NYC Subway Guide - Using the MetroCard (2023)

The MetroCard

The MetroCard is a thin, credit-card sized farecard made of (cheap) plastic. It has been the farecard for the subway for many decades, but is being replaced by the new contactless OMNY system. The MetroCard machines will disappear completely by the end of 2023, but you can still use the MetroCard until early 2024. Most of the time, the card looks like this (front and back):

(Video) NYC Subway Travel Guide From a Local

Occasionally, the MetroCard also carries advertisements on either side, so it might not be yellow as above, but it always has a black magnetic stripe at the bottom, three rounded corners, and one "cut off" corner.

The back of the card has what I call a physical expiration date which is usually set pretty far in the future. This physical expiration date is fixed and indicates the time when the card becomes unusable and must be exchanged for another one at a token booth. This physical expiration date has nothing to do with the value and time on the card, so don't confuse this date with the expiration of an Unlimited Ride window (which I will explain that later). This physical expiration date is merely there to force old cards out of rotation.

A MetroCard can operate in two modes: Regular and Unlimited Ride. Physically, the card looks identical regardless of which mode it is currently in, so you can't tell the difference unless you swipe it at a card reader. Regardless of the type of MetroCard, it costs $1 just to buy the card. There also exists an all-white Single-Ride ticket for $3 that you can buy at ticket booths, but unless you really only going to take a single ride, it is not economical to buy it.

Children under 44 inches (112 cm.) regardless of age can ride trains for free and don't need to buy a card as long as they are accompanied by a fare-paying adult. (The children can just walk underneath the turnstile.)

Regular MetroCard (Pay-Per-Ride)

The regular MetroCard (also known as a Pay-Per-Ride card) carries a real dollar value that decreases every time you take the subway (hence "pay per ride"). You can keep on adding value to the card whenever your balance runs low. The fee to buy the card itself is $1 and is not refundable. This $1 cannot be used to pay for rides (and is therefore not reflected in the balance).

In this card mode, the cost of riding the subway is $2.75 per ride (regardless of the destination or length of the ride).

Pay-Per-Ride cards can be shared by up to four people. To share a card, you can swipe the card multiple times to let multiple people through the turnstiles. You can do this individually by swiping the MetroCard, letting the first person enter, swiping it again to let the next person enter, and so on, or you can swipe the card multiple times back to back and then let the corresponding number of people walk through the turnstiles.

You can also use this Pay-Per-Ride card to pay for some other public transportation in New York City, such as the buses, the AirTrain to/from the JFK airport or the PATH commuter trains from/to New Jersey.

(Video) How to Buy & Use a New York MetroCard (step by step) for the NYC subway, bus, airtrain, etc

You can combine the values of multiple Pay-Per-Ride cards by going to the information booth and asking the attendant to combine them for you. When you do so, only the current balances are accumulated; the $1 fee for each card is not taken into account.

Unlimited Ride cards

Unlimited Ride cards allow you to ride the subway (and buses) as often as you want, as long as the time window that you bought for the card hasn't passed. There are only two time windows available:

  • 7-Day Unlimited Ride: $33 (+ $1 fee for the card itself);
  • 30-Day Unlimited Ride: $127 (+ $1 fee for the card itself);

Sorry, there aren't any single-day or weekend passes. If you think you are going to make more than 12 individual trips (a very likely scenario for tourists staying more than two days), buying a 7-Day Unlimited Ride card will be cheaper than paying 12 times.

The time window does not activate until you swipe the card for the very first time at a turnstile to enter the system. For instance, you can buy the card on January 17, activate it on April 1, and it will expire at midnight between April 7 and April 8.

Unlimited cards always expire exactly at midnight on the 7th or 30th day, regardless of the time you activated the card on the first day. For instance, if you activate a 7-Day Unlimited Ride card on Monday morning, it will expire Sunday night at midnight. If you activate the card Monday evening at 11:30pm, it still expires Sunday night at midnight. As a result, you effectively get to use it only for 6 days and 30 minutes. In that case, you are better off paying for a single ride using the Pay-Per-Ride card and then activating the Unlimited Ride card the next morning.

Unlimited Ride cards cannot be shared by two people. In fact, there is a (roughly) 18-minute delay between each swipe to prevent the card from being used by more than one person.

