When the MetroCard is retired, should its name be discontinued as well?
The MTA on Wednesday formally approved a $573 million contract to phase out the MetroCard for a tap-based system over the next six years. Instead of swiping onto the subway or dipping while boarding buses, riders will tap their bank cards, mobile phones or proprietary cards to pass through turnstiles.
Some cities with similar payment models have given their plastic smartcards more playful names. London has the Oyster Card. The San Fransisco Bay Area has the Clipper. And Boston has the CharlieCard, named after a character in a 1949 folk song titled “M.T.A.” about a man interminably trapped on a Boston trolley.
Speaking grandly of the new fare payment technology, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said the approval was a “huge step in our goal to be one of the most technologically advanced transit networks in the world.”
But when Lhota was posed with the question of whether the MTA would rename its fare card, he was mum.
“We’re not there yet. I’m not going to be able to answer on that,” he said, quipping, “I know it’s not going to be the Joe Card.”
Veronica Vanterpool, an MTA board member, said she hadn’t thought about the idea before it was pitched to Lhota. But she suggested a renaming.
“I think it would be nice to have something fresh and new,” she said. “The MetroCard identified a time and era in MTA that’s soon to be history — much like the token. It might be a great time to go with something new.”
Whether the MTA renames the MetroCard or not, Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said he believes riders will eventually grow nostalgic for the old swipe card — it’ll be like vinyl records, he said, but without the sonic benefits that come with the medium.
“It’s retro fun, but the replacements are going to be so much better and more convenient,” he said.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo feud over how to repair the subway system, Sifuentes said he’d let the winner take all in any rebranding.
“Name the card,” he said, “after whoever saves the damn system.”