As you may know, the MTA in New York recently restructured fares.  They raised the price of monthly and weekly passes and altered the discount structure for buying stored-value cards, but kept the base fare the same at $2.00.

It used to be that if you put at least $10 on a metrocard, you’d get a 20% bonus – buy five rides, get one free.  Now, the deal is that you get only a 15% bonus but you get it for spending as little as $7.  Spend $7 and get a bonus of $1.05 for $8.05 which is four rides and a nickel.  Buy three and a half rides, get half a ride free and a nickel?

This nickel is driving some people nutty. 

I’m not sure why it would bother you if you keep refilling the same metrocard, but I guess some people like to throw away empty metrocards and don’t want to waste a nickel, or they’re just picky about those things.  (Hey, I shouldn’t throw stones, I like to sort my M&Ms by color before eating them.) (I like to, I don’t have to.)

I imagine this might be seen as a conspiracy by the MTA to retain nickels from millions of commuters and thereby pay off the ex-governor’s ho tab balance the budget.  But there’s a not too difficult solution:


That’s the magic number.  Buy a $17.39 metrocard and you’ll get a 15% bonus up to an even $20.  Having trouble remembering that?  Here’s a list of some stuff that happened in 1739.  If that’s too much, and you’re a heavy user, try spending $40 on and getting bonused up to $46, an even 23 rides.

Or maybe the MTA should give you the option to donate all those nickels to charity.  But you can bet that if they ever reduced the discount to eliminate the annoying nickel, people would complain about losing it.  Now its just another odd bit of city living.


I should have checked my facts. I should have checked my facts. I should have checked my facts.   On the way back from writing this post at a cafe, I tried it.  And you know what?  It did not work.  Why not?  Well, it turns out that you can’t buy a metrocard for an amount that’s not a multiple of $0.05 – the same annoying nickel.  If you up your bid to $17.40, you’ll end up with $20.01, a smaller excess, but excess nonetheless.

Here is an updated table of metrocard amounts that you can purchase that should result in integral numbers of $2 rides.  Note that I have not tested these yet.  (You’d think I would have learned, but I was too eager to get to redacting to check them all.)

Buy    - Get    - Rides
$15.65 - $18.00 -  9
$24.35 - $28.00 - 14
$31.30 - $36.00 - 18
$40.00 - $46.00 - 23

Perhaps I’ll make up stickers like the above and plaster them on the metrocard machines.  Power to the riders.