NYC Subway turnstyles

NYC’s MTA Should Go Crypto

Now is the ideal time to resurrect the MTA Token!

While I am typically using this space to share tips on mindset and productivity and filing your LLC and being a decent, human salesperson, as a Crypto Bull, I am taking this opportunity to dive into a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Here me out on this one.

What if New York City’s MTA, the organization responsible for the city’s public transit system, switched from cash to its own cryptocurrency? Hell, why not just call the currency itself the “MTA Token”? A name simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic.


Anyone who lived in or visited New York City before 2003 probably remembers the ubiquitous MTA tokens. In its own way, for decades, the NYC subway system ran on its own separate currency, and even though the system has evolved over time, New Yorkers are already fluent in the concept of exchanging their fiat USD for an equivalent value in what we might think of as “MTA” Token.

Image depicting 1953 MTA token
MTA Subway Tokens 1953 edition via NYC Transit Metrocard Unofficial Site

Back in the day, “straphangers” would trade their physical dollars for physical subway tokens, and use those tokens to enter the subway and bus systems. In 2003, the tokens were phased out in favor of the more modern and efficient MetroCards. But at a high level, the concept was still the same, right? Buy “MTA bucks” with real bucks. 

Image of an NYC metrocard, which replaced the MTA token in 2003
NYC Metrocard via Wikipedia

This is all going away now with OMNY, the newest system allowing you to tap and pay directly from your phone. But as we’ve seen with the transition to and from MetroCards, the situation is always evolving. So, is it really that egregious to update the process yet again? We could even keep the OMNY technology in place to handle the transactions!

With the OMNY system, riders are currently rewarded with free rides for the rest of the week after they’ve purchased 12 during that week. As such, there’s already an “earn program” in place—rudimentary tokenomics already exist here, people!

Image of the OMNY "Buy 12, Ride Free" deal. This replaced the Metrocard and is already preloaded with the new MTA Token reward system
OMNY’s “Buy 12, Ride for Free” deal via OMNY

I am fascinated by crypto tokens like HNT and BAT; two examples of similar tokenomics models I love. Helium rewards you with HNT for contributing bandwidth to their decentralized wifi network. Brave pays you in BAT for surfing the web on their decentralized browser and opting into their ads instead of being forced into cookie-based ads that yield little more than angst.

Image of the Brave Browser home screen
Brave Browser’s Home Screen via

In both examples, a person doesn’t need to mine or stake crypto to earn payment; they earn it passively without having to tie up large quantities for extended periods of time. Helium and Brave are incentivizing a “desirable behavior” through a financial reward. A person then has the option to hodl their BAT or HNT, swap them for other tokens, or sell them for USD. As a HODLer, a person’s token value rises and falls with the market.

So why not bring a variation of this idea over to the MTA?

In theory, it would incentivize more people to ride public transit instead of driving cars. Today, the primary incentive for people to opt into NYC public transit is the low cost relative to the alternative taxis and Ubers. But what if you earned 1/12 (or a similar fraction) of an MTA Token (maybe, we just call it “MTAT”?) for every bus or subway ride you took? You wouldn’t just be saving money riding the subway, you’d be earning money (or, more specifically, earning crypto). All of this, of course, would be tracked on the blockchain.

I see the currency itself as a novel inflationary hedge. Much like “Forever Stamps” can always be redeemed in exchange for mailing a single letter, MTAT could always be redeemable for a ride on the subway no matter when they were purchased, at what price, or when they were redeemed.

Image of a 2022 USA "Forever" Flag Stamp
2022 U.S. Flag Forever Stamp via PR Newswire

Of course you’d have to figure out a way to prevent people from gaming the system, but blockchain developers have built some truly amazing code over these past 15 or so years, so that task seems far from impossible. There are multiple stopgaps that could be put into place, and frankly, any unmitigated potential for gaming the system may simply serve to keep inflation in check. 

Taking this a step farther, could the MTA organization itself then become a DAO instead of its current government subsidized private company status that’s perpetually hemorrhaging money?

HODLing MTAT would enable straphangers to own a piece of the MTA, of the infrastructure that holds their city-life together. It would give everyone a little skin in the game.

If the People owned the MTA would they be so quick to defile it with litter or graffiti? What if you could tip your favorite “It’s Showtime” performer easily in MTAT (with perhaps the MTA DAO collecting a small percentage)?

image of subway dancers on the NYC L Train
“It’s Showtime” Subway dancers via The New York Times

The more token a person holds, the more of a vote she or he has on decisions regarding future work and projects. Should we further expand the 2nd Avenue Line or renovate the notorious Central Park North 110th Street station? Let the DAO vote on it.

As noted earlier, the MTA as an organization is in a perpetual state of insolvency. That’s of no surprise to anyone with two ears and a foot that’s ever touched Five Borough asphalt. Would the creation of an MTA DAO and MTAT save the transit authority from its financial woes or only make them worse? Tough to say, and I am no civil engineer or financial expert.

But that said, could it really be much worse than the current deficits and annual budgets forever “in the red”?

I challenge those who know more than I (and there are hundreds of millions of you!) to comment your POV. Why might a crypto MTA Token succeed? Why might it fail? What other similar ideas might this be extrapolated to solve? Who out there is right to take on this project?

Stay curious.

Image of a bunch of gold coins with cryptocurrency logos on them
Photo by Kanchanara on Unsplash





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