Goodbye to Metrocards and turnstile jams

An MTA passenger swipes  a MetroCard at the Canal Street  subway station.
An MTA passenger swipes a MetroCard at the Canal Street subway station. Photo Credit: Chloe the Mini Frenchie via Instagram

The next time you’re stuck behind a novice MetroCard swiper, take solace that help finally might be on the way.

The MTA took a concrete step this week toward a new payment system for that wonderful privilege of a ride on NYC’s subways and buses, approving a $573 million contract for a modern way to pay your fare.

At first, you’ll be able to do so by tapping credit or debit cards, or scanning a smartphone. Eventually, special cards will be sold that accomplish a similar feat for those without bank accounts or fancy phones. Within 18 months, the MTA says 500 turnstiles and 600 buses will accept so-called “contactless” payments, with a full transfer planned for 2023. MetroCards would be accepted until then.

It’s not the first time the death of the MetroCard, introduced in 1994, has been foretold. Chairman Joe Lhota reminded reporters Wednesday that he worked on the issue five years ago in his first tour of duty with the MTA. The MetroCard had plenty of benefits compared with tokens, but its use has outlasted its life span. It’s about time that New York followed other big transit systems like London and Boston with a better way to pay for the ride.

Reasons to upgrade: contactless systems can (hopefully) make for smoother entries, meaning fewer bottlenecks. That’s particularly important on buses, where quicker (and multi-door) boarding can mean fewer delays.

Also, MTA board members say the new system could save money, given the costs associated with MetroCard vending. And contactless means no reliance on those fussy MetroCard strips. Riders will be glad not to experience that excruciating delay when you swipe as always but the infernal machine tells you to swipe again. That’s a good way to miss a train or pay twice.

It will be important for the MTA to make this transition smoothly, and those without the right phones or banks should not be left in the dust during the changeover, or after. But we look forward to the day we can reminisce to our children about that quaint burst of yellow in our wallets — and complain about whatever the new way is to begin our commutes.