Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Those Darn MetroCards

If you plan to use the subways or buses on your trip to New York City you will need a MetroCard.

Every subway station has a machine where you can purchase a MetroCard. Most will take either cash or credit/debit cards. Many newsstands and corner stores also sell MetroCards. The basic fare on NYC transit is $2 per ride. There are pay-per-ride cards and unlimited ride cards. The fare/bonus structure when you buy pay-per-ride cards is too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say that if you go with a pay-per-ride card other than the basic $2 one-time-use card better bring an abacus or a 7-year-old math whiz to figure out how much cash will sit unused on your card after you're done with it. My advice, go with one of the following Unlimited Ride cards:

The 1-Day Fun Pass costs $7.50 and is good from first use until 3AM the following day.

The 7-Day Unlimited Ride card costs $25 and is good from first use until midnight 7 days later.

The 14-Day Unlimited Ride card costs $47 and is good from first use until midnight 14 days later.

The 30-Day Unlimited Ride card costs $81 and is good from first use until midnight 30 days later.

You can decide which card is best for you based on the length of your stay and the number of times you plan to ride the subways or buses.

The Swipe

OK, you have your MetroCard. Life Is Good. But you still have to get through the subway turnstile and this is where the MetroCard can turn testy. A deft and steady swipe through the card reader slot will get you the "Go" readout and release the turnstile. Too slow, too fast or too uneven and the "Please Swipe Again" message will appear. Now this is important, if you keep getting this message DO NOT move to another turnstile to try again. You will either lose your fare on a per-ride card or have to wait 18 minutes to use your unlimited ride card again. Keep trying at the same turnstile or better yet ask a native to swipe the card for you. If even that doesn't work go talk to the MTA employee in or nearby the token booth. They will reset your card and get you through.

Through no fault of your's the MetroCard readers can be quirky. Unlimited Ride cards do better than pay-per-ride cards because, as it was explained to me by an MTA employee (who purports to know these things as well as everything else) the machines perform fewer calculations on the Unlimited Ride cards as they move through the reader. One more reason to go with the Unlimited Ride cards.

You also get one free transfer from subway to bus, bus to subway or local bus to local bus within two hours from the time you first swiped your card.

MetroCards are good on all subways and buses throughout the system. Keep in mind that the Unlimited Ride card has a built-in limitation. As mentioned before, there's an 18 minute wait period between swipes. It keeps people from buying one card and passing it back to everyone in the group (not that you would ever do that). By the way, if you don't have a MetroCard the buses still take exact change. Also, up to three children 44 inches (1.1 meters) tall and under ride for free on subways and buses when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. So buy a card for yourself, bring a tape measure for the kiddies and remember, hang on!

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