NYC Subways To Go Mobile Payment—In 2022 (Or Maybe A Bit Later)

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You can’t fight City Hall, nor can you apparently accelerate it. But mobile payments progress is still mobile payments progress and the county’s largest mass transit system on Wednesday (April 13) committed to moving to mobile payments for all mass transit activity. But New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) being the bureaucracy that it is, the RFP that it published Wednesday gives contractors “69 months” (five years and nine months) from the “Notice of Award date to substantial completion.”

It’s clearly not known how long it will be until that award date—which will follow a lengthy bid submission and evaluation process—but even if it happens this year, that still pushes the deployment to about 2022. Unless, of course, there are implementation delays. In New York City? What are the odds?

Cynicism aside (hey, I was born in New York. You actually think I can write about the MTA without any quips?), NYC’s move is monumental. First, we already know that public transit payments are a tremendous payment facilitator advantage, as nowhere is the need for ultra-fast, ultra-easy and ultra-reliable payments more needed. The frequent use of mass transit payments builds habits, which will certainly pour into retail transactions of all kinds.

But NYC’s MTA’s moves are followed—and mimicked—by just about every metropolitan transit system in the U.S., as well as the handful of other countries’ transit systems that haven’t already leapfrogged past us payments-wise. In short, this move could have payments impacts far beyond NYC’s five boroughs.

One of the problems, from an IT perspective, with such a massive and long-duration project is the rapidly changing nature of payments and networking technology. In short, officials set forth a detail technology plan for bidders in early 2016. By the time the system is fully built and deployed by 2022—or later—there is a superb chance that most if not all of the technology would be antiquated.

And if that realization is made halfway through the project, it will have massive cost and delay implications to try and make that mid-course correction.

With all of those caveats caveated, let’s drill into what the MTA is asking for. “The contractor will be responsible for surveying, designing, installing, integrating, testing and commissioning a TCP/IP Ethernet based communications network called Fare Control Area LAN (FCALAN) that will connect the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) equipment in all NYCT subway stations.”

It added that this new system “will connect turnstile arrays, ADA access gates, high entry exit turnstiles and vending machines together and to forward communications traffic  from the NFPS components to the backend.”

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