Everything You Need to Know About Using a MetroCard in New York City

Woman at subway station
Woman at subway station | © pxhere
Julia Goicochea

Even more than an air of confidence and comfortable walking shoes, a MetroCard is your most valuable tool for getting around New York City. The thin plastic card is required to ride the subway and bus, and like any New York native, it plays by its own rules. Before you start swiping, here’s everything you need to know about using a MetroCard in New York City.

You can purchase a MetroCard inside any subway station

While not every subway station features a kiosk operated by MTA (that’s Metropolitan Transit Authority) personnel, all subway stations feature MetroCard Vending Machines. These easy-to-use machines accept cash, ATM cards, and credit cards and allow you to purchase or refill a MetroCard.


The most standard MetroCard option is the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard

Using a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard simply means that you are opting to pay for single rides, each costing $2.75. (Fun fact: It’s said that the cost of an MTA subway ride and the price of a slice of pizza in New York City are always equal). So, each time you use your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, $2.75 is deducted from your card balance. The minimum purchase for Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards is $5.50 (the cost of two rides), and purchasing this type of card earns you an 11% bonus.

There are different types of MetroCards

The Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard is just one of several MetroCard types. There’s also the Unlimited Ride MetroCard, which allows users to purchase an unlimited number of rides for a fixed price. These come in options including 7-Day, 30-Day, 7-Day Express Bus Plus, and JFK AirTrain 30-Day. Lastly, the traveler-favorite JFK AirTrain 10-Trip MetroCard makes for a convenient airport commute. All of these options allow MTA riders to find the MetroCard that’s right for them.


Some children don’t require a MetroCard in order to ride

So long as they’re accompanied by a paying adult, up to three children 44 inches tall and under can ride the subway or bus for free. Infants—that is children under two years of age—can even ride express buses for free provided they are seated on the lap of a paying adult.

You can stretch your swipe further by taking advantage of transfers

Within two hours of first swiping your MetroCard, you can obtain one free transfer to another bus or subway. There’s nothing you need to do to access this perk: simply hop from bus to bus, bus to subway, subway to bus, or between select subway stations and swipe your MetroCard. This “two for the price of one” deal can be used anytime but especially comes in handy when traveling between boroughs.


Swiping can sometimes put you in sticky situations

As if the New York City subway wasn’t daunting enough, there are some stations that seem designed to cause confusion. Many stations feature separate entrances for uptown- and downtown-bound trains, creating the potential that users could accidentally swipe their MetroCard at the wrong entrance. When accidental swipes occur, the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard user is out $2.75 (there are no refunds), and the Unlimited Ride MetroCard-user is required to wait a full 18 minutes before using the card again.

Your ordinary MetroCard can grant you access to some extraordinary experiences

A simple swipe of your MetroCard can take you home or to work, but it can also send you whizzing through the air aboard the Roosevelt Island Tram, an aerial passage between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island providing stunning views of New York City. It can also take you back in time on Holiday Nostalgia Rides, a seasonal event which allows modern-day commuters to ride trains ripped from the 1930s through the 1970s.


At any time, you can check the status of your MetroCard

Nothing frustrates the New York commuter more than an unexpected “Insufficient Funds” notice. Stay on top of how much time or money is left on your MetroCard by either swiping it at a Subway turnstile, where a display will show your remaining balance or the dreaded notice, or by using a MetroCard Reader, machines located in every subway station that provide your MetroCard status.

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