Since taking over the reins of the MTA last fall, current CEO and Chair Jay Walder has pushed the authority to adopt newer technologies quicker than the MTA had in the past. Coming from London, Walder was intimately familiar with the contact-less Oyster Card program, and over the last few months, he has repeatedly highlighted how improving the efficiency of the agency’s fare-collection efforts can result in increased revenue by well over $30-40 million annually.
To that end, the MetroCard — a technology obsolete the day it was introduced — has been on borrowed time since Walder pledged a contact-less fare-payment system by 2014. Next week, this goal will take a big step forward as MasterCard, the MTA, PATH and New Jersey Transit will unveil a six-month pilot program that the MTA hopes will extend to the entire system in short order. Heather Haddon of amNew York has some details:
The “smartcard” system allows straphangers to pass a specially equipped key chain, credit card or phone across a reader on a turnstile or bus fare box to pay, with participants registering to have the money drawn from their bank account, much like the E-Z pass for drivers. The system means less time at MetroCard machines and allows buses to get going faster, transit advocates say. “It’s amazingly quick,” said William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.
The new program will be available along the Lexington Avenue subway line, along with the M14, M23, M79, M86, M101, M102, M103 and BxM7 bus lines, according to transit documents. The MTA estimates that more than 1 million riders could potentially benefit from it, including NJ Transit users. Still, participants at this stage in the game will have to buy a regular MetroCard to continue riding on other train or bus lines.
Currently, the website established for this pilot program is fairly bare bones, but through some Google sleuthing, I’ve uncovered a few other details and some screenshots of the website. Click the images to enlarge.
The New York City Transit trial will include a variety of fare-payment options. Those MasterCard users whose cards come equipped with a smart chip can either enroll in a plan or pay as they go. The pay-as-you-go option remains foolish because the charge will be a full $2.25 while the pre-paid pay-per-ride plans include the 15 percent fare bonus with an automatic renewal when account balances dip. Customers used to timed passes can opt to buy the equivalent a one-, seven-, 14- or 30-day unlimited MetroCard with an optional auto-renew at the end of the time period. In a sense, the pay pass is a glorified MetroCard EasyPayXpress plan that allows the MTA to improve its fare-collection efforts.
For now, reports Haddon, MasterCard is paying for the pilot, and the MTA will try to include more credit card companies and routes in the upcoming months. To make this work, the rollout will have to be comprehensive, and there will be an element of trial-and-error involved. Unless the MTA is limiting entrances at certain stations to only those using the PayPass, the need for a MetroCard to get anywhere else will trump those who use their MasterCards to swipe in a second or two faster than they otherwise would.
Still, while the MetroCard is on borrowed time, the authority must still address multiple issues. How will a program that requires online registration scale across a system of that averages five million riders a day? What will happen to riders who don’t have credit cards or don’t want to supply the MTA with their credit card info? And more importantly, will a credit card touch-and-go system be the final solution for a MetroCard replacement? The June 1 pilot will mark the next step forward, but miles remain until the MetroCard is phased out entirely.