Home MetroCard The cost of the MTA capital funding fight: MetroCard replacement delayed until 2023

The cost of the MTA capital funding fight: MetroCard replacement delayed until 2023

by Benjamin Kabak
An update in the MTA Board materials shows how the MetroCard replacement has been delayed six months.

An update in the MTA Board materials shows how the MetroCard replacement has been delayed six months.

When the Mayor and the Governor magnanimously set aside their unnecessary differences to come to an agreement on the MTA’s capital funding gap, it seemed as though a victimless dance had ended. The MTA had its money; the governor had his political victory over the mayor; and most New Yorkers wouldn’t notice any difference. But everything comes with a cost.

For the MTA, the capital funding crisis could have been worse. Though we still don’t know exactly where the money will come from, by reaching an agreement in October, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio avoided a slowdown of work. Had the political bickering over the money stretched into December, the MTA’s authority to pay for ongoing capital work would have run dry, and the agency would have had to shutdown some projects. As it stands, the MTA had to curtail some impending work, and one of those victims was the MetroCard replacement effort.

When last we visited this topic, the MTA had issued plans to institute a new fare payment system by the beginning of 2020 and phase out the MetroCards by the end of 2022. Now, though, thanks to Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s delays, the MTA had to hold back the RFP for the new fare payment system. Thus, the MetroCard replacement now won’t be ready for customer use until mid-2020, and the MTA expects to complete deployment of whatever the next gen fare payment technology will be until the middle of 2023. Six months may not sound like a lot, but it could potentially be a costly half a year for the MTA and its riders.

It’s not clear how much this will cost the MTA, but there’s certainly a cost involved. When the MTA began the latest push to implement a new fare payment technology, they originally targeted late 2019 as the date for deployment date. After 2019, the cost to maintain the current MetroCard system will skyrocket, as the MTA’s original contracts expire. With what will be a 30-year-old technology still in use, the cost to keep everything up and running will be high, and a six-month delay adds to these expenses. One way or another, riders will be footing the bill, and all of that political bickering will have a real consequence long after Cuomo and de Blasio are no longer holding their respective offices. Don’t let anyone tell you these funding fights don’t matter.

For the MTA, the problem is still one of execution. Ideally, in eight (!) years, the new fare payment system will be ready, but the MTA is still struggling with what this system will be and how it will be implemented. The agency wants to implement a system that relies on a contactless bankcard, smartphone or MTA-issued card, and it must include a new back-end system supporting payment and other financial functions along with a web-based interface for users to refill cards. Certain board members — such as Fernando Ferrar — have begun to question why the MTA is reinventing the wheel when contactless fare payment systems have become the norm throughout the world, but the agency is intent on finding that gem.

If all goes according to the new plan, the MetroCard replacement contract will be awarded in January of 2017 with design, development, testing and installation set to last around 42 months. The MTA’s best laid plans gang aft agley, and they aren’t being helped by recalcitrant politicians using budgetary debates to further petty political disputes. But here we are, and another six months we must wait. That is a real, tangible consequence with real, tangible costs which all will fall on transit riders’ wallets come 2023.

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Stephen Smith October 27, 2015 - 12:20 am

The MTA pushing back the MetroCard date by six months reminds me of the economics joke: How can you tell a macroeconomist has a sense of humor? They use decimal points.

Nathanael November 1, 2015 - 11:06 pm

Metrocard ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.

Keith R.A. DeCandido October 27, 2015 - 12:43 am

Well, the biggest problem with any new farecard system is that no other subway system is as large as NYC’s. The system used for, e.g., Washington’s Metro wouldn’t be a good fit for NYC since the MTA is about eighty billion times the size of the capital’s commuter rail masquerading as a city subway system.

Brandon October 27, 2015 - 6:26 am

False, and an attitude that we also need to drop if we’re ever going to have regional integration. The next gen farecard should work on the subway, LIRR and MNR (even before fare integration, which should come as well). I’d also like to be able to use it for Citibike, the DC Metro, MBTA, DC Bikeshare and Hubway as well.

Stephen October 27, 2015 - 7:56 am

Good point. I would just like to point out though that 2 names you mentioned are naming rights deals and those names might not be around by the time this new fare-paying system in effect. So, the nyc bike-sharing program and the boston bike-sharing program, you would like incorporated into this too. That’s a lot of cooperation and coordination and if it does come to pass, well, a certain place is thought to be hot might have frozen as well. Fingers crossed it works.

