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Time to bid adieu to the MetroCard?

New York City has been abuzz over the new Fast Forward Plan! There has been much hullabaloo over the dramatic (and much-needed) changes that this plan will bring to New York City Transit. It might just be the “knight in shining armor” for our world-class city!

An element of this Corporate Plan is a New Fare Payment System (NFPS); which will be implemented in the first five years of this 10-Year Plan. Since the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the MTA has been advocating for advanced fare payment options, we are looking forward to its implementation.  

Over the past couple of years, there have been several announcements highlighting the MetroCard’s replacement with a new contactless fare payment system. The fare collection system that started over 100 years ago with small paper tickets changed to a nickel, then to a dime, then to various tokens, and then finally to the MetroCard will now be walked into the future through contactless cards.  

Contactless fare collection systems consist of two types; closed loop systems and open loop systems. Closed loop systems refer to payment instruments which are used solely for transit fare payments. Whereas in open loop systems; the payment instrument could be used for generic payments along with transit fare payments.

The city of Hong Kong was the first one to experiment with both types. In 1997; Hong Kong launched the Octopus Card; as a closed loop system. Wherein; monetary value stored in the Octopus Card could be used as transit-only funds (like our MetroCard).

Over the years, the Octopus Cards received a major upgrade. The closed loop system transformed to an open loop system enabling commuters to use a single Octopus Card for multiple purposes. This card is linked to the commuter’s bank account and is used just like a debit card. By waiving or swiping the card at the transit system, a restaurant, or a grocery shop, the amount owed is deducted from the commuter’s bank account. These systems generally use contactless technologies for a ‘wave and pay’ or the ‘tap and go’ experience. Commuters can also choose if they want their payment deducted from their debit account or to be added to their credit account.

In 2003, Transport for London (TfL) introduced their Oyster Card, a closed loop ‘tap and go’ system. You can flash your card at the turnstile to gain transit access. Over the years, TfL opened its system to other cards and banks in the UK started introducing contactless debit and credit cards which could be used just like an Oyster card. The transit fee is directly deducted from your bank account. Hence, London has a combination of open loop and closed loop fare payment system.

Besides; open loop systems also involve payments through smartphone applications and tapping your electronic ticket barcode at the turnstile for transit access.

In the June 2018 Capital Program Oversight Committee Book the timeline for the implementation of the new contactless system would be as follows:

May 2019: Introduction of the new contactless system; new turnstiles at limited subway stations that would accept contactless bank cards or mobile wallets. The MetroCard would still be available until the new system has been fully implemented in the year 2023.

October 2020: By this time there is widespread and automatic issuing of contactless bank cards to the New Yorkers. Contactless technologies in place on new turnstiles at all subway stations and on all buses.

February 2021: Introduction of the new contactless transit card and a mobile app to manage the card. These cards would be available with out-of-system stores like Duane Reade and CVS. They will not be offered at the subway stations yet.

March 2022: Installation of kiosks vending the new contactless transit card at all the subway stations, Metro-North stations and the LIRR stations.

July 2023: Removal of the MetroCard from the system. Transit fares are paid through the new contactless transit cards, contactless bank cards, smartphones and the new app.

So, are we ready to bid adieu to the MetroCard and say hello to our new ‘animal’ transit card? Let’s do this New York!