OMNY card completes the EMV only OMNY system

After a long gestation, and a COVID related delay, the good old swipe MetroCard replacement has finally shipped. OMNY card: a ‘truth in the cloud’ EMV bank payment card, not a MIFARE or FeliCa ‘truth in the card ‘ smartcard like London Oyster or Tokyo Suica. As OMNY is a new system and MetroCard missed the transit smartcard revolution of the early 2000’s, MTA and ticketing system management company Cubic Transportation Systems decided to go all in with open loop, i.e. using ‘open payment‘ EMV contactless credit/debit cards for transit fare instead of dedicated transit cards. It’s a ‘one size fits all’ approach where bank payments cards are promoted for every kind of purchase.

The OMNY rollout has not been an easy transition for MetroCard users. One problem with the ‘one size fits all’ open loop approach is that different people have different needs: minors, seniors, disabled, daily commuters with set routes, people without bankcards and so on. Open loop cannot handle these well, if it did TfL would have killed Oyster card long ago. Hence OMNY card that appears to be an EMV branded card with CVV security number, possibly issued by a Mastercard issuer, similar to the closed loop Ventra digital card. Unlike Ventra card however, OMNY card is plastic only. It won’t be coming to Apple Pay. That’s the price of OMNY being the first transit ticketing system built completely on EMV. Why so?

As most of the open loop systems in North America, UK and Australia are designed and managed by Cubic it’s helpful to compare their ticketing system profiles.

Oyster: Open loop with Express Transit
Closed loop plastic MIFARE transit card, open loop EMV cards (plastic and digital wallet express transit).

VENTRA: Open loop without Express Transit
Closed loop plastic MIFARE card + EMV digital Ventra (Mastercard), EMV bank payment (plastic and digital wallet w/o express transit)

Opal: Open loop without Express Transit
Closed loop plastic MIFARE cards + EMV digital Opal (Mastercard), open loop EMV bank payment (plastic and digital wallet w/o express transit)

OMNY: Open loop with Express Transit
Closed loop is plastic EMV OMNY card, open loop is EMV bank payment (plastic and digital wallet with express transit)

When you carefully analyze the different systems and Express Transit use one condition becomes clear: transit systems cannot support EMV Express Transit configurations where both closed loop EMV transit cards and open loop EMV bank payment cards are on the same system. It’s a choice between supporting one or the other, not both. I suspect Cubic does this because of EMV limitations and to avoid digital wallet card clash, but to transit users the service inconsistency is simply confusing.

As with the OMNY part 1 open loop rollout, expect the part 2 OMNY card rollout to have teething problems. Judging by the low key launch announcement and social media reactions, I think it will be a slow transition. Also don’t expect the OMNY card on digital situation to change as EMVCo members seem reluctant to change or improve their department store payment technology for better transit use and service.