Home Public Transit Policy Portending a single fare system for bikes and transit

Portending a single fare system for bikes and transit

by Benjamin Kabak

At some point this summer — although when exactly we do not know — New York City will unveil its bike share program. With a payment structure that favors short rides and long-term memberships, the 10,000-bike system run by Alta will change the way many New Yorkers commute. As I explored a few weeks ago, it should, in fact, enhance the city’s transportation network.

Full integration though remains a challenge. Right now, the city’s transportation payment picture looks a bit muddled. The buses and subways run by the MTA take MetroCards while the East Side Ferries, seemingly far more popular than I and may others anticipated, take cash while the bike share system will be membership-based for many and pay-as-you-go for others. Without integrating payment systems, these modes remain more siloed than they need to be.

New York City Transit meanwhile is slowly moving toward a new fare payment system. By around 2015 or so, the MetroCard will be ushered out in favor of a contactless debit or credit card-based solution, and the MTA may be more amenable to cooperating with the city on a unified fare system. Cody Lyon at The Gotham Gazette reported on Monday:

In the near future, subway riders may be able to use their fare cards to check out a bike from hundreds of nearby docking stations. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it is open to evaluating ways to integrate fare payment with the city’s bike share program as it moves toward a wireless, smart card-based system by 2015, agency spokesman Aaron Donavan said in a recent interview…

Department of Transportation spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said that in other cities, up to 50 percent of bike share trips are connections to other modes of transit. But he said while he expects to see the same here, the DOT is currently not working on fare payment integration at this time. “We look forward to exploring it in the future,” Mosquera said…

Mosquera said New York City’s bike share program is designed to provide sufficient bike share capacity at transit hubs, allowing riders to transfer quickly from bike other modes or vice versa. He said the bike share stations extend the reach of the transit system, making distant parts of neighborhoods easily accessible from subway stations. “The system will be perfectly suited to any potential fare integration,” Mosquera said.

The idea of integrating fare systems is hardly a ground-breaking one. Yet, at many levels, the MTA has struggled to achieve success. We can’t use the same tickets on Metro-North and the LIRR. MetroCards are useful only with the realm of subways and city buses. Even integration with the PATH system is more limited than it need be, and transportation options that operates outside of the auspicies of the MTA rely on a separate payment system entirely.

Seeing both the city and MTA be willing to discuss ways to make this work is a heartening development. The bike share system will complement the rapid transit network and making connections between the two — and the way we pay for those connection — as easy as possible should be a priority as the MTA readies the MetroCard replacement. Forward thinking and cooperation will go a long way toward attaining success and avoiding unnecessary turf wars as resources are grow more and more stretched.

You may also like


ArtV July 18, 2012 - 8:26 am

“…The idea of integrating fare systems is hardly a ground-breaking one. Yet, at many levels, the MTA has struggled to achieve success….”

I agree that there is a ways to go before there is complete interoperability between all transit-related services, and certainly the latest developments related to new fare systems based on contactless bankcards and mobile payments technology will make that more practicable, but credit where credit is due….the fact is that you can use the same ticket (MetroCard) for buses and subways and commuter rail in NY. These joint tickets are used by a good number of transferring riders, especially those in the railroads’ Mail&Ride programs. MetroCards can be used to pay fares on PATH, as well as JFK AirTrain, and can be purchased at those systems’ vending machines. Additionally, MetroCards can be used on regional systems not under the purview of the MTA; examples include Westchester Bus, NICE Bus, Roosevelt Island Tram, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Atlantic Express. The list, while maybe not well-known, is indicative of some good regional transit thinking on the MTA’s part.

AG July 19, 2012 - 10:56 am

Yes – and you can get the same free transfer between Westchester buses and the subway where they connect… (the #2, 4, 5 subway lines in the Bronx) that you get from city buses.

Larry Littlefield July 18, 2012 - 8:50 am

This isn’t just a technical problem, it is a question of who subsidizes who. And unless debts and pension underfunding somehow go away, the issue is allocating losses and not gains.

Bike share will never work in most locations beyond the subway — Whitestone in Queens, Marine Park in Brooklyn, and City Island in the Bronx for example — because the population density is too low. The integration that is required there is large scale facilities at the last subway station for people to lock their own bicycles, as an alternative to taking the bus to the subway or commuter train.

Bikeshare could be used on the other end.

Chet July 18, 2012 - 10:29 am

On the topic of bicycles, interesting article in today’s Times about cycling in Copenhagen.

