The Contactless Payment Turf Wars: PiTaPa Pitfalls

Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association Map
The Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association project started in 2007 and achieved transit and e-money interoperability in 2013. It continues to evolve and incorporate other transit smartcard systems into a single standard. Wikipedia

PiTaPa is the perpetual outliner of the major Japanese transit smartcards: Suica, ICOCA, TOICA, SUGOCA, Kitaca, PASMO, manaca, Nimoca, Hayaken. Starting in 2006 the major transit cards were stitched together into one common national platform for mutual transit and e-money use achieved by 2013. The result is the fertile ground that Apple Pay Suica is growing and thriving in. Apple Pay VP Jennifer Bailey recently said that Apple Pay is doing well in Japan. The Apple Pay Japan story is all Suica and transit reamains the golden uptake path for contactless payments on smarphones.

And then there is PiTaPa. PiTaPa is the main transit smartcard for non-JR ‘private’ rail companies in the Kansai: Hankyu, Keihan, Nankai and Hanshin. The excellent Japanese Transit IC map graphic on Wikipedia perfectly captures the problem of PiTaPa incompatibility and isolation: the background blue is transit only compatibility, the red is transit and e-money compatibility.

The PiTaPa Story
PiTaPa has an interesting history but not a particularly happy or successful one. It’s the perfect case study of what happens when banks and credit card companies call the shots on transit ticketing system infrastructure instead of letting transit company management make those decisions. It’s also a story of how most Japanese transit companies, except for JR East, failed to see the coming revolution of mobile digital wallet platforms.

The PiTiPa founding members originally planned to build a transit IC smartcard system just like Suica: pre-paid stored value (SV). Then Sumitomo Mitsu stepped in with a seemingly good idea: a Sumitomo Mitsui credit card + transit card post-pay combo card to save transit users from having to recharge the transit card smartcard at all. A credit card transit card for transit and shopping. What could go wrong? The Kansai area is home town for Sumitomo Mitsu, the Kansai banking indsutry Godzilla for over a hundred years, how could transit companies, Sumitomo Mitsu borrowers all, resist?

And so PiTaPa was born in 2004 as a Frankenstein credit card grafted with a transit card appendage that was supposed to do it all, but never delivered the benefits of either one. Sumitomo Mitsui imposed all the hoary old credit card conventions on the shiny new creation: credit checks and spending caps. It immediately shrunk the PiTaPa user base from everybody to people with good credit ratings who passed Sumitomo Mitsui credit checks. Compare this to Suica where everybody from kids to retirees with a ¥1,000 bill can buy Suica card at a station kiosk. That’s the beauty of stored value cards, simple immediate purchase and use.

The original PiTaPa did not sit well with a lot of transit users so a ‘PiTaPa lite’ card with deposits instead of credit checks, without the e-money function, was added in 2007. Unfortunately since PiTaPa was post-pay, PiTaPa didn’t work with the Japanese Transit IC e-money standard and was shunned by payment networks and merchants. Good luck trying to use PiTaPa credit outside of its core transit ghetto at 7 Eleven, other convenience stores or anywhere else.

If you want to know how well PiTaPa is doing in 2018 all you need to do is check the commuter pass pages of the PiTaPa member railroads: Keihan and Osaka Metro offer ICOCA commuter passes. Not only that but Osaka Metro and Keihan have moved away from PiTaPa commuter passes for general issue and use ICOCA instead.

No Future
The decision to let Sumitomo Mitsui call the shots instead of transit management killed any viable future for the PiTaPa system. PiTaPa uses the same FeliCa technology behind the highly successful Mobile Suica and Apple Pay Suica, but the unique one-off system architecture, limited user base and transaction volume mean PiTaPa will never be hosted on any mobile digital wallet platform. PiTaPa transit partners don’t want to spend resources to build a cloud and host mobile service because there is too much cost for such little return. And Sumitomo Mitsu will certainly never foot the bill to clean up the mess they created.

Now that JR East and Sony have announced ‘Super Suica’ for April 2018 that will incorporate all Japan Transit cards into one card system for transit, e-money and mobile, the PiTaPa participants face a choice: junk the old PiTaPa and get onboard the Super Suica express or be left behind in isolation with no future.

Transit payment platforms
The basic unsolvable problem is that banks and credit card companies want different things than transit companies. Banks and credit card companies want credit checks and caps, transit companies need as many people going through the transit gate as efficiently and safely as possible. These fundamental business differences will never be resolved, there will always be tension. That is why banks and credit card companies should never be in charge of running transit gates. They simply want to take their credit card cut and run, leaving the scene of crime, and the cleanup bill, to others.

You can see the similar things playing out on other transit systems such as Hong Kong’s Octopus system with AliPay and other QR Code ‘virtual banks’ putting pressure on operators to change transit ticketing system infrastructure to suit their needs, all paid by the transit operator of course.

