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Get Excited: OMNY Is Coming to the JFK AirTrain in ‘Three or Four Months,’ Maybe

Only of the many indignities experienced by travelers taking mass transit to JFK Airport will (maybe) be addressed this fall.

11:46 AM EDT on August 25, 2023

A massive line for the MetroCard machines at Howard Beach to get onto the AirTrain.

Status quo ante at the Howard Beach AirTrain connection (Hell Gate)

Travelers attempting to take mass transit to JFK Airport have long been punished. First, they are confronted with comically massive lines for the (often broken) MetroCard machines, because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the AirTrain, does not accept the MTA's OMNY tap-to-pay system. Then, these people are charged $8.25 for a one-way ticket on what is essentially a sad carnival ride, where they are then deposited to a place that has some of the most expensive cellophane-wrapped turkey sandwiches in the world.

Only one of those indignities will be addressed this fall.

At a press conference on Thursday, MTA CEO Janno Lieber said that OMNY will be available for AirTrain customers "in three or four months."

Lieber was on Roosevelt Island touting the arrival of OMNY to the Roosevelt Island Tramway, the two-car transportation oddity whose main claim to fame (for us) is being featured in the 1981 Sly Stallone picture "Nighthawks." Exhausted families from out of town who want to take a picturesque $2.90, four-minute ride to nowhere will now be able to tap their phone or credit card to do so. 

The tram carries some 5,000 people a day, compared to the AirTrain's 17,000 daily riders, but the Roosevelt Island tram got OMNY readers first. Lieber blamed OMNY's slow rollout to modes outside of the subway and bus system on "kinks" that had to be worked out. According to a report from the Post this spring, the MTA is $135 million over its $645 million OMNY rollout budget.

A representative from the Port Authority declined to confirm Lieber's timeline, as well as whether the PANYNJ is going to use OMNY throughout its transit system. In 2021, the Port Authority said they were going to pursue their own, different tap-to-pay software (with the same company the MTA contracted for OMNY!). In June, Port Authority CEO Rick Cotton said there would be a "significant announcement" about tap-to-pay "next month," but it's late August, and no announcement has been made. They didn't tell us much when we asked about it earlier this week either.

To summarize: Two of the country's largest transit agencies who serve millions of people and manage billions of dollars will finally correct a senseless bottleneck—"in three or four months." Maybe.

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