It was a marquee proposal by Jay H. Walder, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority during the relatively flush times of 2009: replace the MetroCard with a computer chip-enabled “smart card” that would speed up boarding times and save the agency millions of dollars a year.
The technology is used in Boston, Washington and many of the world’s more advanced transit systems, including London, where Mr. Walder had been its architect. Plans called for a New York roll-out by 2015.
But as money dried up and Mr. Walder decamped to Hong Kong, the authority scaled back some of the enthusiasm. And while the agency is still moving forward with the $250 million program, its new leader offered a more measured endorsement this week.
“Anything we can to do to make it easier for our customers to get on, to get off our system, is the right thing to do,” Joseph J. Lhota said in an interview on Tuesday, his first since being confirmed as the transportation authority’s new chairman.
“But we have to evaluate it,” he added, noting that the costs would be substantial. “Does the investment make the most amount of sense? So we need to evaluate new technologies; we have to, always.”
Pressed on the issue, he later sent a follow-up note via a spokesman that offered a more emphatic stance. “I am fully committed to moving the smart card program forward,” Mr. Lhota wrote.
Smart cards are waved in front of a sensor, rather than swiped, and riders can add money to their accounts by credit or debit card, often through a Web site. The cards can eliminate backups at the turnstiles, where riders are often stymied by malfunctioning MetroCards, and allow for variable pricing at different times of day.
Mr. Lhota said several state lawmakers had privately asked him why the authority was pursuing the smart-card project, noting that the current system still worked. In the global transit industry, however, MetroCards are considered obsolete.
A spokesman for the authority, Jeremy Soffin, said the authority had not changed any of its plans to install the system. A pilot program is in the works, money has been earmarked in the capital budget, and an expert brought on to oversee the program remains in her job, Mr. Soffin said.
Mr. Lhota was interviewed in his new office at the authority’s Madison Avenue headquarters, which he hopes to sell during his tenure. He said he hoped to restore the reputation of the transportation authority as transparent and efficient, and he cited an Athenian oath to leave the place in a better condition than when he found it.
He demurred when asked if he supported tolls on the East River bridges, saying the question was “a public-policy issue that needs to be addressed by elected officials.”
“If the elected leadership of New York State and New York City want to move forward with congestion pricing, and the M.T.A. was involved in the management of the bridges,” he said, “we would do the best job we possibly can.”
The chairman was also asked how often he spoke with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who appointed him. The governor is said to have a lack of interest in mass transit.
Mr. Lhota paused for a few seconds. “Good question,” he said.
“I have spoken with him twice since I’ve been here,” Mr. Lhota said, referring to when he started as executive director in November. “He actually called me on my cellphone. I generally talk to the governor’s staff every other day.”