The New York subway is finally moving on from the magnetic-strip MetroCard, and the London Underground’s contactless system is proving the ‘blueprint’ for the new technology
New York’s public transport system is finally taking steps to move away from the flimsy MetroCard in favour of contactless payment cards, thanks to the company behind London’s Oyster Card.
The New York transit authority sought bids for a new payment system back in October 2017 and chose Cubic Transportation Systems, the company also behind the original magnetic stripe MetroCard, from among five proposals.
Joseph J. Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), said at the time: “Today’s vote is a tremendous win for New Yorkers, paving the way for flexible payment options, a streamlined trip through the region’s public transit, and updated equipment that will help save money in operating costs. Together with Cubic, we look forward to building the MTA of tomorrow.”
Cubic signed a licensing deal in 2016 with Transport for London (TfL) allowing it to take the technology developed for London to other cities, and the company admits that London was the blueprint for the contactless solution being put in place in New York.
Steve Brunner, Cubic vice president and GM for the New York Tri-State region told Computerworld UK via email: “Cubic’s bid to New York featured the technology and support from the TfL contactless solution and we are confident that by using the London experience as the blueprint for New York, the new system will provide the world-class solution that New York riders deserve.”
As part of this deal – which could be worth in excess of $570 million (£437 million) to Cubic if successful – the firm is responsible for the design, integration, supply and implementation of the new fare payment system. This includes platform hosting, hardware and software maintenance, as well as call centre support.
New equipment will include modern fare validators and configurable ticket vending machines across the MTA’s 472 subway stations and 6,000 buses.
These validators are integrated devices which include an LCD display with a contactless and barcode reader, and will be installed alongside the existing MetroCard readers while they are being phased out.
The Configurable Vending Machine will replace the existing MetroCard vending machines in stations by 2022 and will issue fare payment in the form of a contactless card or a single-ride barcode ticket.
The new system will allow travellers to tap the new MTA-issued contactless card (the branding of which is yet to be decided), a bank-issued contactless payment card, or a mobile device payment to get through the new ticket ‘validators’ at a station.
New York’s flat fare system, unlike London’s zone system based on distance travelled, will not be changing however.
The below YouTube video from Cubic gives an idea as to how this equipment will look once in place.
This will all be linked to an online account where customers can see their ride history, balance, add value and report lost or stolen cards.
The existing MetroCard, which has been the de-facto payment method since replacing tokens in 1994, won’t be fully phased out until at least 2023, but this is a major step forward for a transport system that has been much maligned over the years, with flooding recently hitting the ageing network and unreliable MetroCard readers often slowing down people’s commutes.
The project is currently in the design and build phase, with Cubic and the MTA moving into what it calls the ‘preliminary design review’ stage in April this year.
Brunner from Cubic says the system will eventually be rolled out in a phased approach, with the initial launch of 600 buses and 500 turnstiles scheduled for early 2019.
The early phases will focus on accepting third party-issued contactless cards and mobile wallets, with MTA-issued cards to follow in the later phases. “The phased approach allows for a controlled rollout of the technology and encourages use of contactless bank-issued media and mobile wallets early in the project,” Brunner said.
Why didn’t the MTA simply replicate the Oyster Card system?
“Over the last few years TfL has introduced contactless payments in addition to the Oyster card, and the contactless payments are growing at a very fast pace,” Brunner said. “The MTA in New York has analysed the payment trends and decided to prioritise contactless payments.”
Sarah Kaufman, adjunct assistant professor of urban planning at NYU Wagner university told Computerworld UK that, unlike the UK, this will be the first time many New Yorkers will be made aware of contactless payments, as the method isn’t widely used in retail environments yet.
This means there will be an inevitable period of adjustment for New Yorkers who “make a sport of scepticism,” Kaufman said.
However, “most New Yorkers are adept at using credit cards for shopping, so it will not be such a catastrophic adjustment,” she added.
Overall this will be a massive positive for New Yorkers and the millions of tourists that visit the city every year.
“This will be a definite positive for customers,” Kaufman said. “They will be able to enter the system more seamlessly and be able to reload payment cards as necessary, and they don’t have to wait in line to buy the fare card. Hopefully we will see some more mobility as a result.”
Speaking at the time of the contact being awarded to Cubic, John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance said: “Modernising the fare payment system is a boon for riders. It will make public transit more convenient, more accessible and more efficient.
“The new fare payment system will also save money for the MTA, and that savings can be used to improve transit operations for millions of daily riders. Moving on from the MetroCard will be a win-win for riders and the MTA.”
What took so long?
Why have New Yorkers had to wait so long for this modernisation to take place?
Brunner from Cubic says: “The system is reaching a point where the technology is more difficult to support at the same time that contactless and mobile technologies are more available for use in transit. The MTA has consciously waited until the time was right and the technology is both proven and available before replacing the iconic MetroCard.”
Kaufman takes a slightly different view: “In general technology procurement is extremely slow in New York because there are so many requirements. The combination of procurement bureaucracy and constant turnover of MTA leadership has led to a profound delay to this process.”
Subways experienced signal delays during morning rush every day in August except 1
There were subway delays on all but one day during August 2018 because of signal problems, a Riders Alliance analysis released Sunday showed.
