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Cubic Wins $500M Contract to Overhaul NYC Subway and Bus Fare System

The change, which includes mobile payment options, is a big one, but it's been a long time coming.

After 25 years, New York City is saying goodbye to the MetroCard and hello to the iPhone.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has voted to grant a contract worth more than $500 million to Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS) to set up a new fare payment system for the city’s subway, bus and rail systems that will allow riders to pay directly with mobile devices as well as debit and credit cards.

And yes, there will still be a contactless card option available. But MTA expects most people to go for the faster options.

“The initiative will reduce costs for the MTA by significantly reducing the dispensing of fare media, will streamline fare calculation and phase out 20-year-old equipment that is more costly to maintain each year,” CTS wrote in a press release.

The system, which CTS said will be similar to that of London's Tube, will also include a customer interface available through mobile devices that will replace functionality currently offered through ticket vending machines. From smartphones, smartwatches and other mobile devices, riders will be able to check their account balance, add money, see their ride history, and report lost or stolen cards. Altogether, CTS thinks the new system will allow people to move through the system faster and more conveniently.

A riders' advocate agrees.

“Modernizing the fare payment system is a boon for riders,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, in the release. “It will make public transit more convenient, more accessible and more efficient. The new fare payment system will also save money for the MTA, and that savings can be used to improve transit operations for millions of daily riders.”

The contract’s base price is $539.5 million, with additional options that could add up to $33.9 million. CTS will be responsible for setting up the new system, including new ticket vending machines, for 472 subway stations and 6,000 buses.

CTS is fresh off announcing an overhaul of one of its core public transit products, the real-time passenger information system NextBus, that will see the system taken into the cloud and upgraded with machine learning algorithms.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.