You don’t have to spend too long in the average subway station to see that littering is a major problem — people leave coffee cups, gum wrappers, and newspapers. The newspapers have been particularly problematic in the last number of years in New York since free newspapers AMNY and Metro New York have launched, giving people no good reason to hang onto their papers when they are done reading — if you don’t have to pay for it, you don’t see the value of it. This was exactly the problem with the MTA’s MetroCards — once the value on them was used up, people saw no reason to hang onto them and just tossed them anywhere — you could always get another one the next time you took the train, after all.
When I would enter and leave just about any train station, I could count on finding dozens of MetroCards scattered about on the ground, even some laying a foot or less away from the machines that the MTA set up to check your balance that have a bin on the side for your convenient disposal of the cards. I was once at a meal where a gentleman amused the table by telling us that though he did not gamble, he did like to play a game wherein he would pick up MetroCards and test to see if they had any value — and once found fifty dollars on a card!
The days of such finds are over now that the MTA has implemented a one dollar fee every time you get a new MetroCard. They announced it a few months before the plan took effect, and the changes have been substantial. Only a few days before the plan started, MetroCards were everywhere on the ground. Only a few days after the plan kicked in, there were no longer MetroCards on the ground, on the street — practically anywhere. In a manner of speaking, it was like the MTA hired us to pick up the cards after them. Quite a few people complained about the new plan and how much money it would cost them but the reality is that it doesn’t have to cost you more than a dollar a year — the cards last a year and then are considered expired, but until that time you can reload them over and over again.
The kicker is that you do have to be careful with your card — if your card gets bent, do not expect the MTA to replace or fix your card easily. They will instead give you an envelope and tell you to mail the card to the MTA and then you will get reimbursed or a replacement card. Naturally, the process takes several weeks because that is exactly how these things work — but as long as you keep your card securely (mine is in my wallet in the card section) you have no reason to spend more than a dollar every year on a new MetroCard. On occasion you might even find one that someone may have inadvertently left behind — that’s your dollar to keep!