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MTA announces plan to replace MetroCard with contactless payment system

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The new payment system is expected to begin appearing in 2018, pending the approval of the MTA board

Soon coming to the New York Transit Museum’s archives: the MetroCard. The MTA is expected to move forward with a plan to roll out electronic readers for a pay-as-you-go system that will allow subway and bus riders to wave a cellphone or certain kinds of credit or debit cards to pay their fare.

The New York Times reports that the MTA is expected to confirm a $573 million contract for the system that will replace the MetroCard. “It’s the next step in bringing us into the 21st century, which we need to do,” said MTA chairman Joe Lhota. “It’s going to be transformative.”

Here’s how it will work: the MTA will install electronic readers on 500 subway turnstiles and 600 buses beginning in late 2018, with the goal of reaching the entire transit system by 2020. The new system will allow riders to use their cellphone, debit or credit card, or a new tap card to pay for trips on the system, the New York Post says.

The tap card will address a concern raised around the phasing-out of the MetroCard about making the new payment system equitable for the economically disadvantaged. The MetroCard will be gradually phased out, but will be an option of pay alongside the new electronic scanners through 2023.

One major advantage for the new fare system for commuters: it will synch up with the fare systems for the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, allowing commuters to process their payments from one place. The Times notes that the program will run through apps like Android Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay.

The MTA formally started seeking proposals for a contactless payment system in April 2016. When the call for proposals was announced, it was expected to roll out no sooner than 2021. But Lhota told the Times that there had been “a firm commitment” by the former MTA chief Thomas Prendergast “and now myself, to get this done.”

The agency launched a pilot program for the contactless payment system in early October, installing barcode readers at the Bowling Green and Wall Street stops near the MTA headquarters on Stone Street. The pilot program is only available to MTA employees at this time.

The proposed fare system will come in front of the MTA’s finance committee today. If approved, it will be voted on by the agency’s board on Wednesday.