The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is preparing to add a $1 charge to almost all new MetroCards beginning in 2013.
The authority said the fee is aimed at encouraging riders to continue putting money on existing cards at vending machines throughout the city’s transportation system rather than discarding empty ones and buying them new.
Most cards are purchased from vending machines at subway, train and bus stations. A small handful of subway riders at the 179th Street station in Jamaica and the Woodhaven Boulevard stop in Elmhurst who declined to give their names expressed concern that the move is just a money grab by the MTA.
But an authority spokesman said their real gain would be the money they hope to save with what they are calling a “green fee.”
“The point is to reduce the number of instances of people putting new MetroCards into service, and to reduce the number of cards that are thrown away,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an interview on Tuesday. “That will reduce the amount of money we spend producing the cards; reduce the amount of litter in stations and reduce the amount of plastic going into the waste stream.”
Donovan explained that the fee would not have to impact on regular riders, who could simply put more money on existing cards.
“It wouldn’t apply to most New Yorkers,” he said. “This is aimed at discretionary purchases, not required purchases.”
Right now, a single-ride card can be purchased for $2.50. Cards purchased for $10 or more receive a 7 percent discount. A card purchased for $20 has a value of $21.40. That same card will cost $21 in 2013.
Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, said they favor the idea. A part of the New York Public Interest Research Group, he said the MTA’s environmental claims are genuine ones, and not just at the landfill level.
“Anyone who has taken the subway system can see spent MetroCards on the floor, usually near the token booth,” he said. “This will encourage people to reuse their cards.”
Cards that people get through their employers and in combination programs that result in MetroCards being mailed to commuters will not be subject to the fee.
Donovan said the idea was first floated in 2010, so that is should not come as a surprise. And it was reaction to the first proposal for the fee that has Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) keeping a wary eye on implementation.
Braunstein said his constituents in northeast Queens must get their MetroCards from vending machines at Long Island Rail Road stations in Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside and Auburndale.
“And those machines cannot refill MetroCards,” Braunstein said. “If you take a $20 card and use it up in about one week, that’s an extra $1 per week for my constituents, or roughly $50 per year because they now would have to pay for a new one rather than refill the old one.”
Braunstein said the MTA turned a deaf ear to his complaints last year, but Donovan said Tuesday that they will be addressed before implementation.
“We’ll find a solution,” he said. “Exceptions are being planned.”
Michael Murphy, spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, acknowledged that any moves by the MTA to cut costs and help the environment are laudable. But he also said this is just one way the authority’s hand is being forced by a lack of action and commitment by state officials. Transportation Alternatives advocates for more mass transit, cycling and other nonautomobile transportation.
“They need to cut costs because they are dramatically underfunded,” Murphy said. “The state government has repeatedly raided their dedicated mass transit fund and replaced the money with IOUs, so the MTA is sitting in a shaky financial foundation and just had its debt downgraded ... then the public blames the MTA.”
He said state leaders need to focus less on scoring political points and more on strengthening the agency.
“I would love to see Gov. Cuomo start getting a lot of calls about this,” Murphy said.