Home MetroCard A new fare payment system by 2014

A new fare payment system by 2014

by Benjamin Kabak

When they MTA Board approved the 2010-2014 capital plan last week, they killed the MetroCard. With little fan fare or much attention beyond a short article in the Daily News, the MTA Board has sentenced the MetroCard to death. If all goes according to plan, Jay Walder will oversee the debut of a contact-less fare system sans the MetroCard by 2014.

The story of the MetroCard begins in June 1993 when the MTA handed out 3000 sample MetroCards for use in the system. At the time, the agency had plans to introduce the technology in 1994 and roll it out system-wide by 1997. Transit officials had hoped to integrate the card to enable users to pay for “telephone calls, snacks or other purchases at subway kiosks” with their MetroCards. That plan has clearly not come to fruition.

BlueMetroCard By 1997, when the MetroCards turned from blue to gold, the technology was already obsolete. That year, Hong Kong launched the Octopus Card and became the first municipality to use a contactless smart card for its public transit fare payment system. While the MTA’s MetroCard has become ubiquitous in New York, cities around the globe from London to Washington, DC, have all embraced a smart card-type payment program.

Now, though, the smart card movement is on the way out, and as the MetroCard nears its two-decade mark — antiquity in technological years — the MTA will spend nearly a total of $220 million over the next five years to assess potential replacements. The end product will, according to MTA documents, allow for unified fare payments across New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. “This system will speed payment, improve access to the system and provide opportunities for more seamless fare policy throughout the MTA region,” an MTA memo on the capital plan said.

Right now, the agency does not know exactly what its next fare payment plan will resemble. For the last few years, Transit had been testing a MasterCard-based trial along Lexington Ave. called “Tap & Go.” Riders with credit cards equipped with an RFID chip could just tap into the system and speed through the turnstile. That system will soon be expanded to buses and could provide a model for the future.

While I have long assumed that smart cards similar to the WMATA’s SmartCard or London’s Oyster Card would be our future, the MTA documents and a few recent studies now have me convinced otherwise. Late last week, Michael Frumin passed along a 2008 article portending the end of the Oyster Card by 2010. The MTA itself says it will explore “standard bank and credit cards, pre-paid transit payment cards, key-tags and smart phones” as next-generation payment modes. If the MTA develops and integrates this technology properly, it will not resemble either the MetroCard or familiar smart card currently in use across the globe.

In the end, the smart chip technology and next-gen fare modalities will allow the MTA more flexibility and will improve access to the system. Bus boarding speeds will stand to benefit greatly from a touch-and-go system while a credit- or debit-card based system would reduce the need for in-system cash handling. The new system will be designed to allow for what the MTA terms “inter-model fare payment options,” and the agency hopes to offer simplified and expanded fare payment options.

The MTA is not known for its technological innovation. It lags behind in website development and cannot get a train-arrival board program off the ground. But by devoting serious attention to its fare payment system and bringing a technologically-minded expert to head up the system, the agency could be turning a corner. If the MetroCard is the price we pay for it, I will mourn but not miss that gold and blue piece of plastic.

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JP September 28, 2009 - 7:02 am

In 1989 I was a freshman at brooklyn tech. Instead of flimsy paper train passes imprinted with a different color each month and hologram that every other school kid in the city used for bus or train, we had been given something different; we were testing a pilot metrocard program.

The card was yellow with black type and a magnetic stripe, and a little smaller in size, but much thicker- about as heavy as a credit card. You couldn’t write your name, school or route on it with ink or markers, and there wasn’t anything to swipe it through. as far as I knew, MTA employees were instructed to ask for your program card (class schedule) for proof that you weren’t shamming the system- they never did. I had an unlimited metrocard through the spring of 1990 and could own the town when not at school (which was quite often).

petey September 28, 2009 - 8:36 am

“as the MetroCard nears its two-decade mark”
crikey … i remember tokens as if they were yesterday

John September 28, 2009 - 9:49 am

Expect this death sentence to be commuted to 2017 …then 2020…then 2025 by those lazy union chumps at the MTA.

Tony September 28, 2009 - 11:48 am

Those lazy union chumps move over 7 million safely and on time every single day!!!

Alon Levy September 28, 2009 - 4:16 pm

Did you just say “On time”? In a city where they define “late by less than 4 minutes” as on time?

herenthere September 28, 2009 - 9:42 pm

They also expect large pay increases without an increase in health contributions at a time when the MTA is facing record deficits, and everyone else is getting no raises.

Marsha September 28, 2009 - 12:05 pm

As those crazy Yankee fans say on Benjamin’s other blog (www.riveraveblues.com), IETC (I endorse this comment).

petey September 28, 2009 - 12:31 pm

er, the MTA is the management. but i agree, if there’s one party who are lazy chumps, it’s the management.

rhywun September 28, 2009 - 10:15 am

For that much money they better bring NJT on board, too.

Judge September 28, 2009 - 10:38 am

^^ QFT. I really hope they’re involving nearby agencies in order to create a new metropolitan-wide fare system.

