Nov
11

A glimmer of progress for MTA’s next-gen fare payment plans

By

After years of starts and stops, seemingly endless pilot programs, a clean slate and a vow to move forward with something by 2020, the MTA’s plan to replace the MetroCard with a next-generation fare payment technology may finally be moving forward. In what can best be described as baby steps, the MTA, in a document to be presented to the Board’s Capital Program Oversight Committee later this week, has unveiled some thoughts on the MetroCard’s eventual replacement. It will be an account-based system relying on open architecture and contactless technology based upon payment industry standards, and it should arrive some time around 2020.

The document presents the MTA’s strategic framework and approach to new fare payment media and is the culmination of efforts that started in January when the agency admitted that it needed a plan. Their current projections for the MetroCard system say the technology will become prohibitively expensive to maintain by the end of the decade, and their current plan for a next gen fare payment system involves systemwide use by 2020.

First, the MTA has its sights set on a contactless fare payment technology — similar to those in place the world over and even in Chicago, to mixed reviews, and in the late planning stages in Philadelphia. The MTA also notes that the technology will support multiple forms of payment media. This means that the agency is eying a system that includes mobile payment capabilities, smart chips embedded in credit and debit cards and a “transit only” tap and ride available for those who don’t have or want to use one of the other options.

Next, the agency addresses technological implementation. The goal here is to reduce reliance on vending machines, which are “relatively costly to procure, operate and maintain” while making “minimal changes to fare arrays.” In other words, turnstiles aren’t going to be replaced by entry gates any time soon, and the MTA wants to outfit existing infrastructure with new card reader technology instead. On buses — which, as part of the BusTime installations, already have the technology infrastructure to accept a mobile payment system — fare readers would likely be adjacent to, but not integrated with, the farebox.

The other two pieces to the puzzle concern back-end support rather than customer-facing technology. Ideally, the new system will be account-based in which value would be stored on an account rather than on a card. This would require a significant investment in station infrastructure, but the MTA believes it can tap into Help Point intercoms, On The Go consoles and the Transit Wireless network to assist in this area. Finally, the new fare system would integrate across the MTA’s internal agencies so that the same account can be used to buy the equivalent of a 30-day MetroCard and LIRR or Metro-North tickets as well.

As I read through the presentation, I couldn’t help but think that it doesn’t say that much. In a sense, it’s talking in circles around aspects of a plan that have been on the table for years, and it still seems like the MTA is spinning its wheels a bit. It shouldn’t have taken this long to get this point, and it’s hard to say if this latest represents significant forward progress from the May 2011 white paper on the MetroCard replacement.

This time around, the MTA hopes to award a design contract by early 2014 and seems committed to developing a solution from 2015-2020. We’ve been down this road before though, and it still seems as though the MTA is trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. Maybe they need to, but without real forward progress, the costs to maintain the current MetroCard system will simply continue to climb.



Categories : MetroCard

77 Responses to “A glimmer of progress for MTA’s next-gen fare payment plans”

  1. Q says:

    “This would require a significant investment in station infrastructure, but the MTA believes it can tap into Help Point intercoms, On The Go consoles and the Transit Wireless network to assist in this area.”

    What about the network that the vending machines must already use to process credit card transactions, or that turnstiles use to update fares remotely? That has to already be available at all entrances, or else those wouldn’t work. This is one area where I don’t really understand how there’s a problem there…

    • D. Graham says:

      That network has capacity issues.

      Whatever they do it needs to be an open sourced type of network so we can have a Tri-State area payment standard.

  2. John says:

    Honestly, I like that they are taking their time on this. The phone payment process is still relatively new, and I think this is one of the perfect uses for it, so they need to make sure it works right. For now, the Metrocard does work fine, even if it’s not new and shiny.

    • al says:

      New? Go to Scandinavia or Japan. They’ve had this for a decade. Its even available in Kenya.
      P.S. Contactless RFID cards are 15 years old. This is well established technology.

