Home MetroCard With PayPass trial on tap, MetroCard’s death nears

With PayPass trial on tap, MetroCard’s death nears

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Tacony Palmyra May 27, 2010 - 9:17 am

So if you get the 30-day unlimited on the paypass trial, you can’t use it in any way on the non-supported lines? You’d have to get a 30-day Metrocard as well, right? So the trial is only for people who don’t use an unlimited card or only use the 4/5/6 and those few buses, which I’d assume would be mostly commuters from the suburbs who only use the train/bus to go to their office.

I’d think it’d make more sense to use an electronic paypass that also has a strip for swiping in regular Metrocard readers as the new hardware is installed throughout the system. That way you’d be able to use a 30-day card with the new technology where it is installed but still have access to the whole system.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines May 27, 2010 - 9:26 am

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Son of Spam May 27, 2010 - 9:32 am

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.

Is there a breakdown of this projected revenue anywhere? While I am in favor of this initiative (especially as a customer of NJ Transit, PATH & NYCT), I just can’t see how he can spin this as a cost cutter or moneymaker, unless he is talking about charging a fee for the privilege of using it, like EZ Pass does. Metrocard machines will still need to be maintained, cash will still need to be handled, and for all the talk of quicker bus loading times, I can’t see how a tap vs a dip is going to make THAT much of a difference. This is not even getting into cost of implementation.

I don’t think people are taking cabs or otherwise eschewing the transit system because of the Metrocard, as obsolete as it may be.

Like I said, I am all for this, but unless he can show us real numbers, calling this pet project revenue-positive sounds very politician-esque.

chemster May 27, 2010 - 11:06 am

I can’t see how a tap vs a dip is going to make THAT much of a difference.

You’ve obviously never been on a bus when someone goes through all 4 possible orientations of inserting the card. It takes forever.

Or been on a bus with a reader that sucks the card in, thinks a bit, then spits it out with a “read error” message. Repeatedly.

Eric F. May 27, 2010 - 11:39 am

Agreed! It’s especially true on buses. The PATH’s tap card does speed turnstile movement. Bonus: you do not need to remove the card from your wallet in order for the reader to register it.

SEAN May 27, 2010 - 3:37 pm

You don’t know the half of it! Sometimes the farebox will decide to eat the card one day & reject it the next day.

As for me, my card was eatin twice over a two-week time frame. As a matter of fact it was the same bus, same box both times. Thankfully the box has a slot for drivers to remove eattin Metrocards, otherwise kiss it goodbye.

Benjamin Kabak May 27, 2010 - 11:18 am

Here’s what I wrote in January when Walder announced his plan to make every dollar count:

Right now, for instance, it costs the agency 15 cents to collect $1 in fare revenue. Even a savings of 2-3 cents would increase the MTA’s revenue streams by tens of millions of dollars. That, he said, is one of the driving forces behind replacing the MetroCard.

The average fare is right now approximately $1.41 when all of the discounts are factored in. The MTA sees approximately 5 million riders per weekday and had an annual ridership of over 1.5 billion. If a PayPass trims 2-3 cents per dollar collected, the MTA could realize somewhere between $30-$45 million in additional revenue per year.

Kai B May 27, 2010 - 11:56 am

E-Z Pass is charging me a fee? I hope not. I thought I was saving money because of it, especially during off-peak hours.

Son of Spam May 27, 2010 - 2:38 pm

It depends on which agency you registered your EZPass with. Some agencies don’t charge a fee, but most do, in the form of an initial transponder charge, or a repeating monthly or yearly fee.

EZ Pass fees by agency

Of local note, the Thruway Authority and MTA do NOT charge any fees, but the PANYNJ and the NJ Turnpike Authority do.

Eric F. May 27, 2010 - 10:28 am

Is this different from the “touch card” currently an option on PATH? It’s called Smart Card and it’s been around for a couple years now. The one thing about that card sure to outrage people is that the card itself costs money. They charge $5 for it, exclusive of rides. If you go to any PATH station you’ll see a solid percentage of people tapping the cards on the way through the turnstiles. Trivia: PATH uses 3 cards now, the SmartCard, metrocards and the hanging on by a thread “quick card”.

Beamish May 27, 2010 - 5:21 pm

It is the same exact reader technology as the Smart Card – there is no reason they cannot cross-honor the cards. MTA should put the Smart Card reader technology at 34th/23rd/14th on 6th Ave; West 4th and Chambers/Fulton/Cortland stations to cross honor the PATH riders.

Alon Levy May 27, 2010 - 9:03 pm

So far the MTA is not offering an actual card. It’s just a system that allows tapping with a personal credit card. The card will probably come in a few years. Hopefully, it’ll be compatible with ez-Pass and with PATH’s touch card.

