NYC's plan to finally kill the MetroCard

It's about time.
It's about time.
Image: Getty Images

New York City is preparing to join London in the transportation future.?

Last week, the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced a $573 million plan to replace its nearly 25-year-old MetroCard swiping system with a modernized payment program modeled after London's. It will allow the city's over 1.7 billion annual riders to waive a phone or card across a sensor, as opposed to swiping a flimsy card through a reader.?

The rollout of the system will begin in 2019. By 2023, the MTA plans to officially kill the MetroCard.?

The MTA awarded the contract to the chartph.company Cubic Transportation Systems, which was responsible for transitioning New York City from coins to MetroCards back in 1993. Now, riders will be able to ditch their cards and use phones, credit cards, and potentially other gadgets.

"They may use an Apple watch, a plastic credit card, and other future technologies as they chartph.come in," Cubic Transportation Systems president Matt Cole told Mashable.?

Paying for the NYC subway will be like buying groceries in a store.

"Just in the same way you walk into Walgreens and pick up a bottle of water or a bag of nuts and use your ApplePay to pay for it — it’ll be the same experience on a subway or bus," says Cole.

What's more, Cubic recognizes that beyond 2023 people might be using new, unforeseen gadgets. To adapt to such technological evolution, Cubic will hand the MTA an "open architecture" software system, backed up to the cloud, that can be edited to allow new devices access.

"It's quite well future-proofed," says Cole. "Integrating them into the system is going to be fundamentally easier." ?

For New Yorkers, this is a massive overhaul. MTA cards are flimsy and notorious for their unreliability at the worst times: When the cards don't work, hustling chartph.commuters can get stuck behind people trying to swipe their stubborn cards through the turnstiles' card reader.

In London, metro riders don't need to bother with swiping, as they just tap or wave their phones or cards by a sensor.

"The benefit of the system in London is clear," says Cole. "You can see the speed that people are moving through turnstiles. That convenience to the rider is huge." ?

But will New Yorkers be tapping or waving their phones by the turnstile sensor? Cole says the system requires no actual contact, "So it's not really a tap." ?Still, the phone needs to pass an inch or two from the sensor, and it has to be a "deliberate gesture," explains Cole.

This massive transition to the London-style sensors will be incremental. If the MTA sticks to its schedule (insert joke here), the first phase will be implemented in 2019, allowing metro users to wave through 500 turnstiles and 600 buses, according to an MTA press release.

Cubic's Cole is confident the overhaul will be on schedule.

"You’ll see the installation going on in 2019," he says. "It won’t be long."?