      • John says:

        Yes contactless RFID cards are old tech, but that’s not phone payment (NFC), which IS still fairly new. I think the MTA should go with NFC, not just the old-school RFID cards that a lot of other cities use. Actually, as the article says, I think they should do both.

        • SEAN says:

          FYICubic told the MTA NOT to buy this setup & go with a contactless system & that was back in 1994.

        • Epson45 says:

          NFC is doesn’t work really well, even on the current smartphone products out in the market. Do you really know NFC stands for!

        • Ben says:

          NFC is really terrible. It totally failed on NY Waterway after Sandy when they suddenly had a surge of users on the ferries because the PATH was out. The MTA should NOT be wasting money on “cutting edge” technologies that offer little to no added value. RFID does everything NFC does, and it actually works and is cheaper.

      • Graham says:

        Or come to Western Australia where the same card (Smartrider) can be used to pay for two hours of public transport (Bus, Train & Ferry) not only in the state capital (Perth), but regional centeres such as Geraldton and Bunbury.

  3. Brandon says:

    7 more years?

    This presentation says nothing we didnt already know. Who is actually working on this at the MTA, and on what time basis?

    I am looking forward to using the same card on LIRR as my unlimited metrocard. In 2020, if they manage to meet that deadline. Meanwhile, the swipers continue to fall apart.

  4. Alex says:

    Just seems absurd that we’ll have to wait 7 more years for this to be fully implemented. And the contactless test pilot on the 4/5/6 was, what, 5 years ago now? More?

  5. Larry Littlefield says:

    If the MTA moves forward, it will be ripped off by its usual contractors for a system that doesn’t work.

    I believe that with these presentations the MTA is in effect begging for the financial and IT sectors to come forward with something the MTA can buy off the shelf.

    Come on “efficient and dynamic” private sector. Stop worrying exclusively about cashing in on the latest stock market bubble and do your job.

    • Counterargument: BusTime. That’s what they want to replicate here.

      • SEAN says:

        Counterargument: Ventra with all it’s flaws is what’s cutting edge in fare payment right now do to the open standard & it’s being done by Cubic. No need to reinvent the wheel here.

        • Henry says:

          Even not counting the fact that Ventra is not a customer-friendly solution at all, the system itself has many technical problems.

          If this is the solution that Cubic is going to sell, buying all in would lead to a Grunman Flxible style fiasco. The MTA is right to be wary of proprietary, buggy technology given its past.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        I hope not, at least until Bus Time can give you a time, rather than a distance. We don’t need a new system that will be criticized for not doing all that it should be doing. We should be saying, “Wow, the MTA took their time to get it right.”

        • Not the forward-facing interface which doesn’t support time for good reason, but the back-end technology. I’ve written about it before. It’s the stuff inside I’m talking about. The real meat and potatoes, not the thing you’re unnecessarily complaining about here.

          • Epson45 says:

            MTA is too cheap to implanted time arrival. Cubic’s Nextbus is almost accurate.

            • So you want it both ways? Don’t spend too much money on some projects but overspend on proprietary technology because of a slight incremental benefit to riders? Inconsistent to say the least. The cost savings for BusTime were in the 8-9 figure range by going with an open-source in-house solution over another Cubic implementation.

              • Epson45 says:

                They have Cubic system integrated with the BusTime equipment. The only open source is the cheap software.

                • Henry says:

                  And most hardware companies that sell to corporations make most of their money on service solutions. MTA is still saving quite a bundle on running costs, and given the precarious state of its finances this was an appropriate decision.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Buses probably aren’t reliable enough to offer a meaningful time, though I guess SBS implementations theoretically could be.

    • pete says:

      MIFARE or GFI’s TRIM. Both have dozens of transit systems using them.