As noted before, on the back of every MetroCard you'll find a printed physical expiration date. Do not confuse the printed physical card expiration date with the paid expiration of the Unlimited Ride time window.

A card can carry both time and value

A card can carry "time ", "value", or both. In other words, you can add a dollar value to an Unlimited Ride card or buy time to an existing Pay-Per-Ride card. When this happens, the time portion always takes precedence when you swipe it at a turnstile (it will activate the time window as necessary). After the time portion of the card has expired, it will then (and only then) start draining the value of your card. This also implies that you cannot use this card with multiple people as a second swipe on the card will be denied as "Just used" despite the card carrying monetary value in addition. Lastly, MetroCards can be refilled. Provided that the physical expiration date on the back of the card has not passed, you can reload a new Unlimited Ride time window or just money onto an expired or empty card.

(Video) How to Take the NYC Subway - Your Ultimate Guide

Buying a MetroCard

You can buy a MetroCard at any subway station, either at a staffed ticket booth or MetroCard vending machine located inside the subway station. They look like this:

The small one on the left does not accept cash, whereas the large machines on the right accept both cash and credit cards. While each subway station is guaranteed to have these machines, not every entrance to a subway station gives you access to them. If you enter the station but do not see these machines, simply go out and find another nearby entrance to the same station.

The screen on the machine does not have the most intuitive layout. I've devised the following simplified flowchart to navigate this machine:

Remember that in addition to the price listed above, you must add $1 for the card itself.

When you pay with cash on the large machines, note that they can only return up to $9 in cash (paid out in $1 coins). When you pay by ATM or credit card, the machine will ask you for the ZIP code associated with your account. If you come from outside the United States, just enter 99999 as your ZIP code. Do note that sometimes ATM/credit card companies prevent you from buying multiple MetroCards in quick succession to minimize theft abuse. Usually they limit purchases to two new MetroCards per credit card per day, so plan accordingly if you travel in a group that needs separate Unlimited Ride MetroCards on their first day.

Inside subway stations you can also find some standalone MetroCard readers where you can swipe a given MetroCard to check its balance and time:

(Video) Guide to the NYC Subway | How to Ride and Navigate the New York Subway

The display of these MetroCard readers can be a little confusing, so let's take a look at some common scenarios. If you just added an unlimited time window to a MetroCard and have not activated this time window yet, the card will display both the unactivated unlimited time window as well as any monetary value you might also have on the card:

In the above example, I have a 7-day unlimited time window and as well as $33.40 on my card. You might be confused by the first line displaying "TIME EXPIRED", but that's just because I used to have a previous unlimited time window on the card that has already expired. The recently-purchased 7-day window has not activated yet. To make matters worse, these readers also display on the last line the (mostly useless) physical expiration time (which is printed on the back of the card anyways). Again, don't confuse that date with any of the unlimited time windows.

Once you actually have activated the unlimited time window portion of a MetroCard, these readers will display when the time window will expire as well as the last time this card was swiped at a turnstile:

The keyword to look for is "THRU" to determine that the time window is currently active until the specified date (of 06/15/16 in the above example). Note that even though the reader only displays the expiration date, it is implied that the time window expires exactly at 11:59pm on that date.

Lastly, once the time window has expired, the reader might still display the time window that you once had:

(Video) CityRover's NYC Subway Guide For Beginners -- Learn How to Buy a Metrocard, Swipe, Navigate & More

Because the display does not display "THRU <date>", it means that the 7-day unlimited time window has expired. The display also shows "INSUFFICIENT FARE" because the available $0.40 I also have on the card would not be sufficient to pay for a single ride anyways.


What to do when MetroCard says just used? ›

A user of an unlimited MetroCard informed that her card was “Just Used” will have to decide between trying to enter again after waiting 18 minutes, the minimum time permitted by the MTA between card uses, or spending more money to buy another card.

How many times can you swipe a NYC MetroCard? ›

Pay Per Ride MetroCard is nothing but a rechargeable card that will allow you to pay each individual ride at the reduced fare of $2.75 fee. You are free to re-load the Metro Card as many times as you like, plus at any station, you can swipe as many as 4 times back-to-back meaning 4 people can share the same card.

Can I use MetroCard multiple times? ›

Cannot be used again at the same subway station or the same bus route for at least 18 minutes. Cannot be used by or transferred to another person until the completion of a trip for which entry was obtained.

