Regular Curbed readers know that we are enthusiasts for the soon-to-be-retired MetroCard machine, a high-water mark for functional 1990s design. Its replacement — delayed and expensive — had us fearing a regression to the mean, where we got an off-the-shelf piece of equipment that was less usable, less reliable, less charming, less something. Yesterday, the first ten OMNY machines were rolled out and fired up at six stations around the system. So how did their first day look?
Well, bear in mind that the MetroCard is being replaced very, very gradually. The OMNY vending machine I encountered this morning at Bowling Green, for example, replaced one of four MetroCard machines, and the other three are still there, dispensing away. So nobody will be forced away from the old card for another year, give or take. Moreover, most users of the new fare system will tap a phone or a credit card rather than stop at the machine. The OMNY card exists mostly for the unbanked portion of the subway-riding public — something like 12 percent of riders, give or take — that lacks smartphones and credit cards. (It’s also there for people who wish to travel anonymously and untracked. Pay cash, buy a card, take your ride, discard it, and nobody will know you did. You’ll probably still show up on the security cameras, though.)
Visually, the new machine is more restrained than its predecessor. Depending on your aesthetic preferences, it’s either more streamlined or duller. The MetroCard machine’s bright enameled Playskool control panel — its different areas delineated in red, yellow, blue, and green — has given way to an all-stainless-steel finish and a much bigger touchscreen panel that dominates the front of the machine. That seems logical: Big touchscreens are much less expensive than they used to be, and their technology more robust. The screen is set vertically, and most of the buttons you’ll press appear on its lower half, within reach of a wheelchair user and thus in compliance with the ADA. I suppose if you’re extremely tall, you might have to stoop to use it; I am not and didn’t.
As for the menus, they are not quite as deliberately pared down as they were. They contain more print onscreen, and the palette of the displays is nearly monochrome, mostly shades of silvery blue-gray, rather than the more distinctive yellow and black of MetroCard. The purchase process has, however, been streamlined: It takes very few steps (three, really) to buy a card. When it’s dispensed, it doesn’t pop out of a slot, as the MetroCard did; it falls into a Lexan-covered bin at the bottom, as a newly vended bag of Cheetos (or a Metro-North ticket, for that matter) does. You can buy the fare with cash, card, or Apple Pay and its ilk. That last choice is arguably a silly thing to do because you can put the OMNY app itself on your phone, but I did it anyway because I happened to have my phone in my hand. If the experience is indeed less something, I’d be hard-pressed to define that something. Maybe a smidge less colorful, but that’s about it. The transaction went so quickly that, a couple of hours later, I’ve already forgotten what exactly it looked like.