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OMNY, contactless payment system, comes to LIRR in 2022, MTA says, despite pledge to install it by February

The MTA holds a news conference at the

The MTA holds a news conference at the Fulton Street subway station to announce that there have been more than one million taps on the new OMNY fare collection system, Tuesday, August 13, 2019. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Expect delays — on your ability to pay the Long Island Rail Road fare with the MTA’s latest contactless technology.

Despite saying in December 2019 that the technology would come aboard the LIRR by this coming February, the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority now expects the arrival to be sometime in 2022.

"Metro North and LIRR Expected to Receive OMNY in 2022," reads a news release, sent Thursday, titled "It’s OMNY Time — Everywhere!" using the acronym for One Metro New York, MTA’s contactless tap-and-go payment technology. But the commuter railroad passengers will have to wait.

In an email, MTA spokesman Andrei Berman noted that LIRR passengers can currently use the MTA’s eTix app aboard the LIRR commuter railroad system. It became available in 2016.

"LIRR customers already have a good contactless payment option with eTix. We’ll test a better contactless payment app in 2021, and we’re excited to introduce that and replace eTix with a new and improved option for LIRR customers in 2022," he wrote.

Unlike the eTix app, which must be downloaded ahead of time and requires multiple steps for each ticket, OMNY can be used easily, via the built-in pay app on most new mobile phones.

OMNY is the MTA’s upgrade to its quarter-century-old MetroCard fare system. Passengers pay the fare with a tap of a credit card, mobile device or a forthcoming fare card instead of by swiping a plastic card through a reader.

When OMNY debuts on the LIRR, the passenger experience will be different, owing to how fares are collected on subways (via a turnstile) vs. aboard commuter rails (via conductor-verified ticketing), Berman said.

The February 2021 timeline was given early December 2019 when Al Putre, director of the MTA’s new fare-payment system, said OMNY sensors would be able to read electronic railroad tickets, which at the time were used by about 30% of LIRR riders.

Thursday’s release says the MetroCard, which debuted in 1993, will be phased out entirely by 2023.

Nearly every other major transit system in the world has adopted contactless fare-payment technology, and New York’s is one of the last to do so, according to Sarah M. Kaufman, associate director at New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.

"New York has lagged behind major international transit systems in implementing contactless payment, partially due to slower processes and in part because contactless credit cards were widespread in Europe and Asia much earlier than in the U.S.," she said.

Since OMNY was launched in New York City Transit stations in late May of last year, 35 million taps have been recorded, according to the release. OMNY accounts for 10% of all taps into the system, up from 4% a year ago.

The MTA completed installation of more than 15,000 readers at all its 472 subway stations, on all 5,800 buses and at Staten Island Railway stations, the release said.

The announcement comes in a year in which ridership has plummeted. Long Island Rail Road ridership is down to about 30% compared to before the pandemic.

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