How many times can you swipe an unlimited MetroCard? ›

There are two types of cards to choose from: a Pay-Per-Ride card and an Unlimited Ride card. With a Pay-Per-Ride card, your card will deduct $2.75 every time you take the subway/bus. An Unlimited Card costs a flat fee and you can use the subway/bus as many times as you want within a set number of days.

How long until I can swipe my MetroCard again? ›

Unlimited Ride MetroCards:

These passes are only good for one person, they cannot be shared. Once swiped you cannot use the card again for another 18 mins. The 7 Day Unlimited Pass is $33.

Can I swipe OMNY twice? ›

No, the cap only applies to a single payment method. You must use the same contactless credit or debit card, smart device, or OMNY card for each trip. In other words, each payment method builds toward its own unique cap.

Is there a 1 day unlimited MetroCard NYC? ›

Unlimited-Ride MetroCards

Various unlimited MetroCards are available for purchase. The options include the One-Day Fun Pass, the 7-day pass, the 14-day pass or the 30-day pass. Unlimited-Ride MetroCards are effective the first time that you use them.

How do tourists use the NYC subway? ›

For visitors staying more than a couple of days you can buy a one week unlimited MetroCard for $33 or an unlimited monthly MetroCard for $127.00. People who are 65 or older or who have qualifying disabilities can get a reduced fare, which is half price. You must see an attendant at a station to purchase one.

What happens if you bend a MetroCard? ›

Bending a MetroCard does not make it “falsely altered” — as the law defines forgery — “because the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value,” the defense lawyers maintained, according to a summary of their arguments in a ...

Can you swipe someone in? ›

If you swipe someone in as a courtesy, that's legal. But, if the person requesting a swipe is caught asking, they could be stopped by the police and possibly hit with a $25 to $50 fine, or a summons to appear in court.

How do I swipe my MetroCard? ›

Using a MetroCard

Hold the card so the black magnetic strip is facing you and on the bottom of the card. (The clipped corner should be on the upper right.) Swipe your card through the reader at a medium speed, similar to how you would swipe a credit card in a credit card reader.

How much is a 30 day unlimited MetroCard NYC? ›

Cost: $33 (7-day) or $127 (30-day). You have unlimited swipes on the subway and local buses for either 7 or 30 days. Your MetroCard can only hold one Unlimited Ride refill at a time.

Can you combine metrocards NYC? ›

You can combine the values of multiple Pay-Per-Ride cards by going to the information booth and asking the attendant to combine them for you. When you do so, only the current balances are accumulated; the $1 fee for each card is not taken into account.

How much is a 7 day unlimited MetroCard NYC? ›

Monthly: $127.00 (same as the cost of the MTA NYCT 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard). Bi-weekly and semi-monthly: $63.50. Weekly: $31.75.

Why does my MetroCard keep saying swipe again? ›

At the time, Vallone railed against the tendency of a MetroCard reader to double-charge riders. That “Please swipe again” message often meant that the turnstile had deducted the fare but not yet properly waved the passenger through. Moving to another turnstile would cause a second fare to be culled from that card.

Can I put my MetroCard next to my phone? ›

Putting your cards between your phone and your case while wirelessly charging exposes them to a far stronger magnetic field. So, we recommend that you don't have your cards near your phone if this applies to you.

Do metrocards work after being washed? ›

yes it will work I have washed my kids too many times so I know! just the washer, it should be fine, depends on how banged up it got.

Is OMNY same as MetroCard? ›

Reduced-Fare OMNY cards

If you want to wait for a Reduced-Fare OMNY card, they will be issued in 2023. They will have similar functionality to today's MetroCards, along with the ability to reload value online or at retail locations.

What does OMNY stand for? ›

What does “OMNY” mean? OMNY, which stands for One Metro New York, is based on the concept of unifying fare payments and ticketing across multiple modes of transportation.

How many times can you tap a card in a day? ›

There is no limit to the number of times you can use a contactless payment card in a day via the contactless method, but there is a caveat to this. Intermittently, your bank may ask for you to enter your PIN to ensure it's you – and not anyone else – that is using your card.

