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Your First Look At The MTA's New Subway Turnstile Tap Card Readers In the Wild

One of the new OMNY readers, spotted at the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker Street station.
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One of the new OMNY readers, spotted at the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker Street station. Jason Stack

OMNY, the MTA's new tap card system, has been spotted at several subway stations throughout the city in recent weeks. On Twitter and Reddit, straphangers have reported seeing the shiny, retrofitted tap card readers at the likes of Borough Hall, Bowling Green, Bleecker Street, and 28th Streets, at the entrances to the 4, 5, and 6 lines.

The new card readers are the first part of a pilot program the MTA is unveiling throughout the spring. For the next few weeks, MTA employees will be testing out the new readers, which will first run through 16 subway stations from Grand Central-42nd Street to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, and the SIM30 express bus in Staten Island. OMNY is expected to launch for MTA customers at those stations in May.

From there, the new system will gradually spread to include commuter rails such as the Long Island Railroad, as well as subway and bus lines throughout the boroughs. It's worth noting that other ways to get around the city, including the NYC Ferry and the PATH train, are not yet included in the OMNY rollout, as amNew York reports.

To use OMNY, people can wave their smartphones or a contactless bank card to get through the turnstile. Those who prefer using the MTA app or cellphone wallets, like Google Pay, can do that, too. It's still possible to buy an OMNY card itself to get through (and with cash), and people who don't have a smartphone can purchase this "contactless OMNY" beginning in 2021, according to a letter that the newly-minted MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye sent to employees in February. OMNY, which stands for One Metro New York, will completely replace the dreaded swipe by 2023 (Straphangers will be able to use MetroCards until then, though).

To install the new system, MTA has partnered again with Cubic, the same company that installed MetroCard readers throughout the city and that's developed the likes of London's Oyster card and Chicago's Ventra.

Given the new electronic system's reliance on smartphones, it also raises questions about privacy and data collection. New York City Transit President Andy Byford and Chrissy Ditmore, the director of strategy for Cubic Transportation System, addressed this during a UK International trade fair panel Wednesday.

Regarding the potential to collect vast amounts of data from riders, Ditmore said, it's happening already. "Anyone that owns a cell phone is sending your personal information, data movements, shopping your everything to someone already anyway," she said. "The reality is that ship has sailed, in the U.S."

Byford added that having more granular data about riders will help the MTA improve its service. "It will also enable us to truly understand people's origins and destinations, so you can more effectively and more efficiently use tax payers dollars and scarce funding, you can more efficiently assign supply to demand."

Additional reporting by Stephen Nessen.

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