MetroCard phase-out: Timeline, replacement, more to know about new NYC fare system

A subway rider refills her MetroCard at the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn on March 4, 2013.
A subway rider refills her MetroCard at the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn on March 4, 2013. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

Say so long to the swipe.

The MTA is phasing out the MetroCard in favor of a tap-based fare system similar to those found in London, San Francisco and Boston.

Instead of swiping and re-swiping (and sometimes swiping a third time) to get through a turnstile, subway riders will be able to tap a proprietary smart card, smartphone or bank card against a new fare reader, also called a “validator.”

The new contactless fare payment system will also be rolled out on the MTA’s buses.

Here is everything we know, so far, about the MetroCard’s phaseout, its replacement and more.

When will the MetroCard be phased out?

The MetroCard won’t be completely phased out until July 2023. A gradual phaseout of the card’s use is planned to start in May 2019, when the MTA’s tap-based replacement will be introduced along certain subway and bus routes.

How will the new fare system be rolled out?

The MTA will begin a slow rollout of the new contactless fare system in May 2019, beginning with stations along the 4, 5 and 6 lines between Grand Central-42nd Street and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn, as well as all express and local bus routes on Staten Island.

The authority plans to launch the contactless system citywide in October 2020, but MetroCards will still be accepted until 2023.

What are the payment options for the new tap-based system?

In 2019, commuters will be able to use mobile wallets from Google, Samsung and Apple, as well as specific, contactless bank cards to pay for fares.

The MTA is expected to introduce its new proprietary smart card at drugstores and other retailers in February 2021. The cards will be stocked in MTA vending machines beginning in March 2022.

A new app that can be linked to riders’ bank accounts is being developed but there is no timeline for its launch.

The project, as of Monday’s MTA board meeting, is 6 percent complete and considered to be on schedule for completion by July 2023.

Does the MetroCard’s replacement have a different name?

It remains unclear if the MTA will introduce a new name along with the new technology. In October, when the new system was first announced, MTA chairman Joe Lhota said, “we’re not there yet.”

“I’m not going to be able to answer on that,” he added. “I know it’s not going to be the Joe Card.”

Who is the MTA working with to create the new fare system?

Cubic Transportation Systems, which also operates the MetroCard, is developing the new contactless system through a $573 million contract awarded by the MTA. The entire project is expected to cost $620 million.

Will there be any change in the fare structure under the tap-based system?

Transit advocates are pushing what’s known as “fare capping,” in which payments are no longer applied once a rider hits the cost of a weekly or monthly unlimited rate, arguing it’s more equitable for riders than the current system. It’s unclear, however, if the MTA board will consider changes in fare policy connected to the tap-and-go rollout.

Could the new system help improve service?

The new fare system could potentially lead to improvements for bus service. All-door bus boarding, which would reduce wait times at stops, has the support of the MTA but its board would have to vote on the new policy. In the meantime, the MTA plans to install validators at the front doors of Staten Island buses and wire the back doors so that the readers can be easily installed at a later time.