iOS 12.3 brings EMV Express Transit support to Apple Pay

*(Note: iOS 12.3 EMV Express Transit is only for Portland TriMet, updates and details here)

The short story
Text strings added in pass.json files enable new card options in the new Apple Card/Wallet UI to be unveiled at WWDC19. New PassKit functions to add Wallet card options directly instead of using apps, are some of the new Apple Pay features that Apple will promote at WWDC. Some new options such as EMV Express Transit also work on iOS 12.3 Wallet which has lots of new changes under the hood for Express Transit and Apple Card.

The long story
iOS 12.3 is an interesting Apple Pay update, an important one for Apple Pay Suica users and we have the new Apple Card and Wallet UI. The Tap Down Under site recently discovered an EMV Express Transit option as well. Beau Giles who runs Tap Down Under reported:

New strings discovered within the pass.json files of Apple Pay card files make mention of new ‘Transit Network Identifiers’ options, as well as new passUpgrades/open loop options – which would provide an equivalent solution for Apple Pay customers…
You’d be able to set your preferred EMV card (again, Visa, Mastercard or American Express) to use for ‘Express Transit’ – no need to authenticate, just tap your iPhone or Watch at an Opal reader.

Tap Down Under iOS 12.3 to bring EMV Express Transit support to Apple Pay

Nice find Beau!

The “equivalent solution” he mentions is the recently added Samsung Pay Transit Card feature for Sydney area Opal transit fare system. The user can select a regular EMV Samsung Pay bank card to use for transit without having to unlock the device or authenticate the card at an Opal transit gate.

What it is and what it isn’t

Let’s get this out of the way: this is not Suica Express Transit. As the new iOS 12.3 Wallet option explanation makes clear, there are transit cards and there are payment cards. It does not work like Suica or other transit cards whose entire transaction architecture is built on instantaneous prepaid self contained secure express transit settlement without network connections.

Apple Pay Suica works the same everywhere, while Samsung Transit Card is a special mode only for transit through Opal gates with regular old EMV everywhere else. It’s a workaround hack for a EMV weakness on smartphones that mimics transit smartcard operation, though it is much slower at the gate than native FeliCa and MIFARE smartcards (watch the video), and because EMV is not a smartcard, does not support different kinds of fare structures (commuter, senior, student, point to point, etc1).

The hack itself is less software technology than special arrangements between card companies, Transport for NSW and Samsung, that waive CVS checks for Samsung Pay designated Transit Cards at Opal transit gates. In some ways it’s a merchant arrangement like VISA, Mastercard, American Express letting poor old J.C. Penney keep mag strip card settlements on life support in exchange for switching off contactless payments. And just like J.C. Penney switched off Apple Pay, card companies can switch off EMV transit card support at any time without telling users.

Samsung’s strategy for Samsung Pay in Asia Pacific is an interesting one, using transit to gain ground where Apple Pay has not: Hong Kong Smart Octopus, Taiwan EasyPass, and EMV Transit Card for Opal. The Apple Pay Transit story picked up momentum with the Apple Pay HOP and Ventra Express Transit announcements in March, and Tim Cook’s recent mention of Apple Pay coming to MTA OMNY in early summer.

The strings that Beau found appeared on indicated that backend system support was already in place with card providers and Apple Pay iCloud servers in early May. The strings list iOS 12.3 and watchOS 5.2.1 as the minimal system requirements.

iOS 12.3 is out and both Apple Pay HOP transit card and EMV Express Transit is live for all Apple Pay users, but can only be used on Portland TriMet. That must sting for Sydney Opal transit users who were expecting to use the EMV service there, but it’s not surprising as Sydney transit isn’t listed in the Apple Pay Transit support page. Nevertheless it is an oddly low key rollout for a new Apple Pay service, Apple Pay support pages are the only place it is mentioned. My take is that we will get the full story at WWDC19 with the iOS 13 announcement, the new Apple Pay Wallet Card UI and other new PassKit functions for developers.

Downsides

A low key approach makes sense for Apple because EMV Express Transit is a service that bank card companies can switch it off at will. They ultimately control it, Apple does not. The feature does not magically work on any ‘open’ transit system because many moving pieces have to be tied down and in place before it can work: agreements between card companies, Apple and transit agencies, along with transit fare backend system support that in western countries is usually outsourced to large companies like Cubic or Thales.

iPhone XR/XS Express Transit with power reserve works with EMV transit but is a potentially confusing user experience: users will want to use it like a plastic payment card and forget that it’s only for transit. And because it removes a layer of security for cards tied to bank accounts, with no safety net like a transit prepaid card, EMV Express Transit will be a security concern for some users.

Summary

I have doubts how Apple can successfully market EMV Express Transit when it completely depends on various outside companies in various regions to work successfully. If anything goes wrong at the transit gate, and it will, Apple catches the blame, never the bank card company. What’s the marketing angle when even Samsung is not heavily promoting EMV Transit Card and how far can the service be extended to other transit systems?

I see this as just another round in the contactless payment turf wars so that card companies can extend their power and reach into transit, and sabotage the ISO/IEC 10373-6 specification, and GSMA/GCF (Global Certification Forum) TS. 26, TS. 27 specifications created by the NFC Forum and transit partners specifically for NFC transit settlements.

Personally I agree with @elevtechlift that EMV Express Transit is a ‘nice, but’ option. It sounds nice, but distracts everybody from the real job of improving transit service with better gates and innovating transit payment technology. Better for Apple to focus on innovating things they control: move Apple Pay forward with features like Express Card with power reserve on Apple Watch, and get developers to add more options and all kinds of NFC enabled cards to iOS 13 Wallet. Hacks that hide EMV weak points and play market politics by sabotaging ISO/IEC 10373-6, hacks that card companies can switch off at any moment, are a waste of time and resources. Improving EMV on transit is a job for EMVCo, not Apple.

At any rate, WWDC19 is shaping up to be an interesting show for all things Apple Pay.

UPDATE
Instead of writing a new post I rewrote this one a few times. EMV Express Transit is just one more Wallet card option. The heavy reworking of Wallet to make new options possible along with new Apple Pay features and Wallet UI for iOS 13 are the real story.

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