It’s wasteful nonsense and who needs it? It’s last century credit card vs. smartcard, open loop vs. closed loop thinking. Digital wallet platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay conveniently collapse the differences of open loop vs. closed loop rendering the whole argument pointless while offering a whole new game. Build a transit payment platform instead, in the long run it’s a win-win for transit companies and the banking industry.

It’s very simple: transit companies and a finance industry that stick with the old ways of thinking will miss the major unique new business opportunities offered by transit payment platforms hosted on digital wallet platforms, opportunities that build on transit but also extend it to exciting new places, a transit platform that grows and benefits everyone.

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NFC Goods on Tap for September 12 Apple Event

Apple is using the September 12 event to show off the new NFC Wallet Pass feature of iOS 12 and watchOS 5 to invited journalists and guests running the iOS 12 beta. The NFC feature was unveiled at WWDC and will be used for Student ID Cards in Wallet. Here’s an overview of NFC related news expected for September 12.

NFC Passes
Apple clearly wants to promote NFC Passes in Wallet over clunky QR Codes. Apple also wants to promote NFC Passes on Apple Watch over iPhone: NFC Passes are gorgeously displayed exclusively on the watchOS 5 page so expect them during the Apple Watch segment. Assa Abloy and Blackboard are working with Apple to make those happen. You might remember Assa Abloy from The Information rumor piece about door locks and ID Passes coming to Wallet.

Temple University’s OWLCard and John Hopkins J-Card offer some clues how they will work in Wallet:

  1. Contactless student ID cards are Stored Value (SV)
  2. Because they are SV cards, they can be recharged

Since they will reside in Apple Pay Wallet this means NFC Student ID Cards can be ‘recharged’ with Apple Pay credit cards instead of running to the nearest ‘refill/recharge’ station. Anytime, Anywhere Recharge.

Sound familiar? My goodness it’s just like Apple Pay Suica that you can recharge on the go and use for Suica coin lockers. The only real difference is that Apple Pay Student ID Cards cannot be used for transit. At least not yet.

An interesting aspect of implementing NFC Passes in Wallet is the PassKit NFC Certificate requirement issued by Apple to the developer and strictly controlled for security purposes. If Apple wants to open up NFC access to more developers, wider NFC Certificate distribution should be the ticket for developers to gain NFC access that was not possible up to now. The Apple Pay Developer page seems to back this up: “discover how to create contactless passes for rewards cards, gift cards, tickets, and more.”

NFC Reward Cards, Gift Cards, Tickets and more?
It would be in line with expectations if Apple announces NFC reward cards and gift cards alongside NFC Passes and Student IDs. It would be beyond expectations, but not far-fetched, if Apple also announces Apple Pay Transit for MIFARE based Taiwan transit cards, FeliCa based Octopus Hong Kong transit cards or perhaps something else…like Apple Pay PASMO. We won’t know until the event as Apple certainly cut code references out of the iOS 12 beta mix to keep code spelunkers at bay.

More Global FeliCa iPhone
The new iPhone models and Apple Watch Series 4 will certainly have Global FeliCa, hopefully free of the NFC hardware issues that plagued iPhone X production. The more important question for the Japanese market however is not the top-tier models but the iPhone 7 replacement aka iPhone SE 2 as tweeted by Guilherme Rambo.

SE 2 should have Global FeliCa as well and will make a great entry-level Apple Pay Suica device, not only for Japanese students on a budget but older Japanese who don’t need or want the latest bells and whistles. An entry level Global FeliCa iPhone has been missing from the JP lineup and will certainly help Apple hold onto Japanese market share. It will certainly help too if Apple throws in important Apple Pay Transit additions such as Apple Pay PASMO.

Long term I think Apple Watch will be next revolution thing for transit but only when transit cards and credit cards can be loaded directly to Apple Watch without an iPhone. When that happens, and it eventually will, watch out.

Enjoy the show.

UPDATE
Welcome to the new era of A12 Bionic NFC and iOS 12

Guilherme Rambo SE2 Tweet

 

NFC Wallet Passes for September 12 Apple Event (U)

Apple is using it’s just announced September 12 event to show off the new NFC Wallet Pass feature of iOS 12 and watchOS 5 to invited journalists and guests running the iOS 12 beta. The new feature was unveiled at WWDC and will be used for the Student ID Passes that Assa Abloy and Blackboard are developing with Apple.

Apple clearly wants to promote NFC Passes in Wallet over clunky QR Codes and showed NFC Passes on Apple Watch in action with a Wembley Stadium NFC ticket gate in the WWDC18 Apple Pay session video. In the same session Apple software engineers explained how to strip out QR Codes in Wallet Passes and easily replace them with NFC.

