Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the fare hike, the MTA is starting to make preparations that will lead to the phasing out of the MetroCard, a 13-year-old subway icon. Gone will be the familiar gold-and-blue flimsy plastic cards. In its stead, we’ll have touch-and-go SmartCard RFID technology that should speed up lines and make paying for public transportation rides even easier.
Jeremy Olshan in today’s New York Post elaborates on future technological developments I’ve tackled in the past: The MTA is gearing up to extend its touch-pay system to buses and will start a one-year study to assess SmartCard technology. Here’s what Olshan had to say in what could be a harbinger to many an elegy for the Metrocards:
The MTA’s smart-card pilot program on the Lexington Line, developed with Citibank and MasterCard, will soon be expanded to 275 buses and opened up to all contactless credit and debit cards issued by banks.
“At some point, we will have a reader that says Visa, Amex, MasterCard,” said Paul Korczak, the NYC Transit official who oversees the MetroCard told Re: ID, a smart-card industry trade publication. “Card companies are very excited about this extra opportunity.”
…Later this year the MTA expects to award a contract for a one-year study to determine the future fare payment system, NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said. There is some urgency as the MetroCard readers and vending machines are nearing the end of their useful life, officials said.
There’s a lot to like about all of this information. First, extending the pilot program to buses should improve bus load times. Other than slow speeds due to traffic, bus load times are the number one most infuriating part about riding a bus. Waiting for people to dip their MetroCards can seem endless, and anything to pick up the pace here is a-okay with me. That the pilot program will include options for 7- and 30-day unlimited MetroCards is an added bonus.
Korczak noted that the MTA will look to choose some crosstown bus lines and some north-south bus lines. This way, passengers can experiment with transfer options as well. Starting the program on only east-west lines would severely limit the number of people willing to take part in the experiment. I would imagine that the crosstown buses the MTA chooses will be the M79 and M86 lines as those also intersect with Mastercard-enabled stations on the East Side IRT lines at Lexington Ave.
Second, the article lays out what we’ve heard for a while: The MetroCard technology current in place is an aging and nearly obsolete technology. It costs the MTA money in credit card processing fees to load up all of the MetroCards, and the vending machines have also shouldered some of the blame for the fare hike. If the MTA can save money by undergoing a technological upgrade, it’s time to bring SmartCard technology to the subways. The Metro in DC and the Tubes in London, for example, both employ the technology. New York should too.