New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Janno Lieber’s celebration of the billionth rider using the One Metro New York (OMNY) fare payment to board the New York City subway system last month was premature. In 2017, the MTA awarded a $573 million contract to Cubic Transportation Systems to replace the Metro Card. New OMNY fare collection technology was originally promised to be coming online between 2019 and 2023. This date has come and gone. OMNY was designed to speed up passenger boarding. Its primary purpose is to replace the MetroCard, which New Yorkers have used to swipe since 1993 into the MTA New York City subway, bus and Staten Island Railway transit systems.
In 2022, the MTA lost over $600 million to fare evasion. There is no indication in 2023 that this financial loss will be significantly reduced. Neither Hochul nor Lieber is able to explain how the introduction of OMNY in coming years will end routine fare evasion as it continues to flourish today.
Over the past few years, there has been a series of MTA management changes, programming challenges and changing priorities that have all contributed to project implementation delays. Over time, the base contract cost for installation of the new OMNY fare system has grown to $645 million. It has also fallen several years behind the original agreed upon base line schedule between the MTA and contractor. The project is currently $130 million over budget. Who knows what additional costs may be incurred in coming years? The MTA has never made public any agreed upon detailed recovery schedule from the contractor. This would indicate how the lost time would be made up. It would include resource allocations by the contractor and the MTA to meet the latest recovery schedule. The MTA is incurring additional costs for its own project management staff and McKissack, the engineering consulting firm providing additional oversight of the contractor for several years beyond what was anticipated. Will the MTA file a claim with the contractor for compensation of these costs?
Costs may continue to grow based upon any change orders due to unforeseen site conditions or last-minute changes in technology or scope requested by maintenance or operations groups to the base contracts during the course of construction.
Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road may not reach substantial completion for installation and use of OMNY until late 2025. Contractors may submit delay claims against the MTA for insufficient facility access, NYC Transit, LIRR or Metro North staff support. Commuters and taxpayers may never know the true final cost for OMNY for several more years after the system is in full use agency wide.
Another critical failure of OMNY, that Hochul, Lieber or their predecessors never acknowledge, is the failure to come to any agreement for integration of OMNY with NJ Transit, Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) subway and NYC Economic Development Corporation private ferry fare collection systems.
The MTA’s previous plan to phase out the MetroCard in 2023 has been delayed until at least 2025. A majority of riders are still using the Metro Card versus OMNY. While almost 50% of subway riders are using OMNY, far fewer are doing the same for those commuters boarding New York City Transit Bus, Manhattan Bronx Surface Bus Authority and MTA Bus.
MTA’s OMNY trials and tribulations will continue for years to come.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.