Cap crunch: MTA honchos working on fare limits for OMNY

MTA Janno Lieber speaks at a press conference at Fulton Center on Oct. 27.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

MTA leaders are workshopping proposals to cap fares on OMNY, which would allow subway and bus commuters unlimited rides on the tap-and-go payment system after a certain amount of rides within a given timeframe.

“What you’re talking about is called fare capping and it’s one way of taking advantage of OMNY, which we are going to do,” said Metropolitan Transportation Authority Acting Chief Janno Lieber when asked by amNewYork Metro at an unrelated press conference Wednesday at Fulton Center.

One-in-four fares now come from the contactless payment method where straphangers use their smartphone, bank cards, or a recently-debuted OMNY card rather than an old-fashioned MetroCard swipe, according to MTA Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer.

The $5 OMNY cards hit the shelves at private retail stores earlier this month and MTA plans to install station vending machines sometime before MetroCards are phased out in 2023. 

A rider uses OMNY’s tap-and-go system.Marc Hermann / MTA

A fare cap, like all MTA fare policy, would require approval from the MTA’s 21-member governing board, and Meyer said transit leadership wants to flesh out recommendations for a pilot program to present the panel in the coming months.

“In order to do best fare we’d have to do a pilot approved by the board so that’s what we’re hoping to do and we just need a couple of more months to work out all of the logistics,” she said at the Oct. 27 presser.

Currently, OMNY only offers $2.75 rides without an option for a weekly or monthly unlimited pass, which on a MetroCard cost $33 and $127, respectively.

That means that even if riders log more than $33-worth in rides within a week or upwards of $127 in a month using OMNY, they still get charged $2.75 for any additional trip during those time periods.

Mass transit in other jurisdictions already has fare caps, such as London’s Oyster card which limits the amount riders pay in a day or a week

One rider advocate praised the potential move, saying it would encourage more people to take mass transit. 

“Fare capping is what OMNY is really built for,” said Lisa Daglian, Executive Director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee. “It’s a way to encourage people to ride, it’s a way to make transit more affordable and it takes away the conversation about will there or won’t there be a monthly or weekly [pass on OMNY].”

An MTA staffer handling the New York City Transit Subway Twitter account wrote on social media in response to a rider’s question that the OMNY card already switches to unlimited.

“OMNY measures your card usage and automatically switches to unlimited depending on how many times you’ve used it in a given period of time,” the account wrote on Oct. 14 signing off with “KB.”

However, another staffer of the account soon clarified that MTA does not have a fare cap in place and the agency’s communications director Tim Minton told amNewYork Metro that the original post was “errant.”