Why NYC’s Metrocard May Live Forever

by joeheg

If you’ve ever taken the subway or LIRR to JFK Airport, you know the final leg to get to your terminal is the JFK Airtrain.

The AirTrain is free if you want to travel between terminals or to Federal Circle, where you’ll have access to hotel shuttles and rental cars. But if you want to connect to NYC trains or the subway at Jamaica or Howard Beach, you need to pay. The fare is currently $8.25 per person in each direction.

Considering that you’ll be able to connect to a train or subway to reach your destination instead of paying for a taxi or ride-share, the fare is reasonable (workers at the airport get a discounted rate). However, the JFK Airtrain doesn’t accept contactless payments. In fact, the only way to get through the turnstiles is with a MetroCard.

If you’re from New York, you know that the MTA is doing away with the MetroCard. While all of the subway stations and NYC buses now accept payment via OMNY, the holdout has been the JFK Airtrain. In 2022, the airport apologized that it was behind on accepting payments with OMNY, but they’d be able to accept payment using the new system when MetroCards go away in 2024.

Based on my experience on our last trip, we’re no closer than we were in 2022. We booked a flight home from JFK and took the subway from Manhattan to Jamaica Station. At $2.75, it’s still a bargain to get from Manhattan to Queens. When we reached Jamaica Station, I went into my wallet and pulled out an empty, non-expired MetroCard and added $16.50, which was enough to get both of us through the turnstile. FYI, you can add up to 4 fares onto a single card.

Even if I had an expired MetroCard, I’d be able to get a new card if it’s within the first year of the card’s expiration date. Otherwise, a new card costs an extra $1.

It seemed easier to add the exact amount for two Airtrain fares than it used to, but maybe that’s my imagination.

JFK Airport admitted in a Tweet that the ability to pay with OMNY for the Airtrain will happen “Sometime in 2024.”

Patch.com reports that four City Council members find that unacceptable and they penned a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey earlier this month calling for an expedited OMNY installation at JFK.

I don’t know what’s behind the delay in linking the JFK Airtrain to the OMNY system. My cynical side knows there’s a lucrative business selling MetroCards to visitors trying to enter and exit the AirTrain stations. With that allowing passengers to tap and pay for a fare (a system most major cities already offer) would destroy that business.

I’ll let you decide what’s the cause of JFK Airport being slow-to-implement OMNY payments when everywhere else in New York has been able to convert from MetroCards ahead of schedule.

Until they have it figured out, I’m going to keep a MetroCard in my wallet.

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1 comment

Michael April 10, 2023 - 6:53 am

Took the Air train to JFK, just to get my car out of the lot. But the turnstiles don’t acccept metro cards for reduced fare (why don’t they just charge the amount?), so I had to buy a $1 card, add the fare, only to realize that I could just walk to the lot. Which, by the way, means you can walk a few minutes to the free station to get to the terminal.


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