For over twenty years, New Yorkers have swiped the iconic MetroCard to pay their transit fares and board trains and buses. Last month, however, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board voted to retire the outdated cards and contract with Cubic Transportation Systems to develop a new, state-of-the-art fare system comparable to those used in London and Chicago. And although many argue the switch is long overdue, others have expressed concerns regarding the security and privacy risks that may accompany the new, high-tech system.
Cubic’s solution—which will work across MTA New York City Transit, MTA Bus Company, the Metro-North Railroad, and the Long Island Rail Road—will introduce new, contactless payment options in an effort to promote more seamless travel. In addition to mobile payment apps such as Apple Pay, riders will be able to quickly wave debit or credit cards to cover fares. The MTA will offer a dedicated transit payment card, which remains unnamed, for those without touchless payment methods of their own.
Furthermore, New Yorkers will have the option to manage and view their transit activity, including payment details and ride history, through personal online transit accounts. Taken together, MTA and Cubic hope these improvements will facilitate payment, boost access, and in turn, increase ridership.
Nevertheless, given the new system’s connectivity, some have expressed concerns regarding its safety and security, as hackers may look for opportunities to steal riders’ personal information or paralyze critical MTA infrastructure.
Cubic and MTA officials, however, have been quick to put such worries to rest. While the MTA guarantees that safety, in all forms, is its top priority, Cubic asserts that its equipment safely processes $18 billion for transit agencies across the globe each year. New York’s system will also include security features based on stringent banking industry standards. The increasing use of smartphone payment apps, which experts agree entail fewer risks than, say, a credit card payment, should also placate fears of hacking.
Although it is impossible to entirely eliminate hacking risks, say proponents of the new technology, Cubic’s system will introduce long-overdue improvements that are necessary to ensure the future sustainability and effectiveness of New York transit. While the MTA still operates the country’s best system of mass transit, New York’s transportation infrastructure is quickly aging and in need of significant upgrades. The new fare system represents an important investment in the future of public transit that will facilitate more seamless travel, boost access and ease of use, and attract more riders.