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MetroCard’s demise could usher in better bus service, fairer fares: report

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The MTA’s planned contactless payment system presents opportunities for other transit improvements

New York City's Subway Fare Increases, Amid Rider Dissatisfaction Over Delays And Outages Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The demise of the MetroCard may not address the issues that matter most to subway riders at the moment—i.e. aging signals, constant breakdowns, and not-frequent-enough service—but it could present an opportunity for the MTA to improve service in other ways.

Advocacy group TransitCenter released a report, titled “A New Way to Ride,” that outlines three key ways in which the MTA could capitalize on its forthcoming contactless payment system: by implementing all-door boarding on buses; capping fares to ensure that riders pay fair fares; and providing more accurate information regarding schedules and delays for riders. In doing so, TransitCenter says, the MTA “can make transit faster, easier to understand, and fairer for the nearly nine million riders who rely on the MTA every day.”

“The authority must put its riders first from the beginning by immediately adopting the full range of policies enabled by this technology,” the report continues.

So how would this work? In terms of all-door boarding, TransitCenter recommends extending the boarding policies used on Select Bus Service routes—where riders use their MetroCard at machines near a bus stop to pay the fare prior to boarding—to all bus lines, thereby reducing “dwell time.”

Bus ridership continues to decline, and speed is partly to blame: As the group notes, “In parts of downtown Brooklyn and midtown Manhattan, where average speeds are below five miles per hour, New Yorkers can outrun a bus with a good pair of walking shoes.” In theory, all-door boarding, enabled by contactless payment, could make bus ridership a more attractive option to commuters.

The group also sees an opportunity to implement “fare capping,” which is “a policy in which riders’ accumulated single-ride fares are ‘capped’ when they reach an equivalent unlimited-pass rate—whether that’s the daily, weekly, or monthly unlimited rate,” per the report. The MTA could also roll out a flat-fare option that would apply to all of its New York modes of transit—subway, bus, Metro-North, and LIRR, which could provide cost savings to those who use more than just one method.

TransitCenter also argues that because the contactless payment system will provide precise information that was previously unavailable to the MTA—such as the exact number of people in a subway station at a given time—it could then spread the wealth to riders via its apps. This is already in place in Sydney and Singapore, but the group acknowledges that it “requires a commitment from various MTA departments to closely coordinate and faithfully share data to the public and with third-party trip-planning apps like Google Maps.”

As for the MTA…well, they’re thinking about it. A spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that they would review TransitCenter’s recommendations, and “we are excited to introduce 21st century fare payment technology to the MTA which is a critical step towards truly modernizing our system.”

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 MetroCard will be gradually phased out, but will be an option of pay alongside the new electronic scanners through 2023.