New York State Senator Martin J. Golden claims this scam is costing the MTA $260,000 a year, and some con artists are making up to $800 a day executing it.
All aspects of this scam have been recently prohibited by MTA policy and a New York State law. It is now a crime to do any of these things:
deface a MetroCard
sell a swipe (although selling the cards themselves is allowed)
enter the system without properly paying a fare.
The introduction of MetroCards did eliminate one class of criminals. When the NYC subway still used tokens, token suckers would steal tokens by jamming turnstile coin slots, waiting for unsuspecting passengers to deposit tokens (only to discover that the turnstile did not work), then returning to suck out the token. The retirement of tokens in 2003 put the token suckers out of commission, or, at the very least, forced them to find new ways of scamming the system (see above).
The MetroCard does have a magnetic stripe, but both the track offsets and the encoding differ from standard Magstripe cards. It's a proprietary format developed by the contractor Cubic. Off-the-shelf reader/writers for the standard cards are useless, and even hypothetically could work only with both physical and software modification. Some have had partial success decoding it using audio tape recorder heads, laptop sound cards, and custom Linux software.
^Riazi, Atefeh. MetroCard: Automating New York City’s Public Transit System. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Urban Transportation Systems, American Society of Civil Engineers, Miami, Fla. (March 21–25, 1999).