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Toward an international fare payment standard

by Benjamin Kabak

Ever so slowly, the MTA is forging ahead with a pilot to bring next-generation fare payment technology to New York City. The MetroCard with its swipe and magnetic strip has been outdated since the day it was introduced to the subway system, and Jay Walder, who helped usher in the age of the contactless Oyster Card in London, is pushing forward with a plan to tie subway entrance fees into credit cards with smart chips in them. By reducing the costs of fare collection by just a few cents, the MTA would save tens of millions of dollars every year, and New Yorkers wouldn’t have to carry yet another piece of plastic around with them.

Today, we learn that Transport for London is working on its own plans to bring a credit card-based contactless payment system to the Underground, and they’re doing so in conjunction with the MTA, among others. According to The Telegraph, Transport for London officials are in talks with a number of international cities to ensure a common standard for next-gen fare payment plans. These cities include New York, Boston, Chicago, Paris, Sydney and Manchester.

Needless to say, a fare cooperative on an international level would be a boon for travelers. It would encourage even more subway use among tourists as negotiating potentially foreign fare systems would no longer be an obstacle to use. This is forward-thinking policy on a global scale.

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8 comments

Gary October 8, 2010 - 12:35 pm

That really is good thinking.

Make it convenient to use transit and people will use it.

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Alon Levy October 8, 2010 - 1:44 pm

Great, so now I could use a MasterCard in London and get charged a $2 premium for an international transaction every time I tap.

Meanwhile, when someone accidentally taps an Octopus in London, the turnstile jams. (Note to self: if I ever go to Seoul, Moscow, or Taipei, I should dig up my old ezLink and see if it’s a general feature of FeliCa-MIFARE interaction, or just something London screwed up.)

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John October 8, 2010 - 2:50 pm

I don’t think you’d necessarily be using the credit card to pay for the ride. They could do it that way, but they could also use your credit card as an identifier to link to an account that you could fill using other means (cash, online, etc.)

This does seem like a good idea, but I kind of like taking along all my various transit smart cards when I travel. 🙂

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Alon Levy October 8, 2010 - 3:02 pm

Meh – they could just have a reciprocity rule saying that any system that’s on the ISO frequency accepts cards from any other system at close to the true exchange rate and charges the normal pay-per-ride rate. The amount of tourist traffic between New York, London, and the Eurozone is such that there would be a large number of international transactions in both directions; transit agencies would be able to trade currency in bulk, getting much better rates than are available to the average schlub.

With a little more work, they could add FeliCa to the mix and have Octopus cards stop jamming Oyster readers. Proprietary US-only standards like Cubic could go to hell – their usage figure is a rounding error anyway.

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Andrew October 11, 2010 - 7:41 am

That would be great for transit geeks who like to travel on many transit systems.

It would be far less useful for normal people who may never use transit at home but occasionally find themselves visiting transit-rich cities.

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Andrew October 11, 2010 - 7:38 am

I’ve never heard of a credit card that has a flat fee per transaction! Most cards charge 3%, regardless of dollar amount.

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Jess October 8, 2010 - 2:47 pm

This would be seriously awesome and convenient! 🙂

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Walder on the death of the MetroCard :: Second Ave. Sagas December 2, 2010 - 2:18 am

[…] be mourning the death of the MetroCard as transit agencies around the world look to move toward an international fare payment standard. For the past six months ending on Tuesday, the MTA conducted a pilot program with […]

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