It’s also clear that Apple wants to promote NFC Passes on Apple Watch over iPhone, the new Wallet feature will be shown off in the Apple Watch segment of the upcoming event.

UPDATE
Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki is saying there could be more NFC goodies and partners on tap for the September 12 event and the iOS 12 GM. Back at WWDC18 I wrote:

NFC Certificates should be the ticket for developers to gain NFC access that was not possible up to now… It will be fascinating to see what developers do with wider NFC Certificate distribution and what NFC passes/reward cards, and hopefully much more, that come out of it with iOS 12 and watchOS 5.

It would be in line with expectations if Apple announced some extra NFC Wallet goodies, such as NFC reward cards in addition to NFC Passes and Student IDs, during the keynote. It would be beyond expectations, but not far fetched, if Apple also announced Apple Pay Transit for MIFARE based Taiwan transit cards, FeliCa based Octopus Hong Kong transit cards or perhaps something else…like Apple Pay PASMO. We won’t know until the event as Apple has certainly cut code references out of the iOS 12 beta mix to keep the 9to5 Mac code spelunker elves at bay.

Enjoy the show.

Contactless Payments White Paper

The Secure Technology Alliance White Paper Contactless Payments: Proposed Implementation Recommendations is an interesting read, not only for what it says but for finding out what’s on the collective mind of the credit card industry.

Here is a quick look…
<with comments>

About the Secure Technology Alliance
The Secure Technology Alliance is a not-for-profit, multi-industry association working to stimulate the understanding, adoption and widespread application of secure solutions, including smart cards, embedded chip technology, and related hardware and software across a variety of markets including authentication, commerce and Internet of Things (IoT)

<forget all the other shit, Secure Technology Alliance is a credit card EMV promotion society>

2.2 Contactless Acceptance Terminal Considerations
Contactless payments are not new. Contactless payments relying on magnetic stripe data (MSD) have been available since 2005. However, as the U.S. transitions to EMV, some payment networks are no longer recommending contactless MSD solutions. Moreover, some EMV contactless cards are being deployed without contactless MSD support, which can cause interoperability issues or cause a transaction to be terminated and processed using the EMV chip or magnetic stripe.

<contactless MSD is a crappy half-assed stopgap standing in the way of progress that nobody uses except Samsung Pay, get rid of it already>

2.2.4 Recommendations Figure 1. Enabling a Contactless Terminal at the Checkout

• Contactless terminals should be customer-facing
<duh>

• Customers should not need to tell cashiers how they intend to pay
<in a perfect world NFC is EMV contactless exclusively without complications from annoying FeliCa or MIFARE and credit card companies are the de facto treasury departments for all advanced nations of the world>

• The contactless terminal should always be switched on and ready to use; the cashier should not need to switch it on
<WTF, this is a recommendation?>

• The cashier should not need to enter the amount twice; the amount should be automatically displayed on the terminal

<oh I get it now, we’re talking about American cash register infrastructure>

2.3 Cardholder Experience: Different Contactless Form Factors
When performing contactless transactions, consumers already use a variety of form factors—contactless cards, mobile wallets on phones, wearables (such as watches, rings, or key fobs)—and there may be additional options in the future. While the “tapping” procedure to initiate the transaction should be the same regardless of form factor, other consumer behavior may not be consistent, especially when using a wallet on a mobile phone.

<I see, smartphone wallets with their own secure authentication are a problem, contactless credit card things with 4 PINs and meaningless terminal signatures are not a problem>

Transactions initiated using a mobile phone involve a two-step process: first, the wallet is activated (using an authentication method such as a biometric,4 PIN, or pattern); second, the phone is placed in proximity to the POS device for the contactless read.

Generally, however, the authentication mechanism used as the cardholder verification method (CVM) will be the consumer device cardholder verification method (CDCVM). CDCVM uses a mobile phone’s passcode or biometric user authentication to verify the cardholder for a payment transaction, removing the need for the cardholder to enter a PIN or provide a signature. Such use can result in an inconsistent consumer experience; sometimes a cardholder may be required to provide a PIN or signature on the terminal (for example, if the contactless terminal does not support CDCVM) and sometimes no verification will be required. However, as consumers become more familiar with the process and as older terminal functionality is replaced with newer technology, there should be fewer inconsistencies. In addition, note that, at this time, some networks may not support CDCVM with their U.S. common debit AID, which may result in inconsistent consumer experience for debit transactions.

