New York City seeks a better way for people to enter its subway than by swiping flimsy plastic cards

Funny timing.
Funny timing.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Laugh at Hillary Clinton’s highly visible New York subway gaffe all you want, but every public transit rider in the city has secretly fumbled with the underground transport’s payment system.

The user-unfriendly MetroCard, which riders need to swipe through a turnstile for entrance to the city’s underground transport system, looks like it will be phased out in the next few years. That’s what the Metropolitan Transit Authority—New York City’s transportation agency—claims in its new proposal for a “new fare payment system.”

What that system will be is yet to be determined. The MTA says it is looking for a “systems integrator to design, furnish, install, test, integrate and implement an account-based new fare payment and collection system based on open bank card payment industry standards that will utilize contactless media, including contactless smart cards and mobile devices.” In other words: All the agency knows is it wants something that isn’t a thin piece of plastic with a magnetic strip.

Electronic cards are one option. Riders in London and some US cities like Chicago use such cards, tapping them on digital readers as the enter and exit the system. Near-field communication technology, utilized by taxis in Europe, as well as systems like Apple Pay, is also being explored. Those systems have issues, though; for instance, every subway rider would need a credit card.

In any case, the city hopes to roll out a new payment system starting in 2019. That suggests the MTA’s in-the-works Second Avenue subway line will likely not see MetroCards. That is, if the city government can keep its promises about that project, too.