The Alliance said it reviewed MTA delay alerts for the month of August from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. They reported delays due to signal problems for every day except Aug. 23.
“It’s just painful,” said Joe Hetterly of Bay Ridge, about his commutes.
The Riders Alliance said signal delays caused problems on every subway line except the L, which has already received signal upgrades.
The analysis showed the worst delays were on the D and R lines.
“It’s always a surprise,” said Tessa Vlaanderen, commenting on the delays. “But other times, it’s perfectly on time, it’s fast.”
The group of concerned commuters is now calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state to implement commuter pricing as a means of funding MTA infrastructure improvements.
“Our transit system is trying to run a 21st century global capital on 19th century infrastructure,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance.
Peter Ajemian, Gov. Cuomo’s deputy communications director for transportation, released this statement to PIX 11:
“The governor singlehandedly revived the idea of congestion pricing, has been leading the charge to pass it and succeeded in securing the first phase this year. The Riders Alliance time would be better spent convincing those who need convincing — members of the Legislature and City Hall.”
The MTA also released a statement to PIX 11, reading:
“The methodology of this “report” provides no context whatsoever. This oversimplification ignores the incredible progress we’ve made under the Subway Action Plan that stopped a steep decline in service and resulted in a series of vital improvements. This appears to be more of a stunt than an actual serious look at the system.
“The system has stabilized over the last year thanks to intensive investment and maintenance associated with the Subway Action Plan which is exactly what it was designed to do. We’ve also launched a new initiative to eliminate 10,000 subway delays a month which is already paying dividends. The complete modernization of New York City Transit, in particular the upgrading of our signal system, is essential to providing safe and reliable subway service, which is why a predictable, sustainable source of funding is vital to making the full Fast Forward plan a reality.”
America’s largest city is facing a monumental subway crisis
Subway delays in the nation’s largest city cost up to $389 million in lost productivity each year, according to the Office of the New York City Comptroller in October 2017, and city officials are increasingly sounding the alarm.
The problem has gotten worse since the comptroller data was collected in 2016. Naturally, transit dysfunction has become a central component of Thursday’s gubernatorial primary vote in the city.
“Our subway system is the backbone of our economy,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “That means with every delay, there aren’t just lives affected — there’s an economic consequence.”
‘It was in a state of emergency long before’
According to the “State of the Subways Report Card” for 2016 by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, 16 subway lines worsened in terms of regularity in comparison to only four that improved.
In June 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the subways. He signed an executive order, pledging $1 billion for improvements. However, few improvements have been made since then.
Cynthia Nixon, one of the Democratic nominees for New York governor and Cuomo’s opponent in Thursday’s primary, made fixing the MTA one of her main campaign issues.
“Frankly, it was in a state of emergency long before Gov. Cuomo finally declared it one,” Nixon’s campaign told Yahoo Finance in an email. The statement cited declining subway performance, delays becoming increasingly worse, slow-moving trains and poor on-time performance.
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that an overhaul of the city’s subway and bus systems would take about 15 years and cost an estimated $43 billion.
Nixon says that she would “tax the rich to fix the subway.” Governor Cuomo’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
‘The transit system is the lifeblood of the city’
Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee who will face Cuomo or Nixon on Nov. 6, recently released an MTA revitalization plan. He told Yahoo Finance that if elected, he intends to make the subway system “immediately” respond to the people.
“The transit system is the lifeblood of the city and is in a death spiral, both financially and structurally,” Molinaro said. “It’s been in a rate of steady decline for about the last seven years.”
Molinaro attributes the struggles of the MTA to the ineffectiveness of Gov. Cuomo. “The governor hasn’t provided the appropriate level of leadership,” the candidate said. “He allowed the misdirection of funds to projects that either have nothing to do with transit or have more to do with vanity.”
But how does he plan to pay for the overhaul? Some of his suggestions include congestion pricing, an MTA commuter payroll tax and the use of value capture. Molinaro says he would also explore the feasibility of public-private partnerships and finding a way for state, federal and local governments to agree on contributing.
‘We need to get started, now’
New York City’s subway on-time performance stands at 58.1%, according to figures for January of this year, in stark contrast to the Washington Metro system (85.7%), Chicago’s CTA (95%), and Atlanta’s MARTA system (96.7%).
New York Subway Station Destroyed In 9/11 Reopens After Nearly 17 Years
After nearly two decades, a New York City subway station that was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks has reopened.
The Cortlandt Street station, which was partially buried by the collapse of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, reopened on Saturday, just three days before the 17th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“WTC Cortlandt is more than a new subway station. It is symbolic of New Yorkers’ resolve in restoring and substantially improving the entire World Trade Center site,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota in a release.
The station, which serves the No. 1 train, has fewer columns along the platforms for increased maneuverability, and also features a wall showcasing text from the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The station and its 1,200-feet of tunnel and tracks were rebuilt within the previous station’s footprint. Construction on the new station began in 2015 after the MTA was given control of the site, the transit authority said
“It’s long overdue,” Mitchell L. Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University, told The New York Times. “It was a major challenge to rebuild the subway at the same time you’re rebuilding the site above it.”
The station cost $181.8 million, according to the Times.
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