Navigating Public Transit in NYC: Cash vs. Contactless Payments

by joeheg

One of our favorite destinations is New York City. We usually go back every few months. One of the best things about visiting NYC is that we don’t need to rent a car, as we can use mass transit for the majority of our trips, such as the LIRR or NYC Subway. If these options are not convenient, then we can always rely on ridesharing or taxi. The last option, which is preferred by many New Yorkers, is walking to your destination.

Because we visit so often, I try to keep up with the easiest way for us to pay for our rides on the subway. The new OMNY contactless payment platform allows us to pay with our smart watch, phone or with a contactless credit card. But on our last trip, I noticed some people were still going to the booth to reload their MetroCard with cash.

This had me thinking about how people without a credit card or contactless device ride the subway or even the buses. It turns out that it’s getting more complicated for those without access to a bank account to use public transport.

Paying Cash For the Subway

a train at a station

There is currently no way to pay cash at a subway terminal. You either need to use a MetroCard, which is being phased out, or use the contactless OMNY system.

It’s still possible to use cash to reload a MetroCard in one of these machines, but they’re getting harder to find. To put even more pressure on the underbanked, you’ll need to pay $1 for a MetroCard if you don’t already have one.

a machine with a screen and buttons

Paying Cash For A NYC Bus

The MTA buses are the only place where you can pay cash for your fare. Currently, the cost is $2.75 and the buses only accept coins. That means you’ll need 11 quarters to board the bus. a woman standing in a bus

You’re also able to pay with a MetroCard so you can reload with cash at a machine and use that as your method of payment. This alleviates the need to carry around a stash of quarters with you to pay for the bus.

Final Thought

As someone who travels frequently, I find it convenient to pay for my NYC subway rides by tapping my Apple Watch on the OMNY terminal. However, there are many people in New York, including both residents and visitors, who prefer to pay for their rides in cash. While it’s still possible to pay cash on subways and buses, the MTA is gradually phasing out this payment method and encouraging everyone to use the updated OMNY contactless payment system.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Tommy February 15, 2024 - 1:03 pm

The MTA sells OMNY cards at various retail locations throughout the city where cash can be loaded onto them (at the time of purchase or after the fact). Additionally, OMNY machines are being rolled out at which you can buy & reload OMNY cards with cash. Metrocard machines are also still very much accessible at every Sunway station in the system


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