6 Ways New Fare Payment Tech Could Change Your Commute

Have you ever been held up in a long line to board an MTA bus waiting for your fellow riders to dip their MetroCards? Or struggled to get through turnstiles designed to trap fare evaders instead of ease commutes? It doesn't have to be this way. A new fare payment technology, to be introduced by the MTA, could be used to make commuters faster, more efficient and less painful. 

The MTA has released a request for proposals for a new fare payment system to replace the outmoded MetroCard. The transition the MTA underwent when moving to the MetroCard demonstrates the possibilities for policy changes that benefit riders. The changeover from tokens to magnetic strip cards in the mid-1990s allowed the MTA to create different fare types that weren’t limited to just the cash value but also to specified time period and to use the pass to allow for free transfers between subways and buses. These new capabilities dramatically changed how riders used transit.

How could new fare payment technology change the way riders use the MTA’s subways and buses today? Here are 6 ideas from a new brief “Beyond the Swipe,” from the RPA transportation team, led by Rich Barone:

  1. Speed Up Buses. One major cause of our city’s slow buses is that drivers have to wait for each passenger to enter through the front door and pay their fare. The new fare system could allow riders to enter and pay fares at all bus entrances, significantly cutting down these delays.
  2. Reduce Fare Evasion. The new fare system should support handheld, wireless fare validation scanners that could read contactless fare cards and other payment devices to ensure riders have paid. This would make both paying a fare and verifying that passengers have paid more efficient.
  3. Reduce Crowding and Congestion. The new system also could be used to incentivize riders to avoid congested routes caused by delays or major events. For example, the MTA could provide a discount for riders to use the Long Island Rail Road to get to a Mets game at Citifield in an effort to reduce crowding on the #7 subway line.
  4. Make the Subway More Accessible. As anyone who has ever wrestled a suitcase or stroller through a subway station knows, the MTA’s current turnstiles and floor-to-ceiling metal revolving gates can make it difficult for for parents with children, riders with luggage, the elderly and the disabled to get around. With the removal of token booths, it will no longer make sense to keep using those unwieldly turnstiles
  5. More Fare Options and Greater Affordability. The new fare payment system will be account-based, making it possible to introduce many different types of fares or tired passes. The MTA could explore new fare options, including lower fares for lower-income riders or for those using local buses only.
  6. Rethink Commuter Rail Fare Collection. Contactless fare cards also could transform the MTA’s commuter rail lines, which today still rely on paper-based ticketing.

Learn more about these ideas in our brief “Beyond the Swipe: Principles for the New MTA Fare Payment System.”

--Emily Thenhaus