How tech-savvy is your city?
Ask this question to the average New York City resident and they’ll probably respond enthusiastically. Home to “Silicon Alley,” NYC has quickly grown into a high-growth technology center that rivals San Francisco in talent and tenacity.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The question wasn’t about the tech companies that have made a city their home, but rather the use of technology by the city itself. Innovation is at the heart of urbanization and smart city growth, and one might be quick to assume that a city like New York would rank fairly high on the municipal IQ scale.
That is, of course, until you consider the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) MetroCard.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the MTA responds to more than 2,500 (often profanity-laced) tweets a day. One of the most popular irate tweet topics? The MetroCard. A thin, magstripe-enabled piece of plastic, the MetroCard has long been a necessary evil for NYC commuters. (Never mind the malfunctioning service kiosks, unknown card balances, and temperamental gates.)
Implemented as a replacement to traditional subway fares, the MetroCard’s swipe technology has caused a laundry-list of issues for riders since its introduction back in the early 1990s. And while the MTA has announced a new contactless system, the implementation will take upwards of six years — and, unlike other examples of transit systems in Japan and the United Kingdom, will still lack a bigger vision for a smarter city-wide system. That’s because it will be missing solid payment infrastructure.
The benefits of a hyperlocal payment system
When it comes to smart city building, municipal and urban planners are more than familiar with the importance of infrastructure. Roads, subways, buses, airports — these are all vital for the movement of people and goods, and critical to the economic well-being of city. What I’m proposing here is that payment systems — the solutions that enable citizens to use other infrastructure in a quick, easy, and productive manner — should be planned and implemented with the same control and attention to detail as a new rapid transit line or bus route. That’s because payment infrastructure and the data that’s connected to it has the power to influence almost every aspect of civic planning.
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