The MetroCard celebrated its 20th anniversary last week. But transit officials have announced that it will be going the way of the old subway token in time for its silver jubilee in 2019.
Kevin Ortiz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the cards have been an unparalleled success since their introduction, but that their time has come and gone.
“It had a dramatic impact on the system,” Ortiz said in an interview on Monday. “Back in 1994 we had about 1 billion annual riders. This past year we surpassed 1.6 billion.”
He said much of that is attributed to a change in 1997 that allowed a card holder to get a free transfer between bus and subway routes.
“That said, as successful as it has been, it is nearing the end of its usefulness. The technology is nearing the end of its useful life. It’s becoming obsolete, and it is getting increasingly expensive to maintain.”
Aside from maintenance, the printing of the cards themselves costs the MTA upward of $6 million per year.
“From an economic standpoint, we want to decrease the top costs of running such a system,” Ortiz said.
He said the agency is committed to finding a system that can be integrated not only between buses and subways but with the Long Island Rail Road, MetroNorth and other regional transit systems.
Requests for proposals are scheduled to go out later tis year, with bids to be awarded sometime in 2015. Ideally, the new system would allow riders to tap one or more devices, a credit card, bank card or a smartphone that would allow money for a fare to be deducted from an account remotely.
“It’s pretty common in other places in the world, like Europe,” Ortiz said.
Any changes will enter the planning stages with questions, such as dealing with riders who do not have access to bank or credit cards. Many students in the city’s schools also would not be old enough for a card, and not all would likely carry cell phones.
A spokeswoman for the city Department of Education said the DOE would not respond to “proposals.” But the MTA said students will be accommodated.
“We’re fully aware that some people don’t have access to debit cards,” Ortiz said. “That’s all part of the development process.”
Paul Fleuranges, also with the MTA, said student transportation is a basic component, but that no specifics can be charted until the platform of a new system is determined.
Ortiz also said the process would by necessity take questions of system security into account. He also said 2019 is not going to be the drop-dead end of blue-and-yellow cards with the magnetic strip.
“We certainly expect that there would be an overlap with the new system,” he said. “People would have to get familiar with the service, and we would have to obtain the equipment we need.”
He said it was 2003 before MetroCards were used exclusively.