Meeting Minutes June 24, 2010


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 p.m. on June 24, 2010, in the 5th floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

• Andrew Albert
• Tom Jost
• Shirley Genn
• Michael Sinansky
• Stuart Goldstein
• Trudy L. Mason
• William K. Guild
• Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
• Marisol Halpern
• Toya Williford

The following members were absent:

• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
• Sharon King Hoge
• Edith Prentiss
• Sharon Santa Maria

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William A. Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Amy Linden  -MTA
• Chung-Chang Tam  -Clever Devices Ltd.
• Joseph Saporita  -Clever Devices Ltd.
• Alan Flacks  -NY County Democratic Committee
• Matt Shotkin  -Concerned citizen
• Christopher Greif -Concerned citizen
• Yvonne Morrow  -Concerned citizen
• Bob Olmsted  -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the June 24, 2010 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the May 27, 2010 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Ellyn Shannon provided more information about getting a point person for the Times Square station.  Ms. Shannon said that a point person has been appointed to coordinate the Times Square station, and that PCAC staff will be meeting with her shortly to understand her role and how the management of the station has changed.

Shirley Genn reported that the emergency alarm at the F Line Avenue M end of the Avenue N station rang constantly for five days.

Trudy Mason said there is a constant flow of people entering the system at major street stops such as 34th Street and 59th Street.  Tom Jost said it is simply an egress issues in that it tales too long to get out of the station.

Board Report

Andrew Albert discussed the service cuts that went into effect the previous Sunday and Monday and his opposition to them.

Stuart Goldstein said that at the Broad Street station there are now signs that say “Exit Only” on the downtown side, but there are no signs about how former M train riders can now access the West End line in Brooklyn.

Ms. Mason said that on her way to the meeting, she had to wait 19 minutes for the 6 Line downtown train at 77th Street, which is far greater than the scheduled headway.  She noted this happened several other times this week as well.  She asked staff to look into this problem.  Mr. Albert noted that this problem will continue with implementation of an off peak loading standard of 125 percent of seated load.

Old Business

Ms. Mason asked that the Council send another letter about real estate issues on Second Avenue.  She said she heard the MTA is paying large sums for relocation assistance and that seems unreasonable when the budget is in such a mess.  The Council voted against sending this letter.

Ms. Mason also asked that staff send another letter to ask for updated statistics for bus throughput on First and Second Avenues and why there was no response in six months.  The Council approved sending this letter

New Business

No New Business was discussed.

Election of NYCTRC Officers

Trudy Mason made a motion that the existing slate of officers nominated at the May meeting be elected.   The following slate of officers was elected for a one-year term: Chair- Andrew Albert, Vice Chair – Michael Sinansky, and Executive Committee members – William K. Guild, Marisol Halpern, and Toya Williford.  The motion was approved and the officers elected.

Introduction of Amy Linden, MTA Senior Director – New Fare Payment System

A copy of Ms. Linden’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

Ms. Linden said the current pilot for smart card fare media got underway three weeks ago.  She said the smart card program is being looked at in terms of the whole MTA region, and not just within NYC Transit.  She the main reason for using a bank card for fare payment is so that it is usable on other regional transportation systems that accept smart cards for fare payment.

Ms. Linden noted that the MTA’s existing payment systems are not interoperable even when there is joint ticketing, such as Unitickets that incorporate a transit and commuter rail pass.  In these cases, there are two kinds of fare media physically located on the same item, but that is the extent of their interaction.

Ms. Linden said that the MTA collects two billion dollars in cash per year, and that the costs of collecting fares average 15 cents for each dollar of revenue received.  For each percentage point that this can be reduced, there is a potential savings of $55 million.

Ms. Linden noted that the MetroCard system is coming to the end of its useful life and noted some of the inherent problems that would be addressed with a new system.  These issues include the limited amount of data that can be stored on a MetroCard, the proprietary nature of the system, and the uncertainty of the quality of continued support of the system by Cubic, its vendor.

Ms. Linden noted there are some customers who do not have bank accounts and some who may have banking relationships but do not want to pay for transit using their credit or debit cards.  As a result, there will always be some customers who want to or are able to pay for their use of the system only with cash.  She noted that the new fare system must take into account the needs of paratransit and reduced fare customers.

Ms. Linden said the overall strategy is to make the MTA a mainstream merchant within the electronic payment universe.   She said there are many software and hardware systems available for processing payments and that one can pay using any card that is compatible with standards established for contactless electronic payments.  She said that the MTA does differ from other merchants in terms of its need for speed in processing transactions.   An extra second or two per transaction may not make much difference at a pharmacy check out counter, but would be a disaster at a subway turnstile or bus farebox.

