If you've ridden a train lately, you know that you need a TAP card to pay your fare. But did you know that your card will expire?
Yes. At some point, each card is set to expire. And when it does, you will have to buy a brand new card and load money onto it. But what about the money on the expired card?
You might think you could just transfer it onto the new card. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority does not make this easy.
As a result, the MTA estimates that only about half of the expired TAP balances have been transferred to new cards. The other half — about $1.3 million — is stranded.
The MTA first introduced "stored value" TAP cards four years ago. Since then, it has taken off, especially after the MTA phased out paper tickets in 2012. In June 2011, MTA patrons had a total of just $149,000 stored on their cards. That figure has grown exponentially, reaching $15.2 million in June 2015.
Cards generally expire after about three years, though the newer ones last up to 10 years. Asked for a tally of the balances on all the expired cards, the MTA came up with a figure of $2.7 million.
However, the agency estimates that customers have transferred about half of that to new cards. The rest of the cards could have been lost, or thrown away, or are sitting in an old wallet somewhere.
It's no wonder that customers have stranded balances. Transferring money from an expired card turns out to be a cumbersome process.
You can't do it at a TAP card vending machine. You also can't do it on the MTA's website, taptogo.net. Instead, you have to call a toll-free number (866-TAPTOGO) during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday) and talk to a representative. The customer service center sometimes experiences high call volumes, and long wait times, so it's best to call on Thursday or Friday, if possible.
Phone operators transferred 7,711 balances in the last eight months. The average amount transferred is $22.70. If you only have a couple bucks on your old card, it might not be worth the hassle.
So why not make it easier? MTA officials say they can't allow people to transfer balances between cards at vending machines, because customers might try to scam the system. For instance, an employer might give out TAP cards to its workers, and an employee could illegally transfer fares to a friend or relative. Alternately, a thief could steal a TAP card and transfer the balance.
"We need to protect anybody who may have had their card lost or stolen," says Kelly Hines, the MTA's deputy executive officer for finance.
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If you happen to have registered your card on the TAP website, then you can get your balance back if your card is stolen or lost. But if thieves could transfer balances at vending machines, the MTA says it could not offer that protection.
So what does the MTA do with the stranded $1.3 million? Right now, nothing. The TAP cardholder agreement gives the MTA the right to draw down the balances on expired or inactive cards at the rate of $1 per month. However, the agency hasn't gotten around to doing so yet.
"We have not taken any of that value," Hines says. "It's all potentially available."
You just have to find your expired card, and call the toll-free number during business hours.