Jul. 26, 2023 By Ben Brachfeld
The MTA announced Wednesday that it has recorded its billionth entry into the city’s transit system using OMNY, the contactless payment method set to replace the MetroCard.
The lucky billionth rider was home health worker Candida Alfonso, who tapped into the 74th Street-Broadway station in Jackson Heights, Queens Wednesday morning intending to catch a 7 train to Court Square, as she usually does. An essential worker, she has used OMNY since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“I used the card so I would not have to put my hand on the machine,” Alfonso said in Spanish at a press conference Wednesday.
For her fortuitous tap, Alfonso received a goodie bag from the MTA containing an OMNY-branded hat and T-shirt, as well as $100 added to her digital wallet.
The MTA finished installing OMNY — short for “One Metro New York” — at every subway turnstile and city bus at the end of 2020. It is intended to replace the MetroCard, which New Yorkers have used to swipe into the transit system since 1993.
The MTA previously intended to fully phase out the MetroCard this year, but at present agency honchos do not have a concrete timeline on when the yellow trooper will be retired. Fewer than half of paid entries into the system are being made with OMNY.
Uptake among subway riders is higher, with 47% of rides paid for with OMNY, while on city buses the number stands at just 29%, an MTA spokesperson confirmed.
Officials have tried a number of methods to entice customers to make the switch, most notably giving riders unlimited free rides after 12 taps in a week. Reduced-fare benefits for seniors and people with disabilities have been integrated into the system, and for those riders who prefer a physical card, the agency is rolling out brand-new OMNY machines, modeled after the iconic MetroCard machines, to dispense OMNY cards at subway stations.
For most riders, though, honchos argue that OMNY is more convenient and efficient, eliminating the need to load money onto a card at a machine and enabling payment through a simple tap of a debit card or digital wallet on a phone or smart device.
“New Yorkers are always on the move and never slow down, making it critical that we provide the fastest and easiest way to pay your fare,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Customers at every stop on the subway and across every bus route have opted in, what better endorsement than that?”
Some privacy advocates have expressed concern over the digital data collected by the OMNY system, questioning whether it makes it easier for Big Brother to surveil New Yorkers. But similar data is collected from MetroCard swipes and the MTA legally cannot sell data on either.
Last week, the MTA Board approved a hike in transit fares, raising the price of a subway or bus ride to $2.90, effective Aug. 20. The fare has stood at $2.75 since 2015.