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Why does Boston still use CharlieCards? MBTA GM hints at phone pay system

Question Everything: Why does the MBTA still use CharlieCards?
Question Everything: Why does the MBTA still use CharlieCards? 02:47

BOSTON - Since 2006 when the final token was used on the MBTA, the primary form of payment for a ride on the T has been the CharlieCard.

The MBTA announced that in one week, on November 15, the website on which people can manage their CharlieCards will get a major overhaul. As a part of the website renovation, people will be able to register multiple cards, protect their cards against loss, theft, or damage, request replacement cards, and sign up for automatic payments. However, riders will still not be able to reload their CharlieCards online in one stop.

This had WBZ-TV wondering: why do we still use CharlieCards?

MBTA CharlieCard
An MBTA CharlieCard is used at the State Street MBTA station in Boston on Jan. 26, 2019. John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

"Technology has come a long way; I don't know why we're not catching up with it," one Green Line rider told WBZ. 

One group of Australian visitors struggled at the Government Center station Thursday as they attempted to use ApplePay on their phones to scan into the station. "We thought that was how it worked," they told WBZ. "We tried it in New York, and it worked."

The Charlie Card actually gets its name from a 1949 campaign song about a man named Charlie who was eternally stuck on the T when he couldn't pay his exit fare (a concept that no longer exists).

In New York City, phone, or credit card "tap in" has been the way of life through the city's OMNY system for years. "When it's convenient for people to tap, they are doing it," a NY Transit leader announced in a press conference last week about expanding the mobile system.

Columbus Circle Subway Station in New York City
A person taps in with a mobile phone on an OMNY touchpad to enter the Columbus Circle - 59th Street subway station on September 5, 2023, in New York City. Gary Hershorn / Getty Images

Boston riders wonder when they'll get the chance to use modern technology – and as WBZ learned, the answer is soon.

MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng revealed to WBZ on Thursday that he personally has been testing out a mobile entry system to the MBTA. A number of stations have new tap screens through which at some point, a mobile pay system by which riders could use their Apple wallet, or debit or credit cards to enter stations will exist.

MBTA mobile pay
New screens being tested at MBTA station entrances CBS Boston

"We look to expand that first to more of a larger group within internal employees," Eng said. "It will change the way people can access our system. It'll change the way not only for folks that live and work in Massachusetts, but also for our visitors."

When asked when this new technology could possibly roll out, Eng said "more to follow on that."

Until then…CharlieCards it is.

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