How to Hack N.Y.C. MetroCard Fares


From hoarding multiple low balance cards, to the CASH ONLY sign flashing above the only station kiosk: I have MetroCard trauma. To survive New York City M.T.A. transportation fare hikes, I go the extra mile to (legally) "hack" the system and use my MetroCard to its fullest potential. Here are four ways I leverage my MetroCard perks to save some cash... for a slice of dollar pizza to ease my M.T.A. pain, obviously.

1. I use free bus return transfers.
Many New York City transplants and visitors don't know it but this loophole is common knowledge to outer-borough natives. For quick errands, I use a free bus transfer for my return trip home to save on transportation costs. To use this trick you must first know these important facts about transfers:
  • Your M.T.A. fare includes a free two-hour transfer window
  • If you completely exit a subway station you cannot reenter for free (you don't receive free station-to-station transfers)
  • The free two-hour transfer window only applies to bus-to-bus and train-to-bus transfers
You must then monitor the time from the moment you swipe at the subway turnstile to the moment you use your free transfer. If your second swipe time passes two hours, you have to pay again. Plan it right and you will be able to take two trips (one paid there and one free back) for the price of one.

2. Combine your MetroCard balance at the station.
There's nothing worse in life than running to the turnstile during rush hour, swiping at lighting speeds like the super hero that you are, and having your reproductive organs smashed into an IHOP pancake against a steel pole taunting, "insufficient fare."

At any given time most people roam N.Y.C. with at least three insufficient fare MetroCards and have no idea that there is an easy solution. No, don't throw them away. The solution is to walk up to the station attendant, while praying to the M.T.A. gods that he or she doesn't have a bad attitude, and politely request to have your MetroCards combined.

Yes: the holy union of MetroCards. The agent will transfer the balance of your extra cards to one card for no charge.

3. Use an out-of-system subway transfer.
There is a magical place within the complex N.Y.C. subway system called the 63 street-Lexington Avenue station. The only established walking transfer, this out-of-system subway transfer was created in 2001 to connect the F train with the 59 street-Lexington Avenue 4 5 6 / N Q R station after being rerouted.

My trick? Whenever I have to go to Midtown East, I swipe my MetroCard and take an express subway ride (to get there as quickly as possible and save transfer time), run my errands and speed walk over to the 63 street station to use the same MetroCard fare for a free transfer home.

Since there is no other place in N.Y.C. that allows you to do this transfer (unless it is due to construction), what better place for it to be than at two stations that connect seven subway lines?

4. Pay with multiple low-balance MetroCards
Back to my beloved bus advice. I actually learned this one from my mom, who is an avid bus rider and possibly even more frugal than I am.

Sometimes when I try to combine my MetroCards in the subway station, I get a harsh snarl instead of kind assistance from the station attendant. My backup plan is to leave the subway station and hop on a bus instead.

What do I do with the insufficient fare cards? I still combine them. Just like the station attendant would do in the subway, I submit one card at a time on the bus and the machine adds up the insufficient balances. I keep the cards that still have money on them and throw the newly empty ones away. If I still don't have enough fare, I can easily add loose change to the total.

Will it work for you?
These are MetroCard hacks that saved me money and taught me time management for years. Try these tricks and see how much money you can save in a month. You'd be surprised.

Olivia Christine is a Travel Writer and native New Yorker from the South Bronx. No, she doesn't know J.Lo personally. Yes, she has her driver's license.