What is the cheapest way to get around New York? ›

Use public transportation to avoid the hefty cab prices. Take the AirTrain, the airport's public transit line to connect with New York City's subways, buses, and rails. Public transportation is the most affordable way to get to downtown and may be the fastest with traffic.

Is unlimited MetroCard worth it? ›

Consider an unlimited MetroCard. If you take the bus or subway more than 46 times in a month, a monthly unlimited card, which costs $127, would save you money. A weekly unlimited card, which costs $33, saves you if you use it more than 12 times in seven days.

What is the longest subway ride in NYC? ›

Opened in 1932, the A-train is the longest route in the New York City Subway System. At a whopping 31 miles, the A-train stretches all the way from Inwood in northern Manhattan to the Rockaways and Richmond Hill in southeastern Queens.

How do you use NYC Subway first time? ›

To access the subway you can use a MetroCard (which you fill with money or can purchse a weekly pass) or with the new OMNY system which with a tap charges the $2.75 fare to your credit card through a contactless card of a e-wallet. Read about the MetroCard and OMNY to see which is best for you.

What is the most popular subway line in NYC? ›

Top 10 busiest subway stations in 2020
1Times Sq-42 StN,Q,R,W,S,1,2,3,7,A,C,E
2Grand Central-42 StS,4,5,6,7
334 St-Herald SqB,D,F,M,N,Q,R,W
414 St-Union SqL,N,Q,R,W,4,5,6
6 more rows

Is there a difference between train and subway in NYC? ›

The subway system is usually just referred to as the "trains." Locals say "I can take the train to your place" to generally mean that they take the subway. The subway is never referred to as the metro, underground, or tube. Unless noted otherwise, I mean the subway system if I just use the word train by itself.

What happens if you jump the turnstile? ›

While jumping a turnstile is still technically a criminal offense, the penalties are relatively light. It falls into the same general category as a parking ticket, and you will be fined $100 if caught.

Why is there a hole in MetroCard? ›

9. Why do MetroCards have holes in them? When you swipe your card to get on to the subway, that small hole tells the card reader what direction the card is being swiped so that it knows how to read it. If it doesn't detect a hole in the right place, then it knows the card is being swiped in the wrong direction.

How much is the fine for train hopping NYC? ›

Unauthorized movement between subway cars: $75 Fine

Riders may not move between subway cars even if the train is not in motion, except in an emergency or when directed by police officer, conductor, or authorized New York City Transit employee.

Can you go back if you accidentally swipe left? ›

Use the Rewind feature to bring their profile back by tapping the yellow arrow icon on the main screen. Only Tinder subscribers can take back their last SWIPE of choice (Like, Nope, Super Like).

What happens if I swipe right on everyone? ›

Blindly swiping right makes us more prone to what psychologists have called the bias of reciprocal liking. Basically, this means that we are more inclined to like someone if we already know that they like us. Although seemingly nonproblematic, this bias can actually prevent us from finding a good match.

Can someone see if I swiped right on them? ›

Answer: When someone swipes right on a Tinder profile, Tinder does NOT send the profile owner any kind of notification. Typically nothing happens, except: your profile might eventually show up in that person's queue. And if they swipe right back, the two of you will become a match.

Can I put my NYC MetroCard on my phone? ›

If you have an iPhone or Android phone, your device will have a “Wallet” icon for the payment systems known as “Apple Pay” or “Google Pay.” These let you store digital versions of your debit and credit cards, and use them to pay merchants—including the MTA.

How do you pay for NYC subway? ›

To pay your fare at subway turnstiles, AutoGates, and onboard buses (including Select Bus Service buses), simply tap your own contactless credit or debit card, smart device, or OMNY card on the OMNY reader. Use the same card or device for both legs of your trip to get a free transfer.

Are metrocards magnetic? ›

The MetroCard is a magnetic stripe card used for fare payment on transportation in the New York City area. It is the primary payment method for the New York City Subway (including the Staten Island Railway), New York City Transit buses and MTA buses.

What is the cheapest MetroCard? ›

You can buy a New York subway pass, this is called a MetroCard. If you buy one ride, it will cost $3. If you buy a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard (MetroCard with a balance), you only pay $2.75 per ride.

Can I buy a NYC MetroCard online? ›

You can order Unlimited and Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards, along with AirTrain JFK cards, in bulk on our bulk sales website. The minimum order is 50. Available options and pricing can be found on the website. Right now, payment is limited to credit cards.