Jaystreet September 28, 2009 - 12:59 pm

I remember the whole ‘one card for all’ strategy. The MTA had launched a subsidiary called “MTA Card Company” that was meant to manage this. I even recall it was printed on the list of MTA agencies for a while before disappearing.

Eric September 28, 2009 - 2:48 pm

“$220 million over the next five years to assess potential replacements”

That’s a lot of dough to only assess.

Think twice September 28, 2009 - 2:49 pm

Smart card technology is already ten years old. [groan]

Wow! even when the MTA is doing something right, they piss me off. The last time they did anything that pleased me without leaving a bad taste in my mouth was when they put in the free transfer between buses and subways and that was 12 years ago.

JC Frank September 28, 2009 - 3:49 pm

I already have a smart card for the PATH, I don’t want two, MTA needs to work with NJT and PA to make this work.

SEAN September 28, 2009 - 6:58 pm

Now the that the MTA is working with NJT on rail service to Giants Stadium, perhaps we’re seeing a new turn in MTA opperations. I hope so.

herenthere September 28, 2009 - 9:43 pm

Frankly, I don’t understand why the MTA can’t just use that one.

Alon Levy September 28, 2009 - 4:20 pm

the MTA will spend nearly a total of $220 million over the next five years to assess potential replacements.

Reinventing the wheel sure is expensive.

If in Tokyo they have one smart card for 11 different operators, 10 of which are private, in New York they can have one smart card for 3 different operators, all public. And if the world-class managers of the MTA can’t, they should keep their honor and commit harakiri.

MichaelB September 28, 2009 - 5:55 pm

Reading the article it sounds like $220 million is to deploy the system. Surely that is the case right? I find it impossible to believe that it costs $220 million to assess the new system unless the overwhelming majority of the spending is wasted or outright stolen by someone.

Alon Levy September 28, 2009 - 8:55 pm

the overwhelming majority of the spending is wasted or outright stolen by someone.

This is what always happens. Remember, this is New York, not one of those weird cities where the government is competent and responsive to the people.

George steel September 28, 2009 - 11:45 pm

This is a another example of how mta has all this extra money for old tech when the we already have a full functioning payment system. They cry deficit, but money comes poring out from every crack. This is just more proof of how the cook the books. Honestly how much faster can it get than a quick swipe of a metrocard and be on ur way. $220 million for a second faster to get ur money and the train or bus still isn’t going to get there any faster than it does, lets look at reality and see wasted money for what it is.

Benjamin Kabak September 28, 2009 - 11:48 pm

This is a another example of how mta has all this extra money for old tech when the we already have a full functioning payment system

No. It’s not. They don’t have “extra money.” They are going to fund this part of the capital plan either through government grants or through bond issues that will lead to more debt payments down the road. That’s how their capital budget — something entirely separate from their operating budget — is funded.

This is just more proof of how the cook the books.

If John Liu told you the moon was made of cheese, would you believe him? The MTA was found to be innocent in a court of law of having two books. That was a charge put forward by a now-disgraced comptroller, and it was never proven to be more than falsehood. Get over it.

Honestly how much faster can it get than a quick swipe of a metrocard and be on ur way. $220 million for a second faster to get ur money and the train or bus still isn’t going to get there any faster than it does, lets look at reality and see wasted money for what it is.

Let’s look at reality and see that the technology used in MetroCard readers will soon breakdown and that a better solution — one that can unify fare systems throughout the region — is staring us in the face. It isn’t wasted money, and I’m growing tired of people who bash the MTA without understanding what is actually going on here.

SEAN September 29, 2009 - 6:54 pm

You are so right. With a unified payment system across agencies, you increase ridership & more trips per person because there are fewer bariers.

For example;IfI know that I could ride PATH with the same card I currently use then I’m more likely to travel to Jersey City or anyplace that excepts it because I can.

That means PANYNJ, MTA, NJT & perhaps even SEPTA need to work on an open loop system smartcard that allows for expantion to other transit providers in the future similar to EZPass.

George steel September 29, 2009 - 12:02 am

For the record from the previous comment that no one else is getting raises, speak for urself because lilltle do you know that these so call mta officials and management are consistently getting raises thanks to bloomberg and bonues payments all the time especially for coming up with ideas like this new payment system that will never take off and cost millions in testing. And I’m from within this system and I know this to be true because I see it everyday with my own eyes. And alilttle piece of info that you may not know is most of management that runs things in the system where once cleaners that moved up the food chain due to who they know or what they did for someone on the outside of the job, so think about how they mismanage the system, its because they have no college degrees or any experience let alone talent to pocess a management job. This something mta won’t tell you or let any incrimenating info out. This is one of the reasons why everything is a big secret and no public access. Also bloomberg has his own people on the committee board as his puppets, think of the raises they will get if he gets reelected that the public will never know about. And lets not forget a daily news article no to long ago about how all the big mta bosses had housing allowances and fat checks and ezpass to go along with it. Honestly who needs a housing allowance from a government agency when your paid unbealivable amounts of money for running a dyfunct system.

Take a hike mike, eight is a enough, your whole campaign is a breeding ground for corruption, the whole idea for only two term limit. Down with the tyrant dictator!!!

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