By Hemish Naidoo
The end of an era has arrived for many New York City transit riders. The Metropolitan Transit Authority had recently announced that in an ongoing process that will be completed by the end of 2023, all MetroCard vending machines in NYC subway stations will be phased out and replaced by OMNY, the MTA’s newest method of payment for transit goers.
OMNY is a form of contactless payment. These payments can be carried out through using a credit or debit card with a chip, scanning a smartphone containing a digital wallet or even buying an OMNY card, which is like a standard MetroCard.
The traditional MetroCard has been a staple feature of subway and bus riders in the city for decades. Its availability and fare flexibility, such as its student options, made it prevalent in every corner of the Big Apple.
Ashley Peralta, a junior who is the president of the Commuter Student Organization and frequently uses MetroCard, reminisced about the cards. “MetroCard vending machines are a NYC icon. They have been around for a long time, and it was the only method we knew how to use before OMNY,” she said. “I don’t think that they can truly be replaced. Even though our methods to use technology had advanced greatly, [MetroCards have] created a memorable experience for tourists and even our NYC residents.”
However, OMNY seems poised to help bring NYC’s aging public infrastructure into the future. Terrence Ross, a professor in the Communications Department at Adelphi, said, “Younger people will welcome the change. It will be quicker, easier and ‘niftier.’ For people who ride the subway a lot it will also be cheaper. [The] subway system is the lifeline of New York City. I applaud the MTA for trying to find ways to bolster its support after all the trauma the city went through with COVID.” Indeed, easy and swift convenience appears to be the primary goal of OMNY.
After the MetroCard phases out, OMNY readers will be readily available at all 472 subway stations. Furthermore, all OMNY users can create an account through an App coming to both iOS and Android in the coming weeks that allows them to track their trip and fare history, along with managing their OMNY payment methods and having constant access to customer service. The most significant change, though, is that after users exceed their weekly fare cap of $33, they can ride free with OMNY until Monday. More fare options, such as for students, are said to be on the way as well.
The added practicality of OMNY, therefore, cannot be understated. As Ross said about such changes, “The convenience and the savings that OMNY affords should make it particularly attractive to young people.”
Peralta seconds this claim. “Traveling to and from work [and] school can get a little hectic. There have been times that I have been in a hurry and either had insufficient funds on my MetroCard or misplaced it. By just tapping my phone on my screen, I am able to get to my destination and not have to worry about having those MetroCard issues.”
But why are the MTA so eager to phase out MetroCard usage and propel OMNY into the city’s transit network? Ross believes it comes back to the effects of the pandemic. “The dangers of Covid had caused many people to stop riding the subway. With fewer riders, there are less funds to service the continuing riders effectively. By trying new programs like OMNY, the MTA is striving to bring more people back into subways to keep the system solvent. Without the subway giving people the ability to move around the city, New York would not be New York.”
The loss of ridership during COVID seems to have incentivized the MTA to seek solutions that would encourage ridership rather than continuing to push riders away. Thus, the MTA has decided to give the rider as many choices as possible to pay as means to not restrict their options and increase their satisfaction with the transit system.
Of course, the arrival of OMNY is not without its drawbacks, especially for riders that are more skeptical and less willing to participate in these digital transactions. Peralta is concerned about this group of riders.
“I believe that elder residents will have a hard time adjusting to the switch of using [your] phone to pay for their ride.”
Ross, on the other hand, said, “Some older people might not like the switch, instead liking things to stay with what they are used to. The MTA has tried to pacify this group by easing the transition in slowly.” The gradual transition will give the MTA time to supply OMNY cards at over 2,000 retail stores such as CVS and Walgreens, as a way to compensate for the loss of the 2,317 MetroCard vending machines. Also, existing MetroCards will still be operational even after the vending machine phaseout for quite some time.
While the beloved yellow MetroCard is nearing the end of its run, OMNY is set to become a vastly more convenient alternative for college students who are already adjusted to storing information and completing tasks with their smartphones. Peralta concluded that “MTA’s decisions such as OMNY is overall a good move for the generation that is coming up and people [who] use their Smartphones daily. These types of public transit riders benefit from OMNY because they already have their smartphones set up with their card, so it is a matter of tapping the screen.”
By making the process more streamlined, Adelphi’s students can spend less time stocking up on MetroCard funds and more time getting to where they need to be.