It’s fascinating that Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) dumped the fast FeliCa (rated 200 millisecond transaction but Octopus clocks in at around 100ms) behind EZ-Link cards to roll their own faster CEPAS technology (rated 180ms transaction) but are now letting super slow EMV contactless (500ms plus and counting) on their transit reader infrastructure. It’s like ripping out all the cutting edge transit gate technology and replacing it with clunky old supermarket cash register technology.
Publicly run transit authorities are subject to politics and special interests just like any government agency. This sometimes leads to poor decisions and short term thinking. Transit magnetic cards, followed by contactless ‘smartcards’ were revolutionary and eliminated paper transit ticketing, a no-brainer ‘this is the future’ choice of that time.
The next wave smart device/digital wallet revolution for transit payments happening right now is exciting, messy and confusing. There are established stored value smartcard systems, EMV contactless, Chinese QR Codes, Apple Pay, Google Pay and more vying for attention. Visa, Mastercard, American Express have mountains of sponsorship money in one hand and the ‘big stick’ EMVCo standard in the other.
Transit agencies face bewildering choices: do they stay closed and in control of the ticket validation and chose technology that is best for them, or do they go open and let credit cards be used as tickets and give away control in the name of user convenience? What’s the price of those choices?
The essential question to ask is: what do you want your transit ticketing infrastructure to look like in 10 years and what do you want to build on top of that? Keeping it closed allows a transit authority, or group of authorities to build a transit platform. This ‘best of both’ approach keeps ticketing closed but incorporates all the new digital payment technology (EMV contactless, QR Codes, etc.) in a backup role for easy, anywhere, anytime recharge. This approach leverages the core strengths of each technology and player instead of wasting time and money in contactless turf wars.
Going open makes the credit card industry happy but doesn’t serve transit users or transit authorities in the long run. Credit card companies don’t care about ticketing infrastructure, transaction speed or operational consequences when it is slow or stops all together. If you want proof just look at the state of EMV terminal infrastructure in America. On average it is backwards, slow and full of broken promises that the customer experience will get better soon. If the credit card industry really cared about payments infrastructure, things would be much better and further along than they are now.
UPDATE: It’s worse than first reported, Singapore transit users are complaining of fried plastic contactless credit cards and of card issuers deactivating cards mid-transit for being over limit. This is the price for letting credit card companies manage transit ticketing.