Last October, the MTA announced a plan to replace the magnetic-stripe MetroCards that have been in service on New York City’s subways and buses since the 1990s. Over the next five years, Cubic Transportation Systems will be tasked with implementing a new tap-and-pay fare system across all of the authority's properties (including commuter trains), with the first stations and buses getting the technology in 2019. This week, the MTA announced exactly which stations will get the updated system first.
Beginning in May 2019, bus riders in Staten Island and straphangers passing through every stop along the Lexington Avenue Line from Grand Central–42nd Street to Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center (on the 4, 5 and 6 trains) will have the option to use the new payment method. At those stations, passengers will have the option to pass through turnstiles with the tap of a smartphone or a credit card. Come 2021, the MTA will begin rolling out the MetroCard's plastic replacement in retail networks, and will install vending machines systemwide in 2022. New Yorkers will still have the option to use a magnetic strip card until they're phased out entirely in 2023 and will also be able to pay in cash at the new vending machines. The machines will also sell paper single-ride tickets that will work with the new system.
“There are a couple of reason that this portion of the Lexington Avenue Line was chosen,” an MTA official said. “It goes through two major business district and touches both MTA commuter rails.”
The initial upgrades will be more of a test run than anything. Commuters will only have the option to use the payment system at the stations in question, but will still have to wait years to use a reloadable card. By the fall of 2020, Cubic and the MTA plan to roll out the tap-and-pay system at all of the city’s subway stations.
The metered rollout comes as no surprise to anyone who's followed similar endeavors by Cubic in other cities. The company was tasked with rolling out Ventra, a nearly identical system in Chicago in 2013. The quick turnover led to widespread problems and lengthy lines at L stations, and it caused the hashtag #VentraVents to trend for months.
One interesting tidbit in this whole ordeal is that the new payment cards will not be called “MetroCards,” an MTA official said. The new name hasn't been announced yet, but New York can probably do better than the Ventra card in Chicago or the Oyster card in London, both of which are operated by Cubic.