What is a fast MetroCard NYC? ›

The MetroCard is a pre-paid card that conveniently allows you to pay for subway and bus transit in New York City. It is necessary to purchase one to gain access to the subway trains. It can be purchased at virtually every subway station.

Is NYC getting rid of Metrocards? ›

OMNY readers, which allow New Yorkers to "tap to pay" for their ride instead of swipe an iconic MetroCard, have officially been installed in every single subway station in NYC. And that means, the end of the MetroCard is near.

Can two people use the same tap card? ›

From the FAQs "Each rider must have his or her own TAP card." 2.

Do NYC Metro cards expire? ›

Whether Pay-Per-Ride or Unlimited Ride, every MetroCard has an expiration date. The date is located at the upper left corner on the back of the card. The expiration date is usually about one year from the date of purchase.

Can two people use one MetroCard? ›

Only one person is authorised to travel on single smart card at a time.

Can you use the same MetroCard twice? ›

Unlimited Ride MetroCard

Cannot be used again at the same subway station or the same bus route for at least 18 minutes. Cannot be used by or transferred to another person until the completion of a trip for which entry was obtained.

How much is a subway ride in NYC? ›

How Much is NYC Subway Fare? A single subway ride costs $2.75 for most people, a $1 fee applies when you buy a new MetroCard, and the minimum balance you can put on a new card is $5.50 (the cost of two swipes), according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Why is my card swipe not working? ›

Check to be sure the Swiper is Getting Power

Most card swipers get their power via the same USB connection that transmits the data. If you plug it into a bad USB port, it may not be getting enough power to function. If you see a red light on your swiper when you plug it in, try plugging it into a different USB port.

How do I dispute an OMNY charge? ›

Log into your OMNY account, access your personalized dashboard, locate the charge in question, and select Dispute Charges. You will be asked to fill out a form online. Once you submit the form, you will receive a reference number for the dispute. Click on the Contact Us button at the bottom of this page.

Why was my card not accepted MTA? ›

A red screen that reads "Payment Not Accepted" means you may have tapped a cancelled card or your payment method may be blocked by the OMNY system. Payment methods may be blocked by OMNY if the system did not receive payments for previous fare purchases.

Why does OMNY keep declining my card? ›

Your payment may not be accepted for a few reasons. For example, if your payment method has been blocked by your bank or by the MTA, or your smart device is damaged, then you will not be able to use that payment method at any OMNY reader until the issue is resolved.

Can I just tap my credit card on OMNY? ›

Tap and go in every borough

You don't have to sign up or download an app to use OMNY; simply use your contactless credit or debit card, smartphone, wearable device, or OMNY card to tap and go. OMNY currently supports a full-fare, pay-per-ride option, with Reduced-Fare coming soon.

How much did OMNY cost? ›

Base fares
Fare typeFareSpecial fares
Full$2.75$3.00 for a SingleRide Ticket $2.75 for a PATH SingleRide Ticket
Reduced : 3$1.35$1.25 for PATH by using Senior SmartLink Card [note 4]
Reduced (off-peak) [note 5]$3.35
9 more rows

Does OMNY refund money? ›

Any request for an overpayment reconciliation or refund must be submitted by you to the OMNY Customer Service using one of the methods set out in Section 16 (How to Contact OMNY Customer Service).

Why does my card declined when I tap? ›

If your contactless card is not working, it might be because there are insufficient funds in your account or you've reached your daily spending limit. If this is not the case, try swiping the card or using the chip on the card instead. You might simply be required to enter your Chip&PIN for safety reasons.

Why does my card declined when I tap it? ›

You're tapping too quickly or from too far away.

You may also experience problems with a terminal if you don't allow enough time for your card to be read, or you don't bring it close enough.

Why is my card getting declined when I have money? ›

Your card may be declined for a number of reasons: the card has expired; you're over your credit limit; the card issuer sees suspicious activity that could be a sign of fraud; or a hotel, rental car company, or other business placed a block (or hold) on your card for its estimated total of your bill.

Is OMNY replacing MetroCard? ›

OMNY readers, which allow New Yorkers to "tap to pay" for their ride instead of swipe an iconic MetroCard, have officially been installed in every single subway station in NYC. And that means, the end of the MetroCard is near.


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