MTA x Watch

Wayne W. Congar Jr.
Published in
4 min readMay 29, 2015


The Switch from Tokens to the Metrocard

The Metrocard is a familiar piece of plastic that’s ubiquitous to the commuter experience. It was designed to replace the previous method of payment: the token. It took the city over seven years (from 1993 to late 1999) to convert from token turnstiles to the current swipe-and-go system. Rather than creating efficiency, the new system caused greater challenges, for both commuters and the MTA.

Commuters know firsthand the frustrations of purchasing, adding value to, and losing a Metrocard. They often find themselves waiting on long and frustrating lines during peak travel hours, causing them to miss a train due to delays caused by overcrowding at subway turnstiles and vending machines each time they’re heading to work or back home. Once multiplied across the 1.75 billion annual riders, every bit of inefficiency carries an astounding cost.

To convert to the MetroCard, the city had to massively overhaul the old transit infrastructure, by retrofitting every turnstile across the system, designing and manufacturing a new vending machine, and installing them across hundreds of train stations. What was intended as a convenience had the opposite effect, producing a decade of infrastructural and fiscal challenges.

From the Metrocard to Proximity-Based Payments

Mayday’s MTA x Watch concept proposes applying a new, connected layer on top of the existing MTA infrastructure, reimagining how the system could operate if we leveraged the best aspects of Apple’s Watch and emerging iBeacon technology.

Our proposed solution enhances the commuter experience by reducing the frustration, time, and energy it takes to purchase and refill Metrocards. With the MTA x Watch app, commuters can quickly and easily walk through a turnstile whenever they cross a proximity threshold. Like the EZPass system that accelerated the toll process on the country’s highways, low-cost sensors installed in each station would recognize the commuter, unlock the turnstile and automatically charge the credit or debit card attached to the rider’s MTA account.

At a fraction of the cost and time required to convert to the MetroCard, the MTA x Watch app would offer relief for the long wait times at vending machines, reducing the frequency of delays, dissatisfied customers, and packed subway platforms during peak travel hours.

Additional Benefits

· A low-cost solution doesn’t require a new transit infrastructure; it builds on top of the existing turnstile system

· Eliminates the cost of printing millions of Metrocards each year, helping the MTA also reduce its carbon footprint.

· Customers will no longer have to refill cards or worry about losing the value of a stolen or misplaced Metrocard

· Personalized, one-to-one ad campaigns- the MTA can use this location-based technology to send highly-targeted ads to customers*

*The chronically underfunded MTA will also discover a new revenue stream, with highly-specific, geographically-targeted native ad units served through the MTA x Watch app. Local campaigns could be geared specifically for daily commuters from Bay Ridge to Bryant Park or weekend-only bus riders in Astoria. It’s a significantly more promising route than selling miniaturized print ads on the back of the MetroCard.

· Access to actionable big data gives the MTA deep insights into customer behaviors and preferences. The MTA can leverage that data to help improve operations, including providing more trains, more frequently in high-traffic area while reducing services at low-traffic stations

· Provide real-time transit updates through a single, centralized payment system