It happens maybe once or twice in a lifetime: the MTA changes the way we pay for the city's transit system.

After a decades-long run, MetroCard's time is coming to an end and riders will be moving to a new contactless payment method called OMNY.

Currently, 23% of all subway and bus riders have migrated to the new system, the MTA said. And by 2024, everyone will have to switch over as the MetroCard is fully phased out.

Below, you'll find an explainer to help you become an early adopter. We'll be updating this as new information becomes available and as changes occur. Have a question that's not answered here? Send us an email at tips@gothamist.com, using the subject line: OMNY.

WHEN DO I HAVE TO START USING OMNY?

While you can use OMNY now (it began rolling out in 2019), it won't be mandatory until sometime in 2024. At that point, your MetroCard will become a relic, just like the token before it.

WILL OMNY WORK AT EVERY STATION?

Yes. Scanners are currently installed and operating at all subway stations and on all MTA-operated buses.

IS THERE A CARD, IS IT ON MY PHONE, DO I NEED TO SWIPE SOMETHING?

Say goodbye to the swipe, and hello to tap-and-go.

There are three payment options:

  • Your smart phone or smart watch: you can pay via your phone's digital wallet (via Google or Apple Pay).
  • Credit/debit card with microchip: Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Discover, UnionPay, and JCB are all currently accepted.
  • Reloadable, prepaid OMNY card: You can purchase a prepaid OMNY card at retail locations on this map. Note: OMNY cards are $5 each before fares are added.

IS THERE AN APP?

There is no OMNY app yet, but the MTA is currently projecting to launch one sometime in 2023.

IF I USE A RELOADABLE OMNY CARD, HOW LONG IS THAT CARD GOOD FOR?

The MTA said it wants to get out of the business of selling physical cards that expire after 18 months, which is the expiration time for MetroCards. The reloadable OMNY cards are thicker and will expire after seven years.

WHAT NEW FEATURES ARE COMING TO OMNY IN 2022?

According to the MTA, the OMNY features rolling out in 2022 (in addition to fare capping — see below) include expanded payment features, paratransit Access-a-Ride ID EU Card, business-to-business portal for bulk sales, Reduced Fare Card, Mobile Sales Vans, OMNY vending machines, single ride tickets, and cash handling.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE REDUCED FARE, DOES THAT INCLUDE SENIORS?

Yes. And the fare reduction would be the same as it is now with MetroCard. So you will be paying the same rates. This will happen this year, but the details and rollout date are still TBD, so keep using your MetroCard for now.

When the MTA provides more information, we will update.

A display of gift cards, for Panera Bread and other brands, plus an open OMNY package on a retail display carousel

At a Walgreens in downtown Brooklyn

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At a Walgreens in downtown Brooklyn
Stephen Nessen / Gothamist

GETTING A PHYSICAL CARD AND PAYING WITH CASH IS HARDER AND LESS CONVENIENT. WILL IT EVER BECOME EASIER?

The MTA has a map online of retail locations, but not all stores have been putting the cards on display. It has been an issue that Sarah Meyer, MTA chief customer officer, confirmed with Gothamist.

CVS said it plans to have OMNY cards available in stores in April 2022.

The MTA said it is also testing vending machines that will be placed in subway stations to sell reusable OMNY and single-use OMNY cards. They said the agency was aiming to have those set up by October 2022.

ARE THERE RIDE BUNDLES OR IS IT PAY-PER-RIDE? IS THERE OMNY MATH, LIKE THERE WAS WITH METROCARDS?

Sort of! There will be fare capping, which means after a rider spends $33, or 12 rides over a 7-day period, every trip thereafter during that period is free. This is the equivalent of a weekly unlimited MetroCard that you don't have to pay for up front.

The MTA is rolling out a four-month fare capping pilot on Feb. 28, 2022. This will give riders using OMNY a weekly unlimited card after taking 12 trips in a single Monday-to-Sunday week.

As for a monthly version, the MTA said it will evaluate customer response during the pilot and consider similar enhancements.

Note: Fare capping is applied automatically, whether you use your own bank card, mobile device or OMNY card. 

OMNY reader on a bus

OMNY reader on a bus.

