In my seven recommendations for integrating commuter vans into New York City's transportation system, number 4 is integrated fare payment. Commuter vans currently only accept cash, no Metrocards, no PayPass.
As I wrote, last month, transit benefits from good coordination. These can include a centralized information clearinghouse for routes, fares, schedules and policies, schedule coordination to minimize transfer times, and a single fare system to make transfers cheaper and more convenient.
These functions could really be performed by any entity, public or private. But in order to provide access for all and get people out of their cars, they need to be done effectively and sustainably. Surprisingly enough, that is not always a given. In fact, many people have done an astonishingly shitty job of it.
The best example is probably the Information Black Hole of New Jersey. Although New Jersey Transit has a good map of its rail lines, and both rail and bus schedules posted online, other carriers tend to get left to their own devices. The Port Authority has only recently posted links on its website to the bus companies that serve its bus terminals. To find out where the buses go and when, you have to consult the individual company websites. There is no information about buses and vans that pick up at the curb. Most shamefully, there has never been a comprehensive bus map for any part of the state, until 2008, when an individual volunteer began putting one together - which still includes very little besides New Jersey Transit buses. The New York transit map includes very little information about transit in NJ, just the main terminals and the PATH stations, and nothing at all about buses.
There may be some schedule coordination between New Jersey Transit buses and trains, but I don't think there's very much among any of the other bus carriers. There is most definitely none between NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road. Both train companies serve Penn Station, but you can't get departure information for both at the same time unless you're standing on the border between their two territories inside the station. If you're trying to get from Queens or Long Island to NJ, you have to spend a lot of time matching up schedules.
The only fare integration in the entire New York metropolitan area is the Metrocard, used among the various local MTA transit agencies and the Westchester Bee-Line bus system. It is accepted by the Roosevelt Island Tram and by the Port Authority for PATH trains and the JFK Airtrain, but only pay-per-ride, not monthly passes. Significantly, the MTA commuter railroads do not accept Metrocard, and neither do ferries, commuter vans or taxis. The Port Authority has introduced a contactless smart card on the PATH trains, which it hopes will be used regionally, but it has not implemented it on the Airtrain or on any of the buses that serve its terminals. The MTA has essentially ignored this smart card, instead running a pilot using Mastercard Paypass.
In a future post I'll talk about why information, fare and schedule coordination sucks so badly in this area, and what can be done about it.