AMH October 27, 2015 - 11:43 am

Yes to regional integration! It’s been done with EZ-Pass, and it can be done with transit cards. It took me a long time to accept the fact that my SmarTrip card (good in both DC and Baltimore) was of no use to me here. National would be even better (multi-city trips are a pain, what with keeping track of Ventra, Clipper and Orca cards). I think phones are the future though. RFID cards are already pretty old technology.

Yes to multi-modal integration as well. So far MetroCard is good for only subways, buses and ferries. Istanbul has a pretty good system in place.

Jen October 27, 2015 - 1:06 pm

Seems like the next gen fare payment system will be based on contactless technology – like what is currently used in London (which is a bigger system than NYC fyi) and what Apple Pay uses. It is a global standard that banks and transit operators already use so interoperability should finally become a reality. And if this works like London then I will be able to use my regular credit card on the turnstile itself. No waiting for a ticket at the vending machine. No need for a Metrocard at all. How nice would that be?

pete October 28, 2015 - 6:58 am

LIRR/MNRR will never share NYCT’s fare system. “Zoned fares” will bring up pundits and politicians throwing around “racism” for election votes on the local news circuit. Suburban riders dont want panhandlers on their $300/mo trains. NYC is too backwards to ever have Berlin’s VBB fare zones.

pete October 28, 2015 - 7:15 am

Ill also mention LIRR/MNRR use Scheidt & Bachmann ticket machines/infrastructure, NYCT uses Cubic, they total competitors in transit fare collection.

Brandon October 28, 2015 - 7:18 am

LIRR/MNRR will never share NYCT’s fare system.

Well there you have it folks, give up on a modern seamless fare system within NYC because this guy said so!

John October 28, 2015 - 9:17 am

To be fair, I don’t think he’s happy to say that. He’s talking about the political (un)reality of such a thing ever being likely – which you know is probably true.

Tower18 October 28, 2015 - 3:35 pm

I don’t understand why that’s an issue. A single card should be able to serve zoned and non-zoned systems. A NYCT turnstile would deduct a fare on swipe-in, and LIRR/MNRR would deduct a fare on swipe-out, or whatever the exact system would be.

=+= October 27, 2015 - 11:38 am

Ever been to Japan? The Pasmo and Suica fare card systems work with systems that are far bigger than the NYC subway.

bigbellymon4 October 27, 2015 - 3:17 am

I hope that when they implement a new fare payment system, it is zone-based because I see it as unfair that some from the Rockaways takes the A to 42nd for the same price as someone in Bed-Stuy at the Nostrand stop on the A to the same location.

Roxie October 27, 2015 - 6:21 am

Yes, please, let’s continue to make New York shittier and harder to live in for people that are already poor and struggling as it is. Capital fucking idea.

Brandon October 27, 2015 - 7:29 am

To be fair, there’s nothing about fare zones that precludes lower income people from getting some kind of fare relief that would make up some or all of the difference for them.

Bolwerk October 27, 2015 - 12:10 pm

Yes, but most people who argue for fare zones seem to ignore that contingency. Plus they ignore the difficulty caused by needing more fare control infrastructure.

pete October 28, 2015 - 7:07 am

Then get a job closer to your home. Peak time fares in the subway would also be a nice instant boost in seating capacity. NYC isn’t midtown. If you work in midtown or soho, you can afford the fares to go there (that office floor space is much more than your apartment). Zoned fares would encourage businesses to spread out in NYC and not be all stuffed in midtown making a sardine can commute. It isn’t 1905 anymore where a “commercial building” means a hog slaughter house and the “gas works” and you must have a 1/4 mile buffer of useless empty land between commercial and residential buildings.

John October 28, 2015 - 9:20 am

“If you work in midtown or soho, you can afford the fares to go there”

^This completely ignores the reality of hundreds of thousands of people that you walk past everyday. What if you work in the McDonalds in SoHo? What if you fold and restock the clothes at the Macy’s in Herald Square?

Comments like this show your classism.

pete October 28, 2015 - 2:20 pm

If it is too expensive to get there, don’t work there. The same can be said about living in NY and commuting to DC every day to arrive at 9 AM. Why dont you just say Acela and all airlines should be free? Why not say gasoline should be free since everyone has the right to live and work anywhere they want?

