Suica Express Transit and China Express Transit Compared

Japanese tech journalist Satoru Nakayama posted his experience of riding the Shanghai subway with an Apple Pay Express Transit China card loaded on his iPhone. Using Apple Pay Express Transit in Shanghai is similar to Apple Pay Suica but there are interesting differences:

  • Apple Pay recharge for China Express Transit is limited to Union Pay credit cards
  • Recharge kiosks are available but limited to Union Pay and QR Code options. No cash recharge
  • China Express Transit can only be used for transit, you cannot purchase things like Suica

And yes, Nakayama san confirms that QR Codes are a pain in the butt for recharge as well as a transit gate entry option but we already knew that. Another interesting observation is that Express Transit China cards feel slower at the transit gate than Suica. This is not surprising.

FeliCa based Suica cards and Japanese transit gates have been fine tuned for a 200ms (millisecond) processing time but are usually faster. NFC-F response time is about 50ms and most onsite transaction times for Suica in Japan and Octopus cards in Hong Kong clock in about 100ms. My guess is that China Transit cards are closer to the usual MIFARE transaction speed of 500ms.

The tech side story of China Express Transit cards is an interesting one. The plastic smartcards started out on MIFARE technology but the current China T-Union card is an evolution of the Chinese PBOC 2.0ED/EP spec defined in the JT/T 978 standards. Conceptually it is close to a EMV-like stored value card for offline processing. It’s not clear what flavor Apple Pay is using, it does not appear to be the full China T-Union spec but could be something like an Apple flavored PBOC 2.0ED/EP implementation. This could be a reason why Apple Pay Express Transit in China is still beta.

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