Travel

NY transit agency plans to turn smartphones into subway passes

Jan. 8, 2014 at 2:26 PM ET

A MetroCard is displayed on a smartphone. The cards are expected be replaced in a few years with new technology that allows riders to use key chains, credit cards or their smartphones.
Natalia Jimenez / NBC News
A MetroCard is displayed on a smartphone. The cards are expected be replaced in a few years with new technology that allows riders to use key chains, credit cards or their smartphones.

The New York City MetroCard turned 20 years old this week, but its death is already near.

In five years’ time, the MetroCard that 7.7 million people use daily to access NYC subways and buses will likely be extinct, a souvenir of the city’s past.

Like the humble token.

The MTA plans to have a next-generation fare payment system in place by 2019, says agency spokesman Aaron Donovan.

The plastic and paper MetroCards are expected be replaced with near-field communication or radio frequency technology that allows riders to use key chains, credit cards, or their smartphones to tap rather than slide through subway turnstiles or dip into bus buckets.

It would be very similar to the way that riders in New York City taxis can currently tap rather than swipe their credit cards to pay a fare.

The plan, however, will take some work outside of the MTA. Donovan says that type of next-generation system is dependent on North American credit cards adopting new technology.

“We’re expecting the credit card industry to adopt NFC and RFID payments. That’s a broader trend taking place outside of the MTA,” explains Donovan.

There are many benefits to a new system. Riders wouldn’t have to deal with swipe errors, keep track of their cards, or pay the $1 card replacement fee. And bus boardings would go significantly faster since riders would not longer need to dip their cards.

The MTA would also save millions in card production costs. The MTA expects to spend $6 million to produce 80 million MetroCards in 2014.

Its goal is stop all production of transit passes and use technology in the credit cards and smartphones that riders already own instead.

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