How much can the MTA discern about a potential replacement for the MetroCard from a six-month pilot program? As the authority unveiled a new contactless PayPass program yesterday morning, that’s the question hovering just beneath the surface of New York’s next leap in fare-payment technology.
The details are mostly as I reported last week. On Tuesday morning, the MTA, Port Authority and New Jersey Transit along with MasterCard launched a six-month trial that will run until November. The trial enables transit riders to purchase fares and transfer between these independent systems by tapping a credit or debit card equipped with the proper RFID chip at the stations equipped to handle it. In New York City, only the Lexington Ave. IRT stations in Manhattan and Borough Hall in Brooklyn along with eight bus routes will accept the PayPass trial.
Officials from the various transit agencies praised the openness of the system. It is the first time in New York City’s history that the three rail carriers will accept the same type of payment. “The technology that we’re testing will make life easier for our customers and help reduce our cost of doing business at the same time,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said in a statement. “By using an open network we’ll break down regional barriers and let people travel across the region with a card that’s already sitting in their wallets.”
From an implementation standpoint, the idea is simple. For the first two months of the pilot program, MasterCard users will be able to tap and go, and for the final four months, the pilot will be open to users of most major credit cards. Those who pay per ride won’t need to enroll while those who want to take advantage of discounted fares or unlimited ride options should head over to the Ride NY/NJ website. As I wondered last week, how will this system scale when the MTA attempts to role it out systemwide?
Beyond the technical aspects, though, the MTA has been very transparent in its goals. Walder wants to speed up bus boarding and turnstile movements while cutting down on the amount it costs the agency to collect fares. A savings of just two cents per dollar collected would net the MTA an additional $30 million a year. Additionally, this swipe-less technology will provide riders with a complete statement of transit trips made each month. That information today remains a mystery to all but the most dedicated travelers.
“The first thing people will notice is that the days of the mis-swipe are behind them,” Walder said. “It’s simple and easy to use. You touch it to a pad. You immediately go through the turnstile or get on the bus, and there’s no question about doing it.”
Yet, I have to wonder about the efficacy of such a limited pilot program. In an ideal world where money is no obstacle, every station would be equipped with at least one turnstile able to handle the pilot technology. As it stands now, few — if any — straphangers would use the unlimited ride options because the pilot is limited to just one subway route. If the agency can’t determine how widespread use would impact the new system, can they adequately assess the pilot program?
I posed that question to Aaron Donovan at the MTA yesterday, and he assured me that the authority would consider this problem in judging the new fare-collection technology. The authority anticipates that three types of costumers will use the new pilot: early adopters; regular commuters who use only the pilot routes and stations; and infrequent riders willing to use the Tap-and-Go technology to pay. Those who ride as I do — with a 30-day unlimited ride card — won’t be represented initially.
Still, authority officials believe the new faster fare payment system will be a hit. “People are going to look at it and say, ‘Why didn’t I have this sooner?'” Walder said. “It’s going to make their lifes easier. It’s going to be simple. It’s going to be quick. It’s going to be convenient.”
After the jump, a video on the new PayPass trial with soundbites from the region’s transit officials.