I doubt we’ll ever see something like this around here, but its worth the read.

Kai B July 18, 2012 - 11:53 am


Very interesting. Our bridges and our few greenways function somewhat like this, particularly Prospect Park West and along the Hudson (lack of intersections).

Would be interesting if in the future a couple small streets, in let’s say the LES, would be exclusive to bikes, at least during rush hours, to facilitate bicycle commuting.

Eric F July 18, 2012 - 1:13 pm

Awesome. We definitely need one of these so that commuters from Lynnbrook can get into midtown without having to futz with the LIRR. Nothing sharpens the senses like a 20 mile one way bike ride on a pitch black evening in January.

Elaine July 18, 2012 - 10:37 am

Oooh, oooh, oooh — I wrote about how great a common farecard would be across multiple modes of transit, but I never thought about having it extended to bike-share. That is a great idea! Of course, if you’re Philadelphia and you’re so far behind you don’t even have electronic fare collection yet, you can jump right to tying everything to a credit or debit card.

MRB July 18, 2012 - 11:09 am

I think the future of payments will be related to social media. We’ve seen now that you can log on to random websites with your google/facebook/yahoo/whatever account ala Disqus/Livefyre and so on.

Ultimately, we’ll see our credit cards linked like this: swipe any card at the register and you’ll be given the option to charge it to a separate account and perhaps a different vendor.

It’s only a matter of time until your metrocard/path card/nj transit monthly/bike share/EZpass etc get linked in a similar manner.

The only question is what to do about cash-users (bank-averse people; visitors; children) and their interaction with the system.

Matthias July 19, 2012 - 10:15 am

Credit card payments would make the transit system so much friendlier to visitors. Instead of having to figure out how to get and use a MetroCard, they can just tap and go. It does, however, make things a bit harder for the un-banked population.

Alon Levy July 19, 2012 - 12:54 pm

“A bit harder”? Try “unusable at normal commuter speeds.”

Getting a MetroCard in New York is easy enough. You can do it at every station, there are tons of TVMs at JFK and some still with short lines at Penn Station, and there’s no charge for a card beyond the money you put into it.

John S July 23, 2012 - 10:54 am

It’s not entirely free, but I think this could be expanded to tackle that sort of thing:

With Visa’s cooperation, this could easily be made as an RFID card for payment.

Andrew July 23, 2012 - 10:02 pm


I wouldn’t be surprised if the card you mention evolves into the “MTA Card” discussed here. But most riders will use their own credit or debit cards, which, lo and behold, can also be used on bikeshare.

John S July 23, 2012 - 11:11 pm

Ahh…neat document.

But yeah…I totally get the point of using standard cards for ~90% of people. However, that harder to reach ‘unbanked’ cohort, and/or people who don’t have suitable cards necessitates an alternative, which I believe is the “MTA Card” you cite. Speaking of suitable cards – I used a Visa RFID card during the contactless trials (and had to wait many weeks after the MC exclusivity ended), but it does seem to me that not a lot of card issuers have RFID yet. That could actually slow this whole thing down, or at least very much require an MTA Card. (Personally, I /hate/ fees, and would prefer an equivalent to the MVM instead of this ‘Readylink’ stuff that adds a surcharge.)

Andrew July 23, 2012 - 11:57 pm

I’m a bit concerned about the fairly slow market penetration of RFID cards, but the MTA’s smartcard system won’t go live until 2015, and a lot can happen in three years.

I doubt there will be a surcharge to refill a card, but I’d guess that there will be a fee for the card itself, as is the case for many other systems. That will serve as an incentive for anybody with an RFID credit card to use it. (It might also serve as an incentive for banks to offer RFID cards of their own.)

Benny Medina August 28, 2012 - 11:00 pm

Thanks for the link, John S. I was digging for information on these. I am glad I found this site and your link.

JarekAF July 18, 2012 - 11:40 am

I’d like to see this linked to the Ferry’s as well.

It’s kinda messed up how you pay for those Ferrys. Real shitty process and time consuming. It’d be great to be able to just swipe your MTA card.

Bike News Roundup: US traffic deaths jump 13.5% over last year | Seattle Bike Blog July 25, 2012 - 5:20 pm

[…] Portending a single fare system for bikes and transit :: Second Ave. Sagas – When King County launches bike share, ORCA should work at the kiosks. […]


Leave a Comment