 <blah, blah, blah, in other words credit card companies and payment networks will do as little as possible to clean up their own mess and blame somebody else for their problems, what else is new>

3.3 Contactless POS Infrastructure and Acceptance
Contactless acceptance is a major trend globally, with a significant percentage of POS terminals supporting contactless. The following are some key published market statistics:
• According to Juniper Research18 (Figure 5, Figure 6), 31.6% of all terminals in service in North America are contactless; North America accounts for 19.6% of the global installed base of contactless POS terminals.
• Visa has reported that, as of September 2017, 40% of U.S. face-to-face Visa transactions today occur at contactless-enabled locations, that a growing percentage of merchants are enabling contactless.

<wait a minute, what about that North America 19.6% figure? Contactless POS Terminals in Service as a Proportion of All POS Terminals: Asia: 43.6%, Western Europe: 14.3%, North America: 19.6%, we don’t want to talk about context here do we? Too embarrassing>

And the grand finale:

3.5 Open Loop Contactless Payments in Transit
Transit agencies are moving, or considering moving, to open payments with next generation fare payment systems—that is, credit and debit payments made using contactless EMV devices at transit points of entry (e.g., at fare gates, on buses)— to supplement traditional closed-loop acceptance. As noted in Section 2.5, consumer use of contactless payments for transit can help drive incremental transactions and top-of-wallet status for cards. Issuers contemplating transit as a factor in their contactless decisions should be aware that the specific timing for implementing transit open payments within a given region can have some uncertainty. In addition to the schedule impact of procurement and implementation timeframes, issuers should note that transit agencies interested in open payments may also consider the current state of contactless issuance and other relevant factors in their decision- making process.
Other relevant considerations include the following:
• As the market for open payments in transit is still emerging, the content of the authorization/settlement messages sent from different agency back-end systems may not be consistent.
• Transit merchants may require functionality that addresses transaction times and risk, such as offline data authentication (ODA) and/or deferred (or delayed) authorization.

<translation: credit card companies are falling over each other to get into transit and sucker convince transit operators into junking closed ticketing systems. Credit card companies have no interest in ticketing infrastructure outside of skimming their take. Let transit operators spend tax payer money doing all the back-end work and dealing with problems. Let them deal with transit user ire over slow EMV contactless transactions at overcrowded transit gates or when credit cards are de-activated in mid transit.>

What a sweet deal.

Value Capture and the Ecosystem of Transit Payment Platforms

AppleInsider Daniel Eran Dilger’s very long editorial Apple Services and the ecosystem of value capture has an interesting bit at the beginning:

The term Value Capture applies to rail and transit operators that are given the rights to develop the land around their stations. America’s intercontinental train routes were developed by railroads that were deeded land along their planned rail lines. These plots were then sold off or developed, capturing some of the value added by the fact that that land was adjacent to the transportation service the railroad had built and was operating.

Today, while most of America’s current transit systems (from Amtrak to BART) are now on the brink of failure and are often in worse shape than what you find in third world countries—despite the high tax subsidies paid to sustain them—there are many examples around the world of public and private transit operators performing extremely well simply because they were given the rights to develop the land around their stations, leading to extremely lucrative revenue sources that sustain their operations and growth while they provide efficient transportation services to the public.

Dilger goes on to explain value capture in the App Store ecosystem but misses important transit connections with Apple Pay:

The most successful value capture transit model in the world is the Suica Transit Platform business model on full display at  Tokyo Station. The shopping experience both inside and outside the transit gate is mind-boggling (the Drip Mania coffee softcream is to die for if you can find it) as is the cash flow. If JR East offered business tours in English the waiting lines would look like the lines at Tokyo Comic Con. It’s very strange that other transit agencies around the world, ahem in the west, ignore studying the Suica Transit Platform business model.

Tokyo Station is the Suica card epicenter for transit (regular trains, Shinkansen, buses), shopping, and other services like vending machines and coin lockers. You can buy Shinkansen tickets on the go on your smartphone. Every single store register has a Suica reader and the payment choice is either cash or plastic credit cards but contactless payment is strictly Suica. That is not a problem because Inbound Apple Pay users can join the Suica fun.

There has been a lot of overblown media hand wringing that Japanese contactless payments usage rates are far below what they are in China and Korea, and the Japanese government hopes to raise contactless payment usage rates to 40% by 2025 over the current 20% rate. This “problem” is remarkably easy to fix: create an open shared mobile transit cloud infrastructure that follows the Japanese Transit IC Card Interoperability model. Get the big Japanese transit cards on mobile that unlock the commuter pass and loyalty point goodies associated with the plastic IC cards, and the problem is solved. It’s that simple.

If that cannot be accomplished the Japanese government could talk JR East into hosting everybody else’s transit card on the Mobile Suica cloud with agreeable terms for big and small players. A concept just like the recently released Apple Pay Mizuho Suica. With all the important transit cards on mobile wallet platforms, contactless payment usage rates in Japan would quickly skyrocket beyond 40%. I guarantee it.