Starting next year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin installing electronic fare readers at hundreds of subway stations and bus stops across New York City, kicking off a laborious, multi-year effort to replace the iconic MetroCard with a more modern, high-tech way to use mass transit.
A key committee at the MTA will vote to approve a $573 million contract for a new fare payment system, which is adapted from the one in use for several years in the London Underground, The New York Times reported today. The agency hopes to have e-readers installed in 500 subway turnstiles and 600 bus stops by the end of 2018.
And if everything goes according to plan, the entire system will be updated by the end of 2020. That means straphangers will be able to use contactless bank cards, smart cards (like in Washington, DC’s Metro system), or their own smartphones to pay for a subway or bus ride in as little as three years.
The company that won the contract is Cubic Transportation Systems, which first introduced the MetroCard in 1993. Cubic is also one of the operators of the Oyster card system used by tube riders in London. Here’s a look at how one of their smartphone-based systems would work:
But don’t toss out your MetroCard quite yet. (Especially if you were able to cop one of those Supreme-branded ones!) The MTA is budgeting at least seven years for the contract, which probably means we’ll still have those yellow-and-blue cards bouncing around in our wallets and purses for quite some time. The MTA says it won’t start phasing out the MetroCard until 2023 — 30 years after it first replaced tokens for subways and buses.
So how will the new system work? In the request for proposals that was posted last year, the MTA says it will be "an integrated, reliable and convenient fare payment and collection system" that allows bus and train customers to pay fares by tapping a contactless bank card, smartphone, or smart card against an e-reader in the turnstile.
The MTA has toyed with the idea for years — it signed a deal with Mastercard in 2006 to test a new RFID card payment scheme, and conducted a second pilot with the credit card giant in 2010 — but it wasn't until New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced late last year that he wanted to usher the subway system into "the 21st Century" that the idea of a new fare system gained renewed traction.
Even though it will take the next several years to complete the installation process, some commuters are already able to use their smartphones to ride the subway. Test e-readers were installed in the Bowling Green and Wall Street subway stations in Lower Manhattan recently, but are only accessible to riders who are transferring from the Long Island Rail Road or MetroNorth commuter lines.