City Turns MetroCards Into Portable Billboards

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Don't toss that spent MetroCard — someday it might be be a collector's item, depending on the success of the city's new revenue-boosting scheme. On Wednesday the MTA announced plans to start selling ad space on the front of MetroCards, opening every bit of the card to advertisers except for the black stripe. While city officials claim that there will still be plenty of cards featuring the iconic blue-and-gold logo in circulation, riders don't get to choose the design, so there's a high probability that you'll be looking at a Domino's ad every time you swipe your card. 

The MTA already sells space on the back of MetroCards at a rate of $25,500 for 50,000 cards and $450,000 for 2.5 million cards, but it isn't very popular with advertisers. The face of the MetroCard hasn't changed since 1997 when the agency introduced what was then called the MetroCard Gold.

“Millions of New Yorkers carry MetroCards with them everywhere they go and use them multiple times a day,” said Joseph J. Lhota, the MTA's chairman while introducing the plan. “For those with a message and a desire to reach millions of people in a novel, attention-getting way, there is no better way to advertise.”

While New Yorkers will likely balk at being forced to carry fast-food advertising in their wallets, there is a silver lining (and not just the possibility of cards featuring clever retro ads for Mad Men). The perpetually broke MTA's effort to raise revenue comes several months before the agency is set to consider raising fares. Of course, it's likely that the MTA will deface MetroCards, cover Subway cars in even more advertising, and raise prices. In that case New Yorkers can look forward to showing the grandkids their blue-and-gold MetroCards along with their old subway tokens and grumbling about how the city just isn't what it used to be.