  6. Tower18 says:

    I understand the Ventra rollout in Chicago hasn’t been great, but Chicago has had contactless fare cards for almost 10 years. It was the Chicago Card before that. When I lived there in 2006-2009, I had a Chicago Card which automatically refilled and which I could leave in my wallet or other carrier, and tap on buses and subway turnstiles.

    New York is ASTOUNDINGLY behind the times in this regard. The size of the system is not an excuse.

    • Epson45 says:

      The system is also OLD as well. Plus, MTA is not even a cashcow to fund new tech through out the years.

      • tower18 says:

        I’m not sure what you’re saying, are you saying the age of the NYC Subway is an excuse for not updating the turnstiles to contactless fare payment? If so, don’t be ridiculous.

        • SEAN says:

          I agree.

          Let’s see – Boston, Chicago, DC/ Baltimore, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle & up coming Philadelphia have tap & go payment. Portland Has smart phone payment up & running & will have the smartcard end in a few years & NYC?

        • Epson45 says:

          The infrastructure of old technology is dated. It cost billions of dollars to be updated. Guess what, we were broke back then and broke right now. MTA is special case. They are too slow to move forward.

        • Henry says:

          But how many of these cities had a deferred maintenance period that almost led to a system collapse? The closest any agency has come to this is CTA, which is still trying to fix the slow-zone problem that the MTA got rid of decades ago.

          I would rather have 55MPH trains and the Metrocard than 20MPH trains and a smart card.

      • Joe says:

        Chicago’s system is smaller, but it is older. The original sections opened in 1892.

  7. JJJJ says:

    I rode PATCO this weekend between Camden and Philly.

    I was surprised at the trains….vintage 1960’s, it was like a museum.

    I was more surprised at the fare system. Looked straight out of this past decade. Only downside was that the fare machines didnt appear to take cards (might have been just the one I was using).

    If PATCO can do it….

  8. Myron says:

    Why spend money the MTA doesn’t have to fix something that isn’t really broken? I don’t see what is so terrible about the MetroCard that is worth spending millions of dollars fixing.

    • Because it’s going to cost even more money to maintain the current system as the years go by, and it’s possible to realize more revenue by implementing something that costs less to use.

      • SEAN says:

        I can attest to that on a personal level. I’ve talked to several bus drivers here in Westchester & they have told me how so many Metrocards don’t work & the fareboxes have been breaking down at an ever increasing rate over the past year. This has caused more & more passengers to ride for free. In the meantime – drivers them selves along with their supervisors have become fustrated by the numerous macanical & software failures along with the inability to fix those issues on the ground. It semes to be happening on an almost daily basis now, unlike when they were first installed in 2007.

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          Well that was a short lifespan for a very expensive system. Let’s hope that ATS doesnt’ turn out the same way.

          In any event, on a practical level the big benefits of a new system would be expansion to the commuter railroads and related cost savings (suburban political cronyism allowing) and faster boarding and less dwell time on buses.

          • SEAN` says:

            Exactly.

            The kee expantion is on the railroads. Having tap & go ticket purchases saves money in the long run especially on the infrastructure side. CalTrain in the bay area has such a system via the use of the Clipper Card. With a weekly or monthly ticket, a valid fare once activated requires only a simple scan by the conductor. Other purchhases are a tap on & tap off wich after a short time will be a no brainer for the riding public. You could even incorporate parking fees as WMATA has done.

            • johndmuller says:

              I’m not sure I see how this will work on the commuter railroads. Isn’t this going to be more work for the conductor than just looking at your passcard and giving you a nod?

              If the equivalent of a paper ticket from a machine is an on-train transaction with the conductor’s hand-held whatever, is that going to be quicker than a few punches?

              In many respects, the commuter rail does not seem to benefit from this tech – unless you go with a fairgate in fairgate out approach to the payment method, which would be a big change in procedure (and would require construction at nearly every station.

              • SEAN says:

                Not exactly, Think of the devices conductors whare on their belts for onboard ticket purchases on MNR & LIRR. However the units on CalTrain use by their inspectors scan the card for a valid fare or deduct the propper cash amount for fare payment.

