This week, the MTA became embroiled in controversy when chief safety officer Pat Warren announced that the organization “currently [does] not plan to resume cash transactions in the booths.” After those comments were published, the MTA faced immediate backlash from politicians, activists and union leaders. But an MTA official told Gothamist on Friday that Warren’s comments have been misinterpreted, and there is currently no plan to permanently end cash transactions at booths.
But to be clear, there also are no plans to bring back cash transactions to station booths—the MTA stopped accepting cash at booths as of March 2020 for safety and health reasons related to the pandemic.
According to spokesperson Tim Minton, nothing has changed yet about the MTA’s plans for the booths.
“What Pat Warren said is that there is currently no plan for a change, which is true,” Minton told Gothamist/WNYC. “But there are thousands of ways customers can use cash to purchase MetroCards, including every single subway station where machines accept cash.”
He noted there are also MetroCard Mobile Vans which travel around the city accepting cash (they also replace damaged cards), and there are various merchants and convenience stores in all five boroughs where MetroCards can also be purchased with no fee.
In response to the first reports about the booths, there was an immediate outcry that getting rid of cash transactions was an attack on low-income New Yorkers.
“This is unacceptable and will contribute to the criminalization of our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Tiffany Cabán, who is currently leading in the primary race for the 22nd Council District. “Many low-income and poor New Yorkers don’t have bank accounts or access to electronic forms of payment.”
“This decision is a crime against poor people, full stop,” added State Senator Julia Salazar.
1 in 9 New Yorkers do not have either a checking or savings account.
These folks have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
The MTA needs to recognize this reality. Ending cash transactions is the wrong decision.https://t.co/gx6Uk8Nzld
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) June 25, 2021
The phased rollout of the contactless OMNY fare payment system is set to be completed by 2023, which some activists say could lead to vastly reduced options for people wanting to use cash.
Liam Blank, a spokesperson for Tri-State Transportation Campaign, argues that relying solely on MetroCard machines for cash transactions is not enough. “The MTA says that cash will still be accepted at ticket vending machines, but these machines are constantly broken, so it’s important to have built-in redundancy,” he said. “Vulnerable populations that rely on transit may also prefer to interact with a person who could provide more assistance than a machine.”
Straphangers Campaign Director Jaqi Cohen added, “Instead of creating unnecessary barriers to entry, the MTA should make every effort to expand access to transit, including keeping hand-to-hand transactions available at subway stations and rolling out all-door boarding on buses, which will make paying the fare even easier.”
The MTA is currently dealing with persistent service delays due to a fallout from a hiring freeze that was imposed during the pandemic.
But Minton insists that nothing permanent has been decided about the booths yet.
“The bottom line is there’s no change this week, or six months ago, or 10 months ago,” Minton added. “We are giving good consideration to the future of cash transactions, what that would look like, and what the associated logistics are. When there’s an announcement, we’ll make it, but there wasn’t one this week.”