New York City’s subway system has become almost as iconic as the city itself over the years. But unlike other transport systems around the world, NYC’s transportation network has been lagging behind the fast-paced changes in transport-related technology. As per an MTA announcement last October, transit advocates are calling for the integration of technology into the U.S.’ largest transit network to make it faster, more equitable, and easier to use.
The MTA’s announcement to begin diversifying its payment system means the introduction of a smarter ticketing system and abandoning the city’s iconic yellow transit card. Instead of the standard yellow MTA swipe-to-use transit card, the MTA is looking to incorporate NFC-enabled mobile payments like Apple and Android Pay, contactless debit and credit cards, and an MTA-issued smart card.
TransitCenter and Tri-State Transportation Campaign authored a report detailing suggestions they believe the MTA should adopt to make transit smarter and more efficient. The 14-page report lists three main suggestions for New York City’s transit authority, which include all-door boarding, fare-capping, mobility integration, and enhanced data collection.
All-door boarding, which was introduced in San Francisco more than seven years ago, allows riders to board buses from any designated door rather than just the front door as the city currently dictates. The idea behind restricting boarding to the front door is so that bus drivers can confirm that riders have paid the bus fare. But, according to the report, front-door boarding slows down bus journeys, as 10 to 25 percent of a single journey is spent at bus stations.
New York City already uses all-door boarding on its Select Bus Service (SBS) routes. The report also shows that on SBS routes, time spent at bus stations dropped by 28 to 40 percent while ridership increased by a whole 30 percent. To make this even faster, the report suggests that the city start to curb payment, which allows riders to pay bus fare prior to boarding the bus so as to speed up the boarding process.
The fear behind all-door boarding is that riders can bypass paying their fare if the bus driver doesn’t see them get on the bus. But the report suggests that NYC use a European-style ‘controller’ model where MTA employees rotate by zone and check for passengers’ proof of payment. This system is mostly built on trust and respect for the transit network, although it provides no guarantee that all riders will pay the fare. The report suggests that riders who evade paying fees shouldn’t be charged with a criminal offense.
TransitCenter and Tri-State Transportation Campaign also suggested what is called “fare-capping,” which is a system that enables lower-income individuals to ride transit without paying more than wealthier riders. With the new fare system, riders will have accounts within the MTA system, which would enable the MTA to track every rider’s trips on transit.
The monthly, unlimited pass that the MTA offers currently stands at $121. Riders who purchase individual tickets end up paying more than the unlimited pass for far fewer trips. With a fare cap system in place, individuals pay the equivalent of the unlimited pass in individual trips, which is $121 in single-trip tickets, and can ride for free for the remainder of the month. London, which has a reputable and efficient transit network, although it has yet to address inequality, has a similar system in place for the city’s extensive transit network.
As with most transit networks, one of the challenges facing New York City is targeting the first and last mile of urban mobility. In the Big Apple, many opt for ride-share or cab services rather than cycling or car-share. TransitCenter and Tri-State Transportation Campaign believe that if the MTA can better integrate mobility platforms that provide biking and car-share services, like Zipcar for example, within the transit network, fewer people will resort to ride-share or cabs for the first and last miles of their journey.
The report also recommended pushing for better data collection, which falls back to the idea that better data collection on the services that the MTA offers will help improve the efficiency of their services. Currently, the MTA is pooling together its web services in a mobile app. These services include trip planning, account management, and real-time information about trains and other transport. With better data collection, more New Yorkers could receive up-to-date information about station closures, repairs, and other important announcements that are often difficult to disseminate.
A co-author of the report and advocacy associate at TransitCenter, Colin Wright, believes that, with the right technology, transit can be made faster, more convenient, and fairer. ““It’s about basic economic fairness and making it easy for people to use this system as much as possible,” he said to NextCity. “It’s simply a matter of MTA leadership choosing to adopt the policies.”
The MTA’s new payment system will be introduced in phases over six years, the first of which began in October of last year. By 2019, riders will be able to use contactless cards to pay ticket fare, while the MTA’s contactless transit card will roll out in 2021. The MTA’s yellow hallmark card, however, won’t be retired until 2023.