OMNY Machines to Replace MetroCard Machines by 2023's End

OMNY Machines to Replace MetroCard Machines by 2023's End

By Yehudit Garmaise

Instead of searching pockets and purses for MetroCards, by the end of 2023, New Yorkers will only have to find their phones or credit cards before boarding the subway.

OMNY, which stands for One Metro New York, is a “contactless” fare payment system that will replace the MetroCard system that was used since 1999.

The MTA’s MetroCard machines, which stood in the city’s 472 subway stations for 23 years, replaced the token machines that were in use from July 25, 1953, to May 4, 2003.

While most commuters likely will enjoy no longer having to touch machines that millions of others have touched, many New Yorkers might feel as nostalgic about their MetroCards and the machines that refilled them, as many residents fept about the subway tokens of the 20th century.

Before the MTA begins to remove in January the MetroCard machines that have been in use for past 23 years, New Yorkers rushing through subway stations may want to take a moment to appreciate some of the unusually thoughtful design that went into the machines’ construction.

In 1996, industrial designer Masamichi Udagawa, who had just opened the New York office of the Palo Alto–based design firm IDEO, received an assignment to redesign a standard, but not yet simplified subway card vending machine the MTA had already decided to purchase, New York magazine reported. 

The company that manufactured the first MetroCard vending machine, Cubic, also designed the MTA’s new OMNY system, but when Udagawa and his team first tested the Cubic-designed machine, he said, “Everyone hated it and couldn’t deal with it.

The machine, Udagawa said, “was designed by engineers” who did not consider how New Yorkers could quickly and easily purchase and refill their MetroCards.

Putting their heads together, the designers took a practical, color-coded, and user-friendly approach to the MetroCard machine’s design. 

For instance, each bright color on the machines’ screens logically relates to a function.

The green area shows where MTA customers insert cash, blue indicates where to slide in credit cards, and the yellow section shows where the machine provides the yellow MetroCards. 

The red area shows where customers can grab their change and receipts.

To simplify the process for harried customers who, at the time, were unfamiliar with touch screens, the MetroCard machines only ask one question at a time.

One of the designers created an animated finger that pointed to the “Start,” button.

“It made it so obvious,” one of the designers said about the machine designed 10 years before the launch of the iPhone.

Other virtues to notice on the old MetroCard machines: the type on the screen is huge: in 54-point, so many customers who wear reading glasses, do not have to search for them, when refilling their card.

Lastly, the machines’ heartiness is what most New Yorkers love most about the machines.

“You can use your whole hand to push one of those buttons,” said Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who once included the MetroCard machine in an art exhibit about interactive design. “It was this kind of sturdiness that I love about it. 

“No nonsense. It had something that was truly just like New York.”


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