Now that the MTA is well on its way toward building out an in-house real-time bus tracking system, the authority’s fare payment technology will be the next to see an upgrade. On and off for four years, the authority has run various contact-less fare payment pilot programs, and after the most recent one, Chair and CEO Jay Walder vowed to move forward with a replacement for the MetroCard.
“The history of some of the technology pieces is that we did a pilot to get to the next pilot and then we did the next pilot to get to the pilot after that,” he said to me in November. “The point of the pilot ending is that we are concentrating on moving out into the production phase of getting this done, and I think you will see contracts early-to-mid next year that will be moving this forward for the subway and bus system.”
That future is nigh. As Digital Transactions reported this week, the MTA will soon begin issuing the requisite documents to solicit proposals for the next-generation fare payment technology. The industry site has more:
MTA officials tell Digital Transactions News that they plan to publish a so-called Concept of Operations, a document outlining the agency’s broad plans that would help vendors develop formal proposals. That document is expected to be available for review soon, though the agency hasn’t given an exact date.
“Once we finish our industry-outreach activities, we will begin the process of turning that into technical requirements and move into high-level system design, and then detailed system design,” an MTA spokesperson tells Digital Transactions News by e-mail. “We expect to issue an RFP [request for proposals] this year to enable us to identify a systems integrator. One of their tasks will be to work with us to do the detailed design.”
The program will be centered on using general-purpose, contactless credit, debit, and prepaid cards and other media based on the ISO 1443 contactless technology standard. That would include contactless fobs that already come with some payment cards, and stickers that attach to cell phones.
Digitial Transactions notes that while the contours of the payment system is in place, the details remain unknown. The cost, for instance, should be steep, and as the MetroCard system cost $750 million to install in the mid-1990s, overhauling turnstiles and the like will require an outlay of capital.
Timing too is a concern. It took the MTA 12 years to move from a consulting project to actual implementation of the MetroCard when it first tried to replace tokens. The time-to-live for this project, though, should be considerably shorter as the MTA has already conducted the pilots for this project. Widespread implementation and scalability are the primary drivers here. The death clock for the MetroCard moves another second toward midnight.