Jose Martinez, THE CITY
OMNY is not yet all things for all people.
The MTA acknowledged on Monday that it’s facing “struggles” in offering discounted subway and bus trips to riders with disabilities and seniors through its nascent contactless fare payment system.
The agency last month activated the “One Metro New York” readers at 240 automatic gates throughout the subway system, where riders with ambulatory disabilities or service animals could already enter stations with specially encoded reduced-fare MetroCards.
But discounts via the OMNY tap-and-go fare payment system — at turnstiles and the AutoGates — remain unavailable to seniors and people with disabilities, except for a few dozen participants in a pilot program, officials said.
The MTA had said in March that it would begin expanding OMNY fare options this year to include reduced fares for riders with disabilities, seniors and integration with paratransit services.
Victor Calise, an MTA board member and commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, said the agency needs to “push harder” following a presentation that outlined some of the challenges facing the OMNY rollout.
“We’ve really got to get OMNY up and running,” Calise said during a meeting of the MTA board’s transit and bus committee Monday. “We rolled out a system, and I’m going to say it again — without people with disabilities in it, we’re backtracking.”
Meanwhile, the MTA is planning to put a weekly cap on full-fare OMNY trips, starting next March, so that riders can get unlimited trips once they hit the $33 mark on subway or bus rides within a seven-day period, The New York Times reported Monday.
Tap and Wait
The MTA could not specify when half-priced fares for seniors and those with disabilities will be made available via OMNY, saying only they are being discussed and will be announced at a later date.
“We are trying to work with our provider who’s helping us bring on ONMY to make it available,” said Quemuel Arroyo, the MTA’s chief accessibility officer. “There’s some struggles in that, but our goal is to deliver the same access to all our clients — those with disabilities, those without.”
While riders have been able to use OMNY to pay for non-discounted transit trips with smartphones or contactless cards at all subway stations and on all buses since December 2020, seniors and riders with disabilities have had to wait.
“This sounds like another situation where people with disabilities are being told, ‘TBD’ — to be determined,” said Jeff Peters, a spokesperson for Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York.
The MTA expects to phase out the swipeable MetroCard by 2023, switching over fully to contactless fare payments, like the systems used by Transport for London and the Chicago Transit Authority.
“We are still working on bringing it on both paratransit and reduced fare population at large into the OMNY environment,” Arroyo said.
For now, the testing of reduced fares via OMNY is restricted to a pilot program for 70 riders, all of whom have disabilities or are over 65, according to the MTA. In all, official data shows, there are at least 1.3 million reduced-fare customers, a figure that does not count users of the agency’s paratransit services.
“People with disabilities want to use their half fare on the subway,” Calise said. “Tap and go, that’s what OMNY is there for.”
‘Last on the List’
Gian Carlo Pedulla, a blind commuter who is on the MTA’s Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility, said he has used OMNY for bus fares as part of the pilot program and said it is “working great.”
But he told THE CITY he understands why the MTA has been rolling OMNY out in phases.
“Do I love it that the Access-A-Ride demographic is always last on the list? No,” Pedulla said. “But it’s got to work right, you can’t just throw it together.”
Arroyo said “several thousand” customers used the AutoGates last month after they were expanded for use beyond those with the specially encoded MetroCards.
“We will continue to enhance accessibility in all our services, paratransit included,” he said.
Dustin Jones, a wheelchair user from The Bronx and founder of United for Equal Access, said he’s tired of waiting for OMNY discounts for riders with disabilities.
“I would like to have it right now,” Jones told THE CITY. “This is not a successful launch and all systems are not go until you meet all the needs for the disabled community.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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