Basically, I bought an unlimited monthly pass from a machine. By the third day of using it, I noticed that every day I used it, the expiration date displayed at the turnstile would advance a day. Obviously, I thought I had somehow become the owner of the golden metrocard that would work forever (I was admittedly optimistic, hoping it would be true).
Several days later, when I had confirmed that it wasn't a fluke and shared the story of my fortunate acquisition of the "golden metrocard" my coworker suggested that perhaps the expiration date stored on the card was null, and the default behavior of the turnstile was to always show an expiration date 30 days out.
Sure enough, when thirty days passed, the card stopped working, and I apparently blew the booth attendant's mind when I asked why the card wasn't working (something about a negative balance or some such, she'd never seen such a thing before).
My coworker was absolutely right, the expiration date was cached on the card (as a null or some other invalid value in this case) and it was then checked against a list of actually expired cards over the network.
I'm a little embarrassed, since that post had been sitting on my drive for over a year. It's not very well written, and it doesn't do the prior research justice.
It mostly seems to boil down to budgeting woes and bureaucracy. And in having one of the oldest subway systems in the country with a ton of technical debt to deal with.
Expensive expensive expensive.
They would have to replace all of the turnstiles (for some reason I doubt they could retrofit them) which is a ton of turnstiles. The MTA subway is BIG (as far as I know, bigger than SF and Boston, in terms of number of stations).
They would need dedicated central servers to handle everything, unlike they have now, which the article says "complements" the existing system but which is not required for operation.
MetroCard came out over a decade before CharlieCard (Boston) so they have tons of infrastructure that would cost an absurd amount of money to replace. I imagine they figure it isn't worth it, especially when there are so many other subway projects that need money.
A central server can be used for things like web-based reloads and auditing, complementing the system... but it's entirely possible for a terminal to remain in offline-mode and just check-in at the end of the day to get any pending messages and upload logs. This is why it takes longer to reload/unblock a SF Clipper card using a reader in a bus (offline mode) as opposed to at a BART turnstile (online mode).
It doesn't even need to be held in anything secure, you just need to sign the balance when writing and check the signature when it's used.
So a bus turnstile can do transactions when it returns to the garage, and turnstiles in locations where it's hard to run data for whatever reason can get a plug-in every so often on a regular maintenance run.
It'd be far from easy. The cost and magnitude of a project like this would be enormous for the entire subway system, and the MTA is not without bureaucracy. As others have pointed out, the subway has far more pressing modernization issues that rank higher than this.
I lived in London for several years before moving to NY this year and the failure rate of swiping my MetroCard is about the same as touch issues with my Oyster card / contactless debit card in London. While it would be a great advancement technologically, there really isn't a pressing need to replace the swipe card anytime soon.
There are definitely many advantages to contactless cards, but I'd rather the MTA focus their efforts on something with much more of a benefit. E.g., real-time train information, something that also requires a huge infrastructure change, but one that would have a greater benefit to travelers.
So, considering how gov software projects tend to go, it'll probably cost $1.5 billion and come out in the early 2020s.
2) The MTA is a perpetually underfunded, poorly governed monstrosity whose construction projects cost many times more than any other comparable metro system.
3) The MetroCard still works, as clunky as it occasionally is.
The MTA spent a lot of money in the very early 90s getting the system installed only for Ethernet to take over pretty much immediately.
Considering how old that software stack is, it's remarkable how well the MVMs run. In 19 years of buying MetroCards and riding the subway, I don't think I've ever had one break down on me. I've had my fair share of scanning errors and bad cards, but I'm more inclined to blame that on the quality of the magnetic strip and normal wear.
Here's a recent bluescreen - only the second I've ever observed.
MetroCards are validated by both the station computer and the central data center. Once a card has been used, it can't be used again for 18 minutes. This makes copies of cards almost useless. There's a lot of mutual mistrust designed into the system. The MTA isn't stupid.
I'm not sure what you mean. I've used mine twice in quick succession to pay for a friend.
If you swipe into station A, realise you got into the wrong entrance, you can usually just walk to the 24-hour booth and ask them to let you in the gate.
Also you can walk to another station.
I'm not sure whether MTA is smart enough to catch on to that or not.
Despite being over a decade old, these slides
(and accompanying 2600 articles) still represent
the best publicly-available research on the MetroCard format.
The information was always there, but it's only become easily accessible in the past few years. To me, that speaks tremendously towards Battaglia's research.
More to the point, making a public display of weaknesses in the MetroCard might finally get the MTA off their ass and onto that modernization project they've been promising for the last 15 years ;)