If the subway shutdown tomorrow and you had to take a $40 taxi to work each, you wouldn’t do it. If businesses on Manhattan Island run out of minimum wage labor, they will close or move off Manhattan. Good riddance to the McDonalds, let it be replaced by something more expensive that the office tower suits can still afford. Macys will have to increase salaries at Herald Square vs their suburban stores. I live in NYC, there are 3 Macys closer to me than the Herald Square location. I’ve only once in my life ever stepped in the Herald Square Macys, why should I go that far when I can goto my local ones.

Tower18 October 28, 2015 - 3:37 pm

*whoosh* is the sound of the point going over your head.

John October 28, 2015 - 5:31 pm

That’s what tends to happen to people when they think about only themselves.

Shawn October 28, 2015 - 10:23 am

It’s not fair for people in far Rockaway to pay more to travel to midtown than you do who lives in east village? Want to charge them more? Great now all those people will have greater reason to want to move to east village, raising your rent.

Think you can just outpay everyone? Wait until the politician hears the story about the grandma who pays 3x what a wal*street banker pays in MTA fare to get to her job and serve him lunch – then you’re going to have populist backlash for more section 8 housing in your neighborhood to make it “fair”.

When you squeeze one part of an economic system it just comes out in another part. Free and open transportation is vital to NYC’s growth, especially when it comes to controlling the skyrocketing cost of housing.

pete October 28, 2015 - 1:36 pm

If you cross the river, NJT has fare zones for local city buses. How is that possible with all complaints over classism that come up when zones fares and NYCT are discussed? Why is an NYCT express bus 2x more than local bus+free transfer to subway and NO yuppie bloggers know or care who all live in Williamsburg?

John October 28, 2015 - 5:35 pm

Fare zones for local buses in NJ = apples!
Largest rapid transit system in the country = oranges!

pete October 28, 2015 - 6:34 pm

Are you saying NJ is not part of the New York metropolitan area?

Eric October 27, 2015 - 7:01 am

The current system is progressive, because richer people tend to live closer to the center of the city. This is a good thing.

j.b. diGriz October 27, 2015 - 11:32 am

This is pretty much anathema.

Everyone benefits from the expanded workforce that outlying stations and lines facilitate. It facilitates desegregation, which is not a monetary target but a shared moral value of many city residents.

The idea of subsidies for poor people to cover the increased costs sounds mediocre until you ask where will that subsidy come from (the state budget? ha), and whether it’s likely to help people who are less likely to have a credit card.

The only way I could accept this is IF the subsidy money was easy to access without a credit card, IF the subsidy money came from outside the city and MTA, and IF the additional farebox revenue past the baseline fare were lockboxed for the purposes of expanding rapid transit.

It just might be easier to expand the MCTMT, at some rate, to everyone with an income over 150k, and lockbox that.

Al October 27, 2015 - 11:42 am

How is it fair that someone who lives in a high rent area like Manhattan pays less than the low waged area of Far Rockaway?

Bolwerk October 27, 2015 - 12:17 pm

The Manhattanites consume fewer resources. It’s perfectly fair. Let’s apply the same logic to parking in the outer boroughs. Also, white communities must feel severely under-policed. And trash pickup for low-density neighborhoods should be at the same rate as the densest parts of Manhattan.

Fare zones are not practical in NYC, and probably not equitable. But, at least naively, they are “fair.”

Shawn October 28, 2015 - 10:32 am

You could argue that the most congested parts of the system are in Manhattan. You could also argue the best way to fix that is to disincentivize inter-manhattan trips. You could even go one step further and argue those living in Manhattan have a greater ability to pay for something other than the subway.

The conclusion then would be a zone fare system where its cheap to go from Rockaway to Manhattan but very expensive to go from one Manhattan stop to another. This would encourage walking, biking, and taxis and keep the subway system less congested.

People in favor of zone payment systems should be very very careful about what they wish for.

Chris October 27, 2015 - 2:41 pm

Not sure it makes sense to add an exit-gate requirement at all – in practice that would seem to require much larger changes in passenger flow at many stations.

A zone-based system in the form of a surcharge for any trip beginning or ending in Manhattan below 110th street might make sense though, if a swipe-out system is introduced. Perhaps only during peak hours. Some fare changes to limit congestion do seem potentially useful.

