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Subway riders can use IPhone, Apple Watch in New York to pay fares

Subway riders can use IPhone, Apple Watch in New York to pay fares


Subway riders can use IPhone, Apple Watch in New York to pay fares


New Yorkers routinely grumble about overcrowded subways and having to wait on long lines to purchase or refill their MetroCards. 

The trains aren’t about to get any less congested, but paying the fare might get simpler, at least on certain subway lines starting May 31, part of a public pilot rollout of a new fare system called OMNY.

That’s when New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will open up the ability to “tap and pay” at subway terminals with “contactless” credit and charge cards from the likes of American Express, Mastercard and Visa, and via certain mobile devices, including Android phones with Google Pay and the iPhone or Apple Watch with Apple Pay. It’s all based on technical industry standards that will let you use any compatible card across rival payment networks.

New York passengers are not going to be able to discard their MetroCards anytime soon.

The tap-and-pay rollout will be limited at first to the 4/5/6 subway lines between Grand Central Station in Manhattan and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn for single ride fares, eliminating for now discount fares or timed passes. Buses in the New York borough of Staten Island will also let passengers pay with such cards.

The goal is to cover the entire MTA system by October 2020.

Steps for paying with the iPhone

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To pay with Apple’s devices to ride Big Apple subways and buses you will need to update to the latest software: iOS 12.3 on the iPhone and watchOS 5.2.1 on the Apple Watch. 

You will also need to set-up a credit or debit card for Express Transit. One way is to open Settings on your phone, tap Wallet & Apple Pay, tap Express Transit Card, then select a credit or debit card, and authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID.

Alternatively, open Wallet, tap on a credit or debit card, tap on […] in the top right corner, tap Express Transit Settings, select a credit or debit card, and authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID.

Once set up, you merely need to hold your iPhone or Apple Watch near the reader; you do not need to wake or unlock the device, open an app, double-click or use Face ID or Touch ID.

But this is far from a parochial New York City story. As such payment systems spread across the U.S. and elsewhere you may have one more reason to eventually ditch your physical wallet. 

Commuters in the Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, area were recently able to add the digital Hop Fastpass transit fare card to their iPhone or Apple Watch to tap and ride. 

Google says it is already working with transit systems in 30 cities around the world. In using Google Pay at the subway, you won’t need to open an app or unlock your phone, though you will need to download the Google Pay app on your phone.

A new real time Google Assistant feature will let subway riders say something like “Hey, Google, when is the next 4 train arriving at Grand Central Station?” or “Hey Google, when is the next train?”

The Assistant will share the train’s ETA and provide walking directions to the station. Coming soon: Google Maps will let you see which routes accept Google Pay as soon as you get directions.

Portland and Chicago as well as London, Moscow, Sydney and Singapore are among the cities in the U.S. and overseas that already accept contactless payments to ride public transportation, with a lot more coming. (To make it happen, the cities have to update their infrastructure).

That’s a big benefit to travelers who want to use the same payment methods across multiple cities rather than having to hassle with a proprietary transit card, or even trying to figure out the local fare system.

“If you have a card in your pocket – which is a Mastercard or a Visa or whatever – (or) your mobile wallet, you will be able to go anywhere and tap and pay. That is the ultimate vision,” no matter where you are in the world, says Chaiti Sen, vice president, communications, at Mastercard.

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According to Mastercard, half of all Tube and rail riders in London are using contactless payment cards or mobile devices, with cardholders representing over 100 countries.

New York subway passengers would appear to be ready to pay in kind.

As part of a recent Visa survey of more than 1,000 New York transit riders, two-thirds said they’ve missed a train while waiting in line to reload a transit card, and 83% indicated they had trouble getting their transit card to work at the turnstile. Another two-thirds have left or forgotten funds on a transit card, at an average loss of $35.10.

It remains to be seen how smooth the rollout will go once tap and pay is implemented.

Dan Sanford, global head of contactless payments at Visa, says the experience will be “transformational” for the customer to be able to tap onto transit, with the same card that you use at the grocery store or coffee shop.

Email:; Follow @edbaig on Twitter


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