          • Henry says:

            See, this was the logic behind the SmartLink initiative a while back. Fast forward to today and only PATH and AirTrain uses SmartLink.

            It takes a lot of energy to overcome inertia.

          • BrooklynBus says:

            Do you remember any discussion when MetroCard was introduced about how long it’s lifespan would be? It also took ten years longer than was planned for its implementation which was scheduled for the mid 80’s. Is anything done on time?

            • Is anything done on time?

              It this a question that even needs to be asked? 🙂

              The answer is a resounding no.

              • BrooklynBus says:

                Once in a blue moon something comes in under budget and on time. Offhand I can’t think of any right now. But I remember when the MTA started paying bonuses to contractors who finished early and I believe the contractors collected in a few instances by being a few weeks early.

  9. NJ Transit and the Port Authority (PATH) should be brought into this process. It makes no sense not to incorporate them into a regional fare system.

    • D. Graham says:

      Exactly the point I made earlier. Look everyone wants something now, but the MTA is on to something here that will likely take full advantage of the technology of the time and completely get themselves out of the business of selling fares as they currently do now with Booths and MVMs.

      1. New system needs to be fully online with individual accounts, especially for those who want auto replenishment, combination packages no a card such as rail value/subway-bus time-value

      2. Phone app to not only access account on the go but to allow the phone to be used as a form of payment via NFC

      3. Most important of all. For those who continue to insist on being behind the times and prefer to still buy onsite and last minute. Provide stores such as newsstands, delis and check cashing places the ability to access the network with programmed registers similar to selling lottery tickets so that they can sell fares. You achieve two things by doing this. You completely eliminate the need to have a MVM anywhere and these stores can also sell replacement cards at a fee of course.

      Number 3 in turn brings NJT and Port Authority into the fold as it’s a format that they all can follow with ease.

      • SEAN says:

        Also on the NJT side of things, many delis & small businesses already sell bus tickets to begin with, so it’s just a change of format & not of function.

    • John B says:

      considering the PATH already implemented a contactless fare method 5 years ago in New York City (where everything is special) it is a good idea to bring them into the discussion. maybe MTA can save money by using the same system PATH has already proven works. it amazes me how many times this same topic comes up on this site and how PATH is never mentioned. every other city agency in the country is mentioned but the one within our own city is never brought up. PATH will always be the ugly stepchild if it is ignored by the press and blogs.

      • A proprietary Cubic system is exactly what the MTA is trying to avoid here.

        • John B says:

          and in the process they are going to continue to delay a new fare system even longer trying to find the cinderella’s slipper of fare payment and lose money as the aging metrocard system costs them more and more to upkeep every year. meanwhile path will be in its 15th year of contactless fare payment in 2020.

      • Epson45 says:

        MTA says is cost too much money to use the PATH system… which MTA is spending lots of stupid consultants.

  10. Michael Sherrell says:

    Most important of all. For those who continue to insist on being behind the times and prefer to still buy onsite and last minute. Provide stores such as newsstands, delis and check cashing places the ability to access the network with programmed registers similar to selling lottery tickets so that they can sell fares. You achieve two things by doing this. You completely eliminate the need to have a MVM anywhere and these stores can also sell replacement cards at a fee of course. – See more at: http://secondavenuesagas.com/2...../#comments

    ————–

    It is not about “folks who continue to insist on being behind the times and prefer to still buy onsite and last minute”. There are plenty of people who drive and use the subways/buses when they have to, or when it is better to use transit. It has nothing to do with being “behind the times”.

    I live on Staten Island, and frankly there are only 3 places that have MetroCard machines on the whole island. Filling one’s MetroCard can at times become a chore, it is only really easy if one travels to the other boroughs regularly. Not all of us do that regularly. Trying to find stores and outlets that sell new MetroCards can also be a chore.

