Starting today, New York Metropolitan Transit Authority riders on the East Side of Manhattan and buses in Staten Island can buy fares the same way a growing number of Americans buy a sandwich, gas, groceries: by tapping their credit cards on fare screens. Or using their cell phones.
Twenty other cities are scheduling similar payment advances, though Philadelphia isn’t on the short list, says Kathryn Cleary, senior vice president at MasterCard, in Purchase, N.Y., which has partnered with California-based Cubic and with Visa and other payment systems to offer the service through a contract with the New York transit agency.
Philadelphia’s SEPTA has instead struggled with persuading riders to buy a separate Key Card, whose promises and problems are well documented - latest from Inquirer’s Jason Laughlin here. That card resembles the Omni Card New York rolled out in the mid-2010s and now plans to phase out as credit card banks rapidly increase the number of tap-and-pay cards and more smartphone users adopt GooglePay, ApplePay, SamsungPay, and other services that can also be used on the new New York transit terminals.
The New York system is “the first of its kind” on the East Coast (MasterCard says it’s also installed in Chicago and Portland, Ore.), but it follows similar direct-pay systems that have taken off rapidly in the U.K. and Australia, says Cindy Turner, managing director of JPMorgan Merchant Services in San Francisco, which managed $1.4 trillion of North American and European payments last year and hopes to shift more of them to tap-and-go credit cards through secure wireless connections.
New York transit hired JPMorgan to handle the money pouring in through the new card and phone services. Visa, MasterCard, American Express — “any contactless card will work,” along with the payment apps. Monthly passes, West Side, and outer borough subway stops, and other products and locations have not yet been added, Turner said.
JPMorgan Chase alone has issued 20 million tap-and-pay cards. The company, whose credit card business is partly based in Wilmington, is replacing old credit cards with tap-and-pay cards, said spokesperson Maribel Ferrer, and will similarly convert debit cards starting this summer. Tappable cards can be identified by the word “Contactless” and a black-and-white symbol that resembles a Wifi-reader square.
“The habit of pulling out a credit card has been ingrained in us for decades,” added Ferrer. “When transit starts tap-to-pay, it accelerates adoption” for other merchants.
Airlines and the Amtrak intercity rail service have allowed customers to buy tickets by phone and computer for years. New York commuters on Metro North and Long Island Rail Road trains have been using a similar service since 2016, noted MasterCard’s Cleary. Cubic won the contract to build the tap-free card network for subways and buses in 2017.
“As you go through the turnstile, you can tap whatever form of payment you want, regardless of your card network. You can use the digital wallet on your Apple or Samsung phone. Or even your Fitbit.” The New York system also works in London, she added.
She said the London Metro has reported savings of over $125 million a year by accepting credit cards directly for fares, and New York and other U.S. cities should realize similar gains. Only recently have banks issued enough tap-and-pay cards to make the service worthwhile: “We truly believe we are at the tipping point.”
Even Philly? MasterCard is a partner in Philadelphia’s Key Card, after all.
“Philadelphia is talking about this. It is on their roadmap. But there is not a timetable,” Cleary concluded.