How to Hack New York City Subway Costs

How to Hack the NYC Subway


As of Sunday, March 22nd 2015, we New York City subway riders are feeling the pain of yet another  MTA fare hike.

  • Subway and local bus fares increased from $2.50 to $2.75 per trip. (with a bonus of 11 percent when you buy or add $5.50 or more to your MetroCard).
  • Seven-day unlimited MetroCards increased from $30 to $31.
  • 30-day unlimited MetroCards increased from $112 to $116.50.


I don’t take the subway enough to justify the purchase of a monthly unlimited MetroCard. Which means that every time I‘m considering a trip, whether it’s to run a quick errand or grab drinks with a friend, I have to ask myself if it’s worth the now $5.50 round trip charge.

When I’m having an unusually busy week, I find myself wrestling with estimations of projected trips and relative costs, fiercely trying to calculate the best value before the next train comes rolling into the station.

Despite the MTA sucking us all dry, they’ve released some “best value” charts and calculators to save us the hassle of doing our own last minute math as the train approaches – allowing us to uncover a MetroCard hack or two.


New York City Subway Value Chart

 New York City Subway Best Value


*MTA strikes again with a typo – first chart, first column, second row should be X rides per WEEK.

MetroCard Calculator


This is just a little preview of what the New York City Subway MetroCard Calculator looks like, but you can mess around with the MTA’s new tool HERE.

New York City Subway MetroCard Calculator

MetroCard Hack: How to Get to a Zero Balance on Your New York City Subway Card 


New York City Subway Zero Balance Fare


* Remember you can avoid that $1 new card fee if you keep refilling your card. If your card has expired, trade it in for a new one with the station agent.

If you’re using a pay-per-ride, you have two years from the expiration date on the card to transfer any remaining balance to a new card. The station agent can also assist with the transfer.


Lost Your MetroCard?


If you’ve lived here long enough, (and if you’re anything like me), you’ve probably shed some tears over a lost or missing MetroCard. The feeling of not being able to find your 30-day unlimited just a few days after dropping well over a $100 bucks on it induces spontaneous “leaking from the eyes” faster than an onion.

I don’t know how I lived here for so long without knowing the MTA had a “Balance Protection Program”, but they do. If you buy a 30-day unlimited MetroCard with a credit or debit card, you can call 511 or 718-330-1234 and follow the prompts to get to the Balance Protection Program for a partial refund.

Once you verify the debit or credit card number used to purchase the missing MetroCard, you will receive a refund in the form of a credit back to your debit or credit account for $3.89 per day remaining on your 30-day unlimited. Amounts are based on the day you call in to notify the MTA of your loss.

You can file up to two claims per calendar year. The first refund comes free of charge, the second comes with a $5.00 administrative fee deducted from the total refund amount. Not ideal, but better than a total loss accompanied by a full-scale meltdown when you find out your card is missing in the thick of rush hour.

Screw the MTA


Despite all these fare hikes, New York City subway service is progressively worsening.

According to the MTA New York City Transit Monthly Operations Report…

  • Terminal delays on weekends jumped 34 percent.
  • Weekday trains finished their routes late 26 percent of the time. (Compared to 19 percent in the previous twelve months).
  • Wait times for trains increased on both weekdays and weekends.

Anyone who’s been stuck on the train between two stations with no cell service for an inexplicably epic period of time has undoubtedly shouted expletives at the MTA (even if only in their minds).

Take advantage of these hacks to cut your New York City subway costs and maximize your MetroCard for all it’s worth!


ps. If you really want to stick it to the MTA use Citibike for local trips (or entirely if you live and work within the scope of the program).


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20 responses to “How to Hack New York City Subway Costs

  1. To the credit of the MTA, they are late because more people are riding it, but Albany steals their money. Governor Cuomo actually vetoed a bill that would prevent him from raiding the MTA’s piggy bank at his discretion for upstate pet projects. If the MTA was actually properly funded by Albany (as the state lawmakers actually manage NYC’s transit sadly), major capital projects like replacing tracks, signals, and water pumps would progress at a much quicker pace and the trains wouldn’t be so delayed. So moral of the story is blame Albany lawmakers for all those time you’re late on the subway.

  2. While I’m sure it’s not nearly as expensive as having a car and paying for parking, that seems really expensive! I don’t blame you for biking it instead. You’ll get your workout in at the same time too!

    1. Certainly cheaper than a car, but I always figure those savings go to the higher rent. Biking is great in spring and fall. The last few months were too snow crazy and the thick of summer gets a little gross, but I do as often as I can.

  3. I can only imagine the pain of losing the card! It must be the equivalent of us car drivers in LA getting a parking ticket. Happens all the time and you know better, but sometimes you still slip up. After 2 years and 5 months, I just slipped up. 🙁

  4. I would be worried about crime on the subway. Or someone throwing me on the tracks as i have read about lately.
    Why not just jump on the subway without paying. I have heard the cops are not enforcing that anymore?

    If you lose your “all you can eat” card, they should give you a new one with a pro-rated amount to finish the month. And it should be instantaneous.

    1. The subway is not dangerous at all. I’m worried about crime on the train about as much as I’m worried about my plane crashing. As for jumping turnstiles, it’s a big no no. I’ve seen people get caught.

      1. Agreed. No fear about riding the subway (I feel more unsafe in a car). And for sure people get caught jumping turnstiles. A friend of mine jumped one because the train was coming and she couldn’t find her metrocard. Ended up costing her over $200 in fines…

  5. After spending 6 years living in NJ and driving around their highways, riding the subway is a breeze. Being stuck on a train is no worse than being stuck in the non-stop construction always happening on highways (and always at 6p on a weekday). So I don’t mind because the alternative is the same.

    The cheapest way to get around the city would be buying your own bicycle. Even for a few hundred dollars you’ll make that up in savings in no time.

  6. I think it makes sense to bike it from March till October, and the times you need to go farther away like far rockaway, then just take the train. It will lower your annual transportation costs if you only use the train in the winter. Good hacking tips by the way. I only go on the train 2-3 times a year.

  7. I always hate thinking about all of the money I have lost over the years with the change that was left on old subway cards that I lost or threw out because they only had a small balance on them. It stinks to pay $5.50 round trip to get somewhere especially if you do that everyday but our metro system is still way better and more cost effective than other cities. I am always shocked at how much it costs in San Fran or DC to get anywhere, especially because they charge you more based on distance instead of the flat fares you get with your NYC ride.

  8. The train is still a safe and fast way to get anywhere in the city. The transportation costs will always go up. The older the infrastructure, the higher the maintenance costs and number of problems.

  9. The subway is still way cheaper than a car, even when you only look at the price in gas. I spend atleast $100/mo in gas, and i have a commute less than 10 miles each way.

  10. My favorite MTA hack involves the bus. I make quick trips to Midtown and back from Long Island City spending only one fare. I take the bus over and the subway back (or vice-versa). If I make the connection within 2 hours of when I swiped the Metrocard then the transfer to a bus back to LIC is free. It obviously won’t work for every situation, but if a bus line runs along a route similar to the train you usually take then it might be worth exploring.

    I’ve met so many people who say they simply will not take the bus no matter what, even if it would get them to their destination faster than a train and let them off right at the front door of where they are going. People are strange like that. And I’ve never really gotten a straight answer out of anybody as to where this stigma comes from.

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