Jon October 28, 2015 - 4:40 pm

It’s simplistic to say that lower income people would be invariably punished by zone fares. Sure, there are the cases of people who live in Far Rockaway and work in the Times Square McDonalds. But most people work int eh same borough in which they live. A lot of the low-income people in the outer boroughs work at businesses in nearby neighbourhoods. The low income person in Brownsville working at a store or visiting a friend in Crown Heights would benefit as much from zone fares as the Upper East Sider working in Midtown. There are also plenty of low-income people in East Harlem or the South Bronx who have relatively short distance commutes.

Even in the likely event that it’s politically impossible, fare integration could still be done on the Paris model where the city itself is a single fare zone for all services. People will have to change their idea of what an LIRR trip should be like (a lot more standees like the subway) but it would greatly enhance transit accessibility to the outer boroughs. The reduced comfort for suburbanites would have to be made up for with more frequent service and free transfers to the subway.

pete October 28, 2015 - 6:55 pm

A couple times a month I’ll walk for 20 minutes instead of paying $3 to go 1 or 2 stations on the subway since I have a PPR MC, not unlimited. I also avoid getting off the subway 3 stations into my journey to midtown unless I have unlimited, to eat, since I have a PPR, and I have to settle for worse places to eat at my destination. To justify buying a 7 day card, since they eliminated my 1 day FunPass years ago, I can only buy the 7 day card when my job calls me to come in for a few days every day, or I schedule enough social meetings with friends in the city, to justify the $31.

$2.75 doesn’t care if you are going 1 station away to the grocery store, or going 38 miles to the rockaways (241 to far rockaway). 38 miles on LIRR (Babylon) offpeak is $10.75 one way offpeak. The $2.75 flat fare is unfair.

Stephen October 27, 2015 - 8:03 am

I thought this site was all about transportation (and it is). But today we find out that our host has a literary background, that to this reader, is more than the typical writer. But maybe all the writers out there know this. I guess I need to read more (I do read non-fiction books, though).
So, what am I rambling on today about? Well, I thought that Ben had hit a bunch of the keyboard keys and didn’t notice the typo-ish phrasing that occurred. But, no, as Google showed me, “Gang aft agley” is not a mistake. It comes from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse.”
Thank you Ben, I learn something new every day.

JJJJ October 27, 2015 - 11:28 am

Id love to see a cost-benefit analysis of going back to tokens.

Essentially, billions in expenses to a contractor for shiny new vending machines, shiny new fare gates, an online platform, 50 years of maintenance, etc etc etc

VS cost to count tokens every week and restock the manual vending machine.

=+= October 27, 2015 - 11:41 am

I hope this is a sarcastic comment.

Roger October 27, 2015 - 4:43 pm

This is actually a valid proposal and is the way some Chinese subway systems collect fares.

But the problem is that you will need to install turnstiles at the exits of each station to collect the tokens.

adirondacker12800 October 27, 2015 - 5:31 pm

It could assume wherever you swipe in next is where you exited.

Chris October 27, 2015 - 2:44 pm

I assume you’re the contractor who would get paid billions to design and install the new token machines?

pete October 28, 2015 - 7:14 am

Whatever contract the MTA signs for the nextgen farecard, in a couple years it will be crying poverty since they allowed credit cards and 10% goes to the merchant bank (where do you think your “cash back” comes from and another 10% goes to the contractor for “facilitating” the transaction. A token is open, just stamp/press another, anyone with a forge can make them. Any farecard the MTA gets will not be an industry standard (mifare) but instead some customer engineering unique product for the MTA that is shared with nobody else (non-metrocard today TAs).

Larry Littlefield October 27, 2015 - 11:49 am

Chip cards are happening right now. So the MTA’s long wait should be over.

The MTA should not be having to design a system. A payment vendor, perhaps even a new one, should be approaching the MTA with a plan.

That’s how we got EZ Pass.

Basically, a group of people could start a new, low-cost bank on the back of the transit system.