    Yes, I agree that flexible arrangements to buy, full or use your fare-cards (of whatever type) is really most helpful, and something to arrange within any new system that is in the planning stages. Plenty of people have different needs and transit usages.

    Mike

    • D. Graham says:

      Don’t get me wrong as I can understand your point. However, if you ever go to Utica Avenue. It’s the same thousands of people waiting in line to buy a card or refills at the BOOTH! Not even one of the many MVMs in the station. It’s a weekly occurrence. That’s more of the type of situation I’m referring.

    • Henry says:

      A lot of convenience stores have stopped selling Metrocards because nobody buys them on a regular basis; how often do you need a Metrocard if you’re not in the immediate area of a subway station?

      The next-gen system is likely to allow refills online or automatically, which would be a better system, but Ventra has shown that this road is fraught with obstacles.

      • D. Graham says:

        Which is where those convenient stores come back into play. Some people will refuse to allow automatic refills or even attempt to go online to maintain their account so allow those people to take their cards to the nearest convenient store that would have the capability of refilling accounts with fares.

  11. pete says:

    What nobody in these comments has pointed out yet is NFC/Smart Cards/RFID/Visa/Mastercard/Quest is the following. When you swipe your card, how many seconds, yes seconds, does it take, before you “are allowed to go” on your way? 3-5 seconds it takes. tick, tick, tick, tick, go. What about your federally mandated receipt for your purchase? What about a CC from europe or asia? How do you pick unlimited or “pay per ride” with your Visa?

    The point is, there is no way on earth I see the MTA allowing “offline” billing for their turnstyles. Without offline billing every payment at the turnstyle will leave you standing for 3-5 seconds infront of the barrier while the turnstyle talks to your bank’s mainframe. MTA’s Sodeco bill acceptors are programmed by the MTA (“high acceptance”, “high security” “extra high security” are the choices) to the highest security settings possible. It means run a bad bill a couple times or hold the bill and dont let the acceptor suck it in and the bill acceptor goes offline as a “anti-fraud” measure incase of salt watering the bill acceptor or putting bills on strings into the mechanism or the bill acceptor was inked. If the MTA is this paranoid about getting paid, they will never allow offline billing.

    Fraud with Metrocard is hard. Even though Metrocard is an offline card (your swipe is not validated with a mainframe before you are let through), you can’t claim the card was stolen and the retailer swallows the chargeback. On buses only, a blacklist terminated Metrocard can work for 2-3 days after the card would have stopped working on a turnstyle (turnstyles I guess always have an update blacklist from the MTA mainframe in them, bus fareboxes only get blacklist updates when the coins are taken out of them at the depot). Other mag card transit systems have a cut the magstripe into multiple strips, glue strips onto demagentized farecards, put glued butchered farecards into fare machine, do balance transfer to new card, sell new cards on street corner at less than face. There are also the bend Metrocard fraud stuff, which is a cat and mouse between how many “please swipe again at this turnstile” a legal and illegal swipper will see.

    The only alternative to slow as molasses online billing is for CCs to have a “balance” with the MTA, and but that means an MTA computer stores the CC numbers for everyone with a balance, which comes with security, legal, and privacy problems. Also anonymous CCs are illegal in the USA because of Patriot Act.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The smartcards used elsewhere in the world have validation times closer to 0.5 seconds than to 3-5 seconds.

      • pete says:

        But those are transit specific smartcards with on-card balances controlled by the local TA’s computers. I’ve personally used DC Metro’s SmarTrip. A TA controlled noncontract smartcard is “old techonlogy” according to the MTA. The requirement is that the MTA requires that non-transit controlled CCs/Debit/NFC/chip&pin that do not have on-card balances work at the turnstyles. Either it is the 3-5 second wait for an online transaction, or take the risk of doing an offline transaction and the CC card transaction was rejected (account closed, zero balance, fraud frozen, fake magstripe, international CC) or chargedback after the consumer gets the bill.

