Starting today, New York City subway and bus riders have a new way to pay. For the first time in over twenty five years, the MTA is upgrading its payment system and starting the process of phasing out Metrocards, which like subway tokens, will one day be an obsolete relic of the past. At a “First Tap” event this afternoon inside the 4,5, and 6 station at Bowling Green, the MTA launched the first public pilot phase of OMNY, One Metro New York, a contactless tap-and-go option for paying your fare.

MTA officials and students from New York’s Transit Tech High School were among the first to tap in using the One Metro New York system. The new contactless system allows subway riders to pay their fare using smartphones, smart watches, or any type of contactless card. The open loop system gives riders the freedom to choose how they want to pay whether it’s with their Apple Watch, credit card or debit card. While other cities like London and Sydney have been developing similar open loop systems to expand their already contactless fare payments, New York City Transit President Andy Byford noted that New York City is the first to jump directly to the open plan. The main benefit of the new system is that it will save time, eliminating the need for multiple Metrocard swipes and enabling multi-door boarding on buses.

During the pilot phase, riders will only be able to use the system for full-fares on a pay-per-ride basis. In February of 2021 weekly, monthly fares and pre-paid cards will be introduced using a gift card model. Those cards will available for purchase at stores like CVS and Duane Reade. By March 2022 the entire subway system is slated to have OMNY vending machines where riders can use cash to pay for cards.

The pilot phase is very important to work out any potential kinks in the system and get ahead of the learning curve. While getting stuck behind someone who has to swipe their Metrocard multiple times may be nuisance that gets eliminated by this new system, you may get stuck behind someone trying to figure out if their credit card will work or how to use their phone. The MTA hopes to inform the public with an educational campaign that is already running online and on signs in activated stations.

Another kink that may have to be ironed out in the pilot phase is running into certain types of cards and devices that the system is not yet configured for. There are 350 different types of credit cards and while the OMNY system, which is run by Cubic (the same company that runs the Oyster system in London’s tube), has been programmed for as many as possible, the pilot phase will help suss out any that may have been missed. Another concern that arises with this new system is data security. MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye assures that all data is encrypted and the MTA will never sell any rider data to third parties, a policy in place today that they will continue to honor.

The first roll out of the OMNY system will be at sixteen stations on the 4,5, and 6 subway line between Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn and Grand Central Terminal as well as on all Staten Island buses. Additional subway stations and bus routes will be activated later in the year. The ultimate goal is to have OMNY terminals installed at all subway stations and buses by late 2020 and to completely replace Metrocards by 2023. Starting in 2021, the tap-and-go system will also be applied to the Metro-North and Long Island Railroads as well as the Staten Island Railway. An eventual OMNY app will allow riders to have seamless fare payment between the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North services and subway and bus services. Metrocards and eTix will be valid throughout the pilot program until the OMNY rollout is complete in 2023.

While the MTA works on bringing the subway system into the future, take a look back at its past on our Secrets from Below: Underground Tour of the New York City Subway System!

Underground Tour of the NYC Subway