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OMNY reader on a bus.
MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

ARE THERE FREE TRANSFERS?

Yes. However, the MTA noted that you must use the same payment method throughout each individual trip to qualify.

"If you tap your card to ride the subway, you must tap that same card to obtain your free transfer to a local bus," the MTA said in a statement. "You cannot switch between your card and other payment methods and still obtain your free transfer."

The transfer window will remain at two hours.

CAN I TAP-AND-GO ANOTHER RIDER THROUGH?

The MTA said the same pass-back rules used with MetroCards apply to OMNY as well.

You can tap up to four times within an hour with your phone, card, or OMNY card. Meaning you can tap yourself, and three others, too. So if you are a family of five or more with just one device or card, you will need to acquire another.

Note: Only the first of the four taps counts as the calculator to 12+ for unlimited weekly conversion on OMNY.

CAN I ADD MY COMMUTER BENEFIT CARD?

The MTA recommended contacting the company that issues your commuter benefit card to ask for a card with an NFC chip. Most companies will send you one. If yours does not, there is a workaround — you can add the commuter benefit card to your smartphone’s wallet. Once the card is in your phone, you never need to pull the physical card out again. When you pull up to an OMNY reader just bring your phone close to the reader, and it will automatically appear and deduct the cost of the trip.

WHAT IF MY PHONE DIES?

Welp, you may want to get a portable charger in the era of OMNY, because if your phone dies and you are using your phone to pay, then it's not going to work. You will have to use something else like a debit/credit card, or a physical OMNY card.

If your phone dies in the middle of your trip and you need to transfer, alert the MTA bus operator or subway station booth attendant know and they may let you through.

Note: While subway stations do not have charging stations, new buses have charging ports.

IS THE MTA STORING MY DATA AND TRACKING ME?

A customer can use OMNY anonymously and in that case there will be no personal data collection, the MTA told us this week. However, if you choose to make an online account, OMNY’s website will collect information, and the OMNY Privacy Policy states that information includes "name, age, photograph, email address, password, mailing address, phone number, payment information, geolocation information," and more.

CAN I TRACK MYSELF?

Yes. You can register for an OMNY account, where you'll be able to access a personalized dashboard that will feature your activity.

I'M IN A HURRY, WILL THIS SAVE ME TIME?

Using a tap-and-go payment method is faster, according to the MTA, especially when you have a bent MetroCard or if the turnstile reader is dirty. No more of this:

WHAT DOES OMNY STAND FOR?

One Metro New York

WHY IS THE MTA MOVING TO OMNY, ANYWAY?

The MetroCard is almost 30 years old and it's limited to the subway and buses. With OMNY, the MTA will be able to have one payment system across all of its transit divisions: the subway, buses, commuter rails and Access-a-Ride.

The MTA has actually been thinking of moving to a smart card-based system like OMNY since 2004. Other subway systems have had smart card technology for decades. South Korea rolled out U-Pass in 1995; Hong Kong launched the Octopus card in 1997; London introduced the Oyster card in 2003; and Chicago began transitioning to Ventra in 2013.

According to the MTA, former MTA Chairman Jay Walder — informed by his experience in London as head of Transport for London — brought the idea to the table. TfL's Oyster is the equivalent of the OMNY card. Walder proposed the switch, in part, to change customer behavior, get them to use their own devices and reduce reliance on a transit-issued card.

WHEN METROCARD ROLLED OUT, THE MTA CREATED A MASCOT NAMED CARDVAARK — WILL THERE BE AN OMNY MASCOT?

There is not an officially announced mascot, but we would like to remind the MTA that OMNYVAARK is still on the table. Created in 2020 by Mattie Lubchansky for Gothamist.

An illustration of OMNYvaark, an updated version of Cardvaark

Meet OMNYvaark, an updated version of Cardvaark

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Meet OMNYvaark, an updated version of Cardvaark
Mattie Lubchansky/Gothamist

WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?

When it comes to MTA payment methods, there's a rich history. We've had paper tickets, tokens, cards, and each time New Yorkers had a fresh new reaction to the change. So if you need some topical, know-it-all party conversation as OMNY begins to take over, read our Brief History Of How New Yorkers Have Paid For The Subway.

Additional reporting by Stephen Nessen