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NYC's New Fare-Payment System Tallies 1 Million Uses

The new contactless payment system rolling out across the New York City bus and subway network launched at the end of May. Some 80 percent of riders "tap" into the system via a digital wallet.

New York's OMNY, a new contactless fare-payment system slowly rolling out across the city's bus and subway network, has now reached 1 million uses. 

OMNY calls its uses “taps,” and it tallied its one-millionth tap on Aug. 13, 69 days after the system’s limited release. OMNY (One Metro New York) represents perhaps the most sizable technological upgrade to ticketing in the nation’s largest transit system in about 25 years. It will replace the ubiquitous magnetic swipe MetroCard.

“I think the fact that we got to a million taps so quickly affirms the acceptance by our customers, who find it unbelievably convenient,” said Patrick J. Foye, MTA chairman and CEO, during a press conference to mark the milestone Tuesday.

The new contactless technology has been installed in buses and turnstiles serving Staten Island MTA buses and select subway stations. The system, developed by transit software maker Cubic, allows riders to tap their contactless credit card or digital wallet on their smartphone or wearable such as an Apple Watch. Some 80 percent of OMNY users are tapping via a digital wallet, say MTA officials.

Apple iPhones do not need to be awakened to use it. They just need to be placed within an inch or so of the reader, and the turnstile will awaken the phone, preparing it to be read.

Al Putre, the executive director for OMNY, described it as "more successful than we anticipated” during the press conference, also noting that the goal here is to make things easier for customers. New transit technology like OMNY has the potential for other innovations too, beyond making it easier to pay fares, say officials at TransitCenter, a research and advocacy group.

Ben Fried, communications director for TransitCenter, said that the MTA has pledged to use the new fare payment system to implement citywide all-door boarding by early 2021. Expanding OMNY’s reach to surrounding commuter rail networks like the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro-North Railroad will make for a smoother transition among these systems and MTA, which could increase usage of commuter rail lines, said Fried.

“The current method of one-by-one payment at the front door is a big drag on bus performance, especially on the busiest routes,” he said. “We expect the transition to all-door boarding to even out dwell times at bus stops. Improving reliability and better service should translate into more riders.”

OMNY will be deployed to the entire New York City Subway and bus system by the end of next year, officials say. In 2021, OMNY will expand to the LIRR and Metro-North Railroad. 

“We’re continuing to roll out the infrastructure necessary — the network infrastructure and the hardware necessary — to light up the rest of the system,” said Putre.

In 2021, MTA will also introduce an OMNY Card, which functions as a contactless transit pass that can be reloaded via cash or credit. The MetroCard, a mainstay of New York life, debuted in January 1994. It will be completely phased out in 2023, according to the OMNY website. The MetroCard will run side-by-side with OMNY until the project is complete.

“The MetroCard System is old, it’s aging. We want to give customers a 21st-century experience,” said Foye.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.