Andrew May 30, 2010 - 9:30 am

It looks like anybody with a credit card will be able to simply use that. A special MTA card will only be needed by people who don’t have smartcard-equipped credit cards or who, for whatever reason, prefer not to use them at the turnstile.

I’m not sure why EZPass is relevant, and the technology is probably totally different. I assume the PATH card and the new MTA card will ultimately be merged into a single entity.

Alon Levy May 30, 2010 - 7:40 pm

EZPass is relevant because you might want to integrate the RFID card for cars with the one for transit. For one, it allows both cards to act as virtual cash. Singapore’s already doing that: it’s planning to allow the road pricing/parking card usable on transit and vice versa.

(Speaking of Singapore, I still can’t find numbers for how much the card readers the inspectors there use cost. However, the ones that are placed on the buses and at the bus stations are down to S$950 each.)

Andrew June 1, 2010 - 7:44 am

Who would carry around a big, bulky EZPass tag when a credit card would do? EZPass was designed to be mounted in cars, not carried around.

Chris G May 27, 2010 - 11:51 am

This is of course no surprise. But hey, we need a trial and a study of something that works the world over but not here in America…

I agree with some of the above posts that say this is crazy to trial when you are basically forced to buy a 2nd card to go outside of those few routes offered.

Oh well. I can only hope the changes and improvements keep coming.

And a tap or brush by method is DEFINITELY faster for boarding on buses. Those dang readers like to churn and think about what its doing even when it reads it correctly.

Gil May 28, 2010 - 2:52 pm

Thanks for the info; they recently added something at the Grove Street PATH station but it’s covered up right now, clear that they’re going to unveil it soon…

What I hope, though is that this accounts for multiple riderships. Like if I want to have a pay per ride metrocard but an unlimited monthly path card, that this can handle the two balances.

herenthere May 28, 2010 - 6:34 pm

How will a program that requires online registration scale across a system of that averages five million riders a day? And more importantly, will a credit card touch-and-go system be the final solution for a MetroCard replacement?

1) Where the TWU will use an excuse to “come to the rescue.”
2) Nonsense, take a look at Minority Report-in the future, we’ll use retinal scanning! (unless your eyes are stolen.)

Andrew May 30, 2010 - 9:24 am

The pay-as-you-go option is presumably intended for tourists and infrequent visitors. When all is said and done, that will probably be the default mode for unregistered credit cards. So tourists won’t have to buy a MetroCard or register anything online in advance – they can just show up in the city and tap away – unless they’re looking for the fancier ticketing options.

James Bunting May 31, 2010 - 9:24 am

In London we have the Oyster. Whilst it isn’t the answer to everything it does certainly reduce boarding time on buses and entry time into the Underground and now also National Rail within Greater London. It has also drastically reduced cash handling,and its cost, particularly on buses.

There is no dependence on having a credit card. Although there has been a scheme with a major bank to combine a credit card and Oyster I don’t think it has been very popular. We British see them as separate things. You can have weekly, monthly and annual season tickets loaded on, as well as being able to add credit for when you go out of the area you have loaded. For Pay-As-You-Go you can either have a registered card and choose to top up when you want or have auto-top up when your balance falls below £5.00, but payment is from a bank account. For those who don’t wish to have their journeys recorded there is an unregistered option, but if you lose it then you have also lost any credit on the card, whereas the registered version can be stopped and a replacement card issued.
We have now added National Rail to the card. Because their system and culture are very different there are a number of issues, particularly to do with routing and charging, that arise. Because of London’s shape we have a zonal system working out from the Central area. As there are often many ways to take a journey getting the system to match where it thinks you have been and where you have actually been is not always easy.

sharon June 1, 2010 - 9:25 am

The TWU will begin to start complaining that mastercard will collect a transaction charge on each ride. this is true but it is far smaller than the cost of station agents that do nothing more than sell a few fares per day and the metrocard vending MACHINES that both cost a ton to buy and repair. In addition to pay pass the system will allow cell phones to pay fares. Many do not remember that metrocard was to be outsourced to chase and the unions blocked it . We will see. Selling refill cards just like cell phone refills will be a boon to small stores. A win win for everyone except the TWU bosses who stand to loose million in union dues

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ArthurDental June 17, 2010 - 10:59 am

I haven’t seen the TWU complain but see a few people saying it will. How’s that for opining? It’s great when you can attack people for things you say they’ll do.

Rick July 4, 2010 - 5:35 pm

Will this make the elderly more likely mugging targets, since it will mean that just about EVERY person getting off a bus or train is carrying a credit card?

If a couple gets on a bus and one party wants to pay for both of them,
(a) will it be easier or harder? (b) will there be any double charges because the second person happens to be holding their wallet?

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