Alex October 27, 2015 - 11:50 am

The fare payment debacle is just one more example of the MTA being too bloated and mired in political and systemic muck to act effectively. There is NO reason that, with the right people on the job, the MTA shouldn’t be able to have a contactless payment solution that accepts a next-gen Metrocard, Apple Pay, and Android Pay ready to go within two years. As someone who works in tech, there are VERY few projects that anyone would accept taking this long for the simple reason that technology moves much too fast to pussyfoot around this much. And yet here we are, stuck with a hapless agency and clueless/indifferent political leadership. It’s not enough that capital construction takes so long and costs so much, but now projects that should be vastly simpler do as well.

JEG October 27, 2015 - 11:52 am

Tangential question. Does the MTA prohibit a customer with an unlimited ride Metrocard from swiping another rider in as the cardholder exits the station?

Benjamin Kabak October 27, 2015 - 11:59 am

No. You can’t sell swipes, but you can give them away. The MTA’s rules say unlimited cards “cannot be used by or transferred to another person until the completion of a trip for which entry was obtained.”

JEG October 27, 2015 - 12:06 pm

Thanks. So is it fair to say that when pricing the unlimited ride Metrocard that the MTA prices into the cost such “donated” swipes? Or does this MTA rule simply bend to the reality that the MTA doesn’t want to be policing this activity? While the MTA may not be losing substantial amount of revenue, at least on a percentage basis, it seems, that for an agency starved of money, that even this activity would be discouraged.

Bolwerk October 27, 2015 - 12:02 pm

I think you’re technically supposed to have a metrocard when you use the system, or be with someone who has one.

In practice, they don’t seem to enforce this at all. I personally swipe people I don’t know in all the time if I happen to have an unlimited in full view of fare agents. Never got badgered.

Never gonna happen October 27, 2015 - 1:48 pm

So the MetroCard replacement will really happen in 2050 then?????? this country is a joke!

Roger October 27, 2015 - 4:38 pm

As a privacy advocate, I am glad to hear this.

The news I’ve heard is that MTA wants to evade the burden of producing smart cards on its own and is hoping for someone else, namely chipped bank cards/smartphones to do this job. If this happens then New Yorkers will be unable to take the subway anonymously. The NSA will love this.

pete October 28, 2015 - 1:40 pm

The “nextgen” fare system will collapse when an MTA accountant learns people can swipe tap/swipe a cancelled/stolen CC and ride for free.

Brandon October 28, 2015 - 2:38 pm

This might be the most pointless non-sequitur in this thread. If someone steals my credit card I’d hope they’re spending $2.75 on the subway in full view of surveillance cameras rather than spending hundreds or thousands on gift cards or fenceable items in stores.

Either way the bank eats it in most cases.

adirondacker12800 October 28, 2015 - 3:41 pm

Credit and debit card transactions happen in real time. The card won’t work very soon after you report it.

pete October 28, 2015 - 7:22 pm

And CC transactions take 4 seconds on average. Can you imagine any fare gate with people standing waiting for the card to authorize? Can you image that on city bus with one farebox? With the new chip and pin, it is more like 8 seconds to do the transaction, and what if the bus looses cell service or has only 1 bar?

All transit systems use stored value fare media. They do not use real time verification of account balance to a mainframe. One partial exception is Sofia Metro that has traditional RFID cards with a discount, 0.80 LV a ride, for using their RFID card, but 1.00 LV to use a paper token (barcode) http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.c.....-metro.jpg . There is no integration of city’s bus/trolley system with the metro of any kind. I dont know if those paper tickets will scan at a station other than the one that they were issued at (IE they are verified against a local computer in the station, not wireless/over the phone system to a distant computer).

In any case, AFAIK Apple Pay doesn’t support offline payments and the turnstyle/bus farebox MUST have a live connection to the bank computer to do the charge. http://www.nicebus.com/Passeng.....eting.aspx AKA Masabi’s JustRide app has a number of easy ways to fraud it with screenshot tools and other software shenanigans. (JustRide’s highest security implementation by a Transit Operator is 100% 1 time use QR codes, but NICE decided on “visual verification” for cheapness).

Note the MTA is also trialing the product http://www.masabi.com/2014/05/.....yorks-mta/

Frank B October 28, 2015 - 12:32 am

Just copy the LA Metro System, exactly. It works brilliantly. You can even buy a MetroRail pass and the same ticket can be used as a contactless entry free transfer onto virtually all buses, subway and light rail.

I know that a free transfer from Commuter Rail to a Subway or Bus is unheard of back in New York, but the the point is the technology is there, and it’s simple and cheap.


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