November 2022 Issue

Goodbye MetroCard Machines and Hello OMNY!

Everything You Need to Know About The Replacement of The Iconic MetroCard System.

Eliana Basher

For decades, millions of daily commuters have relied on the MetroCard for public transit in New York - now it’s time to say goodbye. MetroCard machines have been available in every subway station since 1999; however, starting in 2023 they will be phased out for new OMNY machines. It is not clear yet which subway stations will see the new vending machines first or what the pace of adoption will be like. Although the MetroCard machines will be gone, both OMNY and MetroCards will remain usable until the entire MetroCard system is put to rest, by 2024. As of now, there are a total of 2,317 MetroCard vending machines in operation across the transit system according to the MTA.  

The OMNY system, originally contracted to be installed in 2017, was officially introduced in 2019 at all subway stations and MTA-operated buses. This contactless fare payment system allows commuters to simply tap their credit or debit card, wearable devices, or smartphone at subway turnstiles, AutoGates, and buses. Contactless fare payment for mass transit was first introduced over a decade ago in the Transport for London system, using a rider's own bank card. Many cities around the world have already implemented the use of contactless payment in their public transportation, from Sydney ferries to Milan trains, and now in New York City subways.

In February 2021, OMNY introduced a new weekly fare-capping program. What originally started out as a pilot program has since become permanent. If you take 12 full trips in a week on the same device or card you can ride for free. This is the same as paying $33 in fares per week. This fare capping will happen automatically, every week beginning at 12 am on Monday and ending at 11:59 pm on Sunday. In April of 2021, the MTA CEO and Chief Liber stated that “commuters have saved almost $1.5 million since it launched.” However, this is not a major departure from the MetroCard. When you compare it to the weekly or monthly MetroCard costs, $33 or $127, respectively, there isn’t a significant difference despite being proposed as such.

Many wonder what will happen to commuters without bank accounts or smartphones. A solution is to purchase an OMNY card, which can be found at stores like CVS and Walgreens. The new OMNY vending machines will allow travelers to purchase reusable and single-use OMNY cards. The OMNY cards cost $5 to purchase and must be loaded at a minimum of $1. While the $5 surcharge for an OMNY card appears to

be a stark increase from the $1 charge associated with purchasing a new MetroCard, commuters can use their OMNY card for nearly five times as long. OMNY cards do not expire for 7 years after purchase, compared to the 18 months in which MetroCards expire. Additionally, OMNY cards can be refilled at the retail locations they are purchased from, online by creating an account and linking the card, or in the new OMNY vending machines once they are installed.

Currently, there are no discounted fare opportunities for seniors, students, people with disabilities, and other groups. With MetroCards, once their application was approved, they received a reduced fare of $1.35. However in a statement released by the MTA regarding OMNY, “In the coming months, we plan to support extended fare options, including reduced fares and special programs across subway, bus, paratransit, and commuter rail.” Despite the MetroCard being an iconic staple of New York, OMNY has proven to be an easier and more flexible payment system that has modernized our daily commute.

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