Ms. Linden noted that it currently takes two seconds to record a MetroCard dip and that to build a successful system they need to reduce the transaction time to 300 to 500 milliseconds for a smart card tap.  She said on the initial phase of the transaction the card will either register as good or bad, and if it is good the transaction will continue.  Settlement of the transactions is accomplished by sending them to an acquirer, who sorts the charges according to the type of card used and sends the card information to the card association, which in most cases is either MasterCard or Visa.  The card association presents charges to the individual banks that issue the cards for collection.  She reported that the MTA will perform aggregation on charges for individual rides to drive down costs.   Thus, the rider will see on his or her statement a charge that may represent a number of rides.  By registering the card, however, the rider can see a more detailed record of the card’s usage.

In response to Tom Jost’s question whether new turnstiles will be required for the new system, Ms. Linden said that they can use the exiting turnstiles with the smart card system but the smart card hardware will not interface with CUBIC’s proprietary system that is used to accept MetroCard.

In response to Chris Greif’s question as whether there will be an MTA smart card, Ms. Linden said that there would be provisions made for those who do not have bank-issued smart cards or choose not to use them.  The possibilities include a co-branded card produced in partnership with MasterCard and VISA or a “white label” MTA card.

William Guild’s remarked that he had seen a smart card reader on an M14 bus and wondered if the reader would be located next to the fare box as it is situated now.  Ms. Linden said it probably would be in a similar position when smart cards are implemented throughout the system.  She emphasized that buses would always have the ability to accept cash fares and thus would always have some sort of fare box that would be separate from the smart card reader.

In response to Marisol Halpern’s question as to how would smart card work for someone who uses TransitChek or other pretax transit benefit providers, Ms. Linden said the Transit Center currently issues a smart card debit card that can be used to access an account that has been loaded with the user’s pretax transit funds.  This card could be used in the same way as bank issued smart cards to pay fares in the system.

Ms. Linden said the long term vision for the smart card would be that all of the MTA agencies would accept industry standard contactless smart cards as fare media.

Ms. Linden reported that the cost of the second phase of the pilot program is being paid entirely by MasterCard.  She explained that the point of the pilot is to test the operation of the technology and is not focused on testing the market for a smart card.

In response to Ellyn Shannon’s question about how many people are participating in this phase of the pilot, Ms. Linden said that there have been multiples of 100s of fares sold, and riders attempted to use cards that are not yet accepted by the system multiple 100s of times.  Because MasterCard provided funding for the pilot, they were granted an exclusivity period where only MasterCard branded smart cards would be valid for fare payment.  This period expires on August 1, after which other smart cards may be used for fare payment.

In response to Trudy Mason’s question whether they the MTA will use credit card numbers to track riders; Ms. Linden said that they will use the card numbers to charge fares, but that the MTA has no access to any account information associated with the cards.

In response to Ms. Genn’s question about how people can keep track of their spending on fares, Ms. Linden said that if cards are registered, their holders can check their accounts on line.

Stuart Goldstein noted that MTA delayed deployment of smart card technology while it was awaiting cards with two chips.  Ms. Linden noted that with an account based system you can have two or more “purses” that hold dedicated funds for specific functions that are connected to the same card.

In response to Ms. Shannon’s question whether there will be a third phase of the pilot, Ms. Linden said the third phase will be the full deployment of the system.  She said the current pilot will run through November 30, and there may be some limited testing after that date through an extension to the pilot, but it is expected that implementation will start on the bus fleet after the current pilot ends.  She said that a pilot test of the use of smart card fare collection will commence on the commuter railroads in 2011 and run through 2012.

Ms. Linden said that the system will be phased in and the legacy system will be left intact until all customers are accommodated.

Ms. Linden emphasized that there could be many linkages with the system.  She said the bus customer information function can make use of the same hardware used for the smart card system to provide give real time bus location and arrival information.  The real time bus information system requires a GPS system and the ability to determine location through dead reckoning when the GPS is not available.  She said that the standard modem used for the smart card fare collection system has GIS technology built into it and this is a reason why the smart card fare collection will be deployed on buses first.

Ms. Linden noted that they are trying to figure out a better way for to create an EzPass account for drivers who currently pay tolls with cash.

Ms. Linden said she has had discussion with New York City about getting free internet access via WiFi on the NYCWin system.  She also noted that Amtrak recently put out an RFP for new Personal Identification Verification smart cards that will serve as identification cards for their entire workforce, so the technology is definitely advancing.


The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Karyl Berger
PCAC Research Associate