New York commuters may soon hold ads in their hands again as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority sells space on the front of MetroCards for the first time since the subway-token replacement was introduced in 1993.
The cards, which riders swipe to board the subways and buses, have had advertisements on their backs since 1995. Their yellow-and-blue fronts have been decorated only with the MTA logo, a magnetic strip and the words “Insert this way/This side facing you.”
“Millions of New Yorkers carry MetroCards with them everywhere they go, and use them multiple times a day,” MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota said in a statement today. “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.”
The change is part of an MTA effort to reap more revenue by selling advertising space. Other initiatives include selling space on the exteriors of trains — including full coverage –and digital ads inside the system.
No companies currently buy ads on MetroCards, said Aaron Donovan, an agency spokesman. The ads on the back will cost from 18 cents to 51 cents per card, depending on quantity, or about $25,500 to $450,000. An ad on the front will sell for more, the agency said, without disclosing the premium.
The agency estimates advertising revenue at $120 million this year, up from $38 million in 1997. In recent years, MetroCard advertising has netted as much as $165,000 and as little as $16,000. Past advertisers include J.C. Penney Co., Domino’s Pizza Inc. and MetroPCS Communications Inc.
The MTA, which carries 8.5 million riders daily on the New York City subway and bus system and Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter rail lines, passed a $12.7 billion budget in December. According to its February financial plan, the agency projects a $1 million cash balance for 2012 and an $80 million cash balance for 2013, which will be used to reduce deficits of as much as $204 million in 2014 and 2015.