Happy birthday, MetroCard! The transit pass turns 20 today

Once a novelty, the bright-yellow MetroCards turn 20 today, and the MTA released some fun facts about the pass

Today marks a particularly New Yorky anniversary: On this day 20 years ago, the first MetroCards were introduced as a more modern alternative to subway tokens (which, we must admit, still have a certain romantic, Old New York appeal). The first locations that were accessible via MetroCard swipe were the Whitehall St and Wall St stations in the Financial District.

Although they're an indisputable part of city life now (especially since subway tokens were discontinued for good in 2003), the transit passes proved fairly unpopular at first. A New York Times piece from August 1994 notes that the MTA had to try extreme tactics, including handing out free passes, to get people to use the cards. But according to the Encyclopedia of New York City, usage increased once free transfers were allowed between subways and buses—a feature that wasn't implemented until 1997. 

Here are some other fun MetroCard facts, courtesy the Encyclopedia, Second Avenue Sagas and the MTA:

- The fare deducted from the first MetroCard is exactly half of today's base fare: $1.25.

- It took more than three years for all 468 subway stations and the thousands of city buses to be outfitted with MetroCard functionality.

- The first MetroCards were originally blue with yellow text, not the other way around; the switch to a gold background was made in 1997 to coincide with the subway-to-bus transfer option.

- The unlimited MetroCard debuted on July 4, 1998.

- The first touch-screen MetroCard vending machines debuted in January 1999, five years after the cards launched.

And if you need to celebrate in some other way, we suggest listening to Le Tigre's "My My Metrocard," surely the best ode to the transit pass ever composed.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)


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