Apple Pay Express Transit Is Taking off as London Becomes Next to Join

Using Apple Pay at Public Transit Terminal Credit: LightField Studios / Shutterstock
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One of the less conspicuous features that Apple snuck into iOS 12.3 last month alongside its flashy new TV app was a new Apple Pay feature known as Express Transit, enabling users to quickly jump onto public transit with an iPhone while avoiding the hassle of needing to authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID to confirm payment.

In addition to avoiding the need for authentication on an iPhone, it also allows Apple Watch users to pay transit fares simply by holding their wrist up to a transit card reader without needing to double-press the side button first to bring up their payment card.

Although Apple has been actively working to integrate pre-paid fare cards ever since its adoption of support for Japan’s FeliCa system back in 2016, the ubiquity of NFC contactless payments, especially outside of the U.S., means that many transit systems are skipping the prepaid card route altogether and simply letting users tap their traditional credit or debit cards. Since using normal payment cards typically requires the user to authenticate the payment — for obvious reasons — Apple created Express Transit in iOS 12.3 to allow users to bypass this requirement when paying fares at specifically identified fare terminals.

In addition to the advantage of quicker and easier payment, Express Transit also protects users against the dangers of a dead battery. Users of Apple’s 2018 or later iPhone models can take advantage of a power reserve mode that will allow the transit cards to be used for up to five hours, even after the iPhone battery is otherwise dead (oddly, the Apple Watch doesn’t support this feature, even though it has its own power reserve mode already, but perhaps this year’s Series 5 will gain this ability).

iOS 12.3 hasn’t even been out for a month yet, but transit agencies are already eagerly embracing the new technology, with Suica cards in Japan and Chinese transit cards in Beijing and Shanghai being the first on board, and TriMet in Portland and New York’s MTA jumping on more recently with support for traditional credit and debit cards. Now it looks like London is going to be the next major transit system to sign on for the new feature.

In a comment to The Verge, a London transport (TfL) spokesperson simply said “We are having positive discussions with Apple about enabling express transit on Apple devices on the TfL network,” and added that more information would be available in the future, however the agency was more definitive in responding to a user on Twitter, saying that it will be introduced “in the coming months.”

Transport for London (TfL) was notably among the first agencies to adopt support for using Apple Pay with mass transit; since the agency already had the necessary standard payment terminals in place to process standard credit and debit cards, paying for transit on the London system was just like making any other Apple Pay purchase at a retail terminal, and TfL eagerly embraced this option, promoting it to its riders. However, prior to Express Transit, the need to authenticate left many Londoners still reaching for their physical payment cards instead, so the addition of Express Transit support will undoubtedly be received enthusiastically by TfL riders.

While the list of locations where Apple Pay can be used for public transit is still relatively small, Apple seems to have ramped up its efforts this year to get as many transit agencies as it can on board, and there are also rumours that Apple is going to open up the NFC hardware in iOS 13, which should allow third-party developers to fill in any gaps that Apple itself isn’t ready to cover, although we’re strongly hoping that this won’t encourage agencies to bypass working with Apple, as the tighter Apple Pay integration will provide a much better experience than siloed third-party apps will be able to offer.

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