        • Henry says:

          I believe all payment systems in the US use the Plus payment system. Odds are that a tourist would not use their credit card due to unfamiliarity with the system; plus, if their card wouldn’t work on the turnstiles, it probably would’ve been declined elsewhere first.

          • pete says:

            No, PLUS has a number of strong competitors in the USA. If the tourist cant use their CC, then they wont be riding the subway, since the MTA doesnt want a transit specific fare card. The poor will probably be using Quest cards, which already have separate food stamps and cash balances on them at every CC terminal.

            • Henry says:

              From the third paragraph in this very article:

              “This means that the agency is eying a system that includes mobile payment capabilities, smart chips embedded in credit and debit cards and a “transit only” tap and ride available for those who don’t have or want to use one of the other options.

              Multi-payment networks are nothing new to the United States; heck, phones accept multiple payments. In any case, NFC is an established international standard, so this wouldn’t be an issue. The bigger issue comes from network reliability.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Yeah, I also think the MTA should stop trying to reinvent the wheel and launch a transit-specific card, as in London, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Delhi, Singapore, Manila, Taipei, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.

      • Henry says:

        I believe that he’s talking about if one were to use a credit card and not the system card.

        He has a valid point; often, even stores and bank branches will lose connections to their payment networks, and transactions will be declined. I highly doubt that the MTA has the kind of infrastructure to support extremely reliable connections to payment networks (to say nothing of the banks and the local telecoms operators). What would happen if a station or turnstile bank temporarily lost connections to the larger payment network?

        • pete says:

          It happens regularly with MVMs and TVMs.

          http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....-1.1510411

          If MTA used CC/external payment, with online validation, if the link to the station goes down or the banking mainframe is down, at that point, MTA staff disabling the turnstyles and the public riding for free is the only choice. Since Metrocard doesn’t do online validation (bus fareboxes arent connected by radio), at a station, when the network goes down, the MC transactions at the turnstyles are stored in a computer at the station until the connection to the mainframe is restored. Also the blacklist from the mainframe won’t be updated on the turnstyles, but Im sure the old blacklist still will still be used to kill cards if the turnstyles see a blacklist card.

          • johndmuller says:

            I can see why the MTA is having trouble deciding what to do.

            Perhaps their requirements are something like this:
            –Off the shelf credit/debit card or phone ap that:
            –uses close proximity communication with the faregate
            –access/store your personal profile (i.e. unlimited, student, etc.)
            –validates/deducts payment from your bank/CC/MTA account in <1 sec.
            –will also work (unvalidated) offline during comm outages or on buses
            –Accepts some lower tech/disposable media for tourists, single-ride, ludites etc.
            –Can interface with commuter rail style point-to-point trip fares/payments
            –Is inexpensive, super-reliable, fraud-proof and next-to no maintenance
            –Seems to be cutting edge high tech & NYC-special.

            Even the list itself is a moving target, gooood luck.

            They probably just need to bite the bullet and do something that isn't absolutely perfect and live with the inevitable second guessing.

            A good place to start might be making sure that the turnstiles are modular enough to readily accept changes to the payment method and that suitable data connections are in place at all stations, perhaps even mobile units for buses, ferries and commuter rail conductors.

          • Henry says:

            And this is why we shouldn’t have direct payments with credit cards as an option; nothing will guarantee system reliability.

            Heck, the MTA running its own RFID/NFC payment system would be much more beneficial; New York has so many transit riders that they would probably end up creating a viable alternative to existing debit cards from scratch, similar to what the Octopus card in Hong Kong is now.

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  13. Tom Riddle says:

    The MTA is Smart and Great!! DO you know Why it want do it?? Because it can make they get higher profits, Buy a new card we need take of one dollar,If you have an very urgent emergency,but couldn’t find your MetroCard,what can you do? Go home? or Buy a new card?

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