It’s hard to believe that the NYC subways system is more than a century old…well actually, with all of its issues, maybe not. Nevertheless, it’s got a fascinating history that has continued to evolve over the years.
Upon opening in 1904, fares were just a nickel! And though 119 years of operation is pretty impressive, London still has us beat with the oldest underground train network dating back to 1863. But back to fares! According to 6sqft, by 1948, the cost of a subway ride had increased to 10 cents. Therefore, turnstiles were refashioned to accept dimes.
Subway Token (1953-2003)
It was’t until 1953 when fares were raised to 15 cents that the subway token was invented—the reason being that there wasn’t a singular coin that riders could pay with. Over the following years, the subway token took many forms and designs, as subway fare consistently increased. Fares finally reached the price of a dollar by 1986.
In fact, subway tokens even led to an additional invention known as the token holder. After many New Yorkers complained about losing tokens in their pockets or purse, a token holder was an easy fix to keep them in one place, explains NYC Subway.
The tokens were eventually entirely replaced by the MetroCard in 2003. MetroCards were first introduced in 1993 but its monumental change in technology resulted in a few years post-introduction to be fully implemented by all. “This is going to be the biggest change in the culture of the subways since World War II, when the system was unified,” said Jack Lusk, senior vice president for customer service at the Transit Authority in a New York Times piece from June 2, 1993.
Before being accepted in all stations, MetroCards were first tested across seven subway stations in Manhattan, that at the time, were still accepting tokens as well. 3,000 New Yorkers were selected to partake in the experiment (chosen based on variance of locations and riding frequencies).
And as technology goes, the next best thing (OMNY) hit the scene in 2019. The tap-to-pay system was first used across 16 subway stations and on Staten Island buses. According to Mass Transit, the idea for this contactless payment system had come about in 2009. Now, the city plans to officially phase out the MetroCard by 2024. This also means the imminent demise of the MetroCard vending machines.
So what can you expect when OMNY fully takes over? Well, the MTA has assured that OMNY cards will be available for purchase for those who don’t have a smartphone. Both card and cash will be accepted.
As for what’s to come after OMNY, we’ll just have to watch history unfold.