Evolution of a MetroCard

As anyone travelling from Jersey City or Hoboken to somewhere outside of Lower Manhattan knows, using PATH and then the subway can be an irritating and expensive affair. Because both are operated by different agencies, the Port Authority and the MTA, users of both for a single trip must pay two fares. Compounded by the fact that 30-day SmartLink cards and Unlimited MetroCards aren’t interchangeable, fare integration would seem to be a likely goal for the near future.

Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that; creating in-system transfers would turn into a long negotiating process about fare collection and the inner workings of how revenue is distributed. In order to allow for possible cross-platform transfers between PATH and the Sixth Avenue Line as well as the inclusion of the World Trade Center station into a larger Lower Manhattan station complex, giving riders connections between systems without having to exit.

That is not to say that the agencies have done nothing to address this problem. The NY/NJ PayPass trial exists for MasterCard and Visa users, but doesn’t benefit most riders. Only subway stations on the Lexington Avenue Line are equipped with RFID targets, and Christopher and 9th Street stations on PATH lack them as well. Perhaps the worst part of the plan is that it doesn’t accept certain credit cards (namely American Express) and is worthless to younger riders without access to such payment technologies.

To remedy this, we can either modify existing technology and fare collection systems or expand others. For the former, the MTA can issue what I would term Unlimited+ MetroCards in addition to regular Unlimited cards, to which a 10%-discounted ($48) 30-day PATH fare would be added, a more lucrative rate than buying two separate unlimited cards. For pay-per-ride users, we can modify turnstiles on PATH and the subway to reduce fares so that users are only charged a discounted rate (perhaps $2.75) for their entire trip if they swipe in at another agency’s faregate. These remedies, however, would still require passengers to exit the first network and enter the second.

Expanding technology, while more expensive, would serve future interests far better. While the Unlimited+ MetroCard would still be issued, SmartLink cards would be able to hold both unlimited passes for both systems at the discounted rate and the need to exit and enter would be nullified as passengers could simply walk from PATH to the subway and vice versa, instead using modified exit gates to tap out of the system. For pay-per-ride users, tapping out of the system would automatically allow the correct fare to be deducted. While this overall is simpler, it would require the conversion of all fare collecting equipment to require tapping in and out, a concept rather foreign to New Yorkers. Overall, it would vastly ease the implementation of an integrated fare system for the region, albeit at a significant cost.

For now, it’s just going to be a pain for travellers between New Jersey and parts of the city, but the Port Authority and the MTA need to come up with a solution. Not only would it allow for better cross-Hudson transport, it would also be a significant step in fare collection technology and customer satisfaction.

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