iOS 12.3 brings EMV Express Transit support to Apple Pay* (U)

*(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, with some new options such as EMV Express Transit also working on iOS 12.3 Wallet which already has lots of new changes under the hood.

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 fares (commuter, senior, student, etc).

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 has picked up considerably momentum recently 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 July.

All of these Apple Pay Transit service rollouts are due between the iOS 12.4 release for the Apple Card rollout and iOS 13 this fall. 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 EMV Express Transit is live for all Apple Pay users, but the service itself is limited to Portland TriMet. That must sting for Sydney Opal transit users who were expecting to use it, but 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 WWDC with the iOS 13 announcement, the new Apple Pay Wallet Card UI and other new PassKit functions for developers.


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 doesn’t. 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: power reserve works for transit but not purchases, users will want to use it like a plastic payment card. 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.


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.

*Instead of writing a new post I rewrote this one, twice. I see EMV Express Transit as just one more Wallet card option. The heavy reworking of Wallet to make new options possible, new Apple Pay features and Wallet UI for iOS 13 are the real story.


iOS 12.3 beta Apple Pay Suica Performance (U)

Despite the wobbly state of Apple Pay Suica card UI design in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, real world Express Transit performance continues to improve. NFC performance is a very subjective thing due of all the constantly changing conditions that come into play: device software and antenna design, NFC chip firmware, reader antenna design and firmware, etc. There are also the different ways that Suica calculates transit fare, stored fare (SF) vs. commute plans. No doubt weather conditions come into play too; I swear that Suica response times are slower on torrentially rainy hot days.

Nevertheless, iOS 12.3 beta (16F5148a) Apple Pay Suica Express Transit performance might be the best Apple Pay Suica ever, and extends the solid performance gains and bug fixes of iOS 12.2. I have only tested iOS 12.3 Commuter Suica but, the UI feels equally snappy on JR gates and PASMO gates now, grumpy old UT1-Neo readers are suddenly happy, the iPhone XS/XR dead Suica UI problem appears to be fixed.

We won’t know for sure until the final release, but I hope the iOS 12.3 performance improvements mean that Apple NFC engineers are hard at work going over Express Transit performance with a fine-tooth comb in advance of the Apple Pay Express Transit HOP and Ventra rollouts this summer. It also means that iOS 12.3 is the last major iOS 12 update. If the beta performance gains are delivered in the final release, iOS 12.3 will be a good curtain call for iOS 12.

iOS 12.3 is out and recommended for Apple Pay Suica users

Yes, QR Codes Really Suck for Transit

If you even want proof that letting an outside company QR code or bank cards on transit fare gates is not a good thing, this is it. QR codes are dynamic and rely on all the network pieces working to get the job done: cell tower, app server, internet cloud, etc. When one link fails, things can stop in a hurry. Witness the April 8 QR code transit meltdown in Chengdu China.

Always remember that digital wallets like Apple Pay Suica work without a network connection just like plastic cards. Transactions are processed locally at the gate. And there are Express Cards with power reserve too. It all comes in handy and keeps things moving.


Apple Pay Express Transit Comes to America with HOP (U)

(Note: Apple Pay HOP launched on Portland TriMet May 21, details below)

The October 2016 launch of Apple Pay Suica in Japan was an important one with several ‘firsts’: FeliCa (the Ferrari of NFC) was the first non-EMV contactless payment NFC technology on Apple Pay, it was the first appearance of Express Transit cards on a digital wallet platform from outside of Japan that worked without Touch ID/Face ID and supported the full feature set (commuter passes, etc.) of regular plastic Suica smartcards. The success of Suica on Apple Pay remains the fullest expression and gold standard of what a virtual transit smartcard on mobile can be, with transit, e-money, lightning fast performance and Apple Map integration rolled into one.

Express Transit arrived in Beijing and Shanghai in 2017 with the iOS 11.3 addition of PBOC payment technology to Apple Pay, but the cards remained in beta up until iOS 12.3 (more China transit cards were on tap for iOS 11.4 but pulled before release), are not yet interoperable in other transit areas, require a China UnionPay debit card for recharge instead of any Apple Pay card, and cannot be used for e-money purchases.

iOS 12 added MIFARE support which is the technology used for contactless Student ID cards that launched in September 2018. Student ID cards are basically Express Transit cards called ‘Express Mode’, without transit, that open door locks and come with e-money services. The arrival of MIFARE in iOS 12 laid the ground work for transit cards to launch on Apple Pay in America.

The addition of Portland TriMet Apple Pay HOP that launched May 21, and Chicago Ventra (coming later this year) marks the first time that iPhone users in America have the opportunity to use Apple Pay Express Transit en masse. Even snotty TfL users don’t have that and it looks like they never will. iPhone users have already used EMV contactless Apple Pay credit/debit cards for transit in Portland and Chicago for some time, so why did Tim Cook go out of his way to mention them at the Apple Special Event on March 25? It’s the Express Transit card thing, best captured by Suica on Apple Watch in this tweet:

Native Express Transit vs EMV Contactless

Using Apple Pay Suica in Japan for instant transit and store purchases nationwide without using Face ID/Touch ID spoils a person for using anything else in Wallet. I use Apple Pay credit cards to add money to Suica and little else. In Japan entire ad campaigns are built around Express Transit:

With Apple Pay Express Cards on Apple Watch you can do this too, this is how you sell Apple Watch in Japan

I spent the summer of 2018 in Salt Lake City learning just how slow and bumpy the average Apple Pay EMV American checkout experience is. Checkout terminal infrastructure is creaky with poorly marked tiny NFC hit areas and little or no user feedback. Invariably I heard, “try it again” or the ultimate punchline, “You’re holding it wrong.” No wonder in-app payments are bigger than standard Apple Pay in America. Things are rough on the system backend too: UTA unceremoniously dropped Apple Pay EMV contactless support while I was there.

Native Express Transit cards like Suica and HOP on Apple Pay fully reproduce the slick user experience of plastic transit cards adding much more functionality and convenience: anytime, anywhere reload/recharge with Apple Pay, changing transit options via an app, while doing away with small but important Apple Pay EMV stress points such as using Face ID/Touch ID and dealing with multiple Wallet cards. Chicago Ventra support offers some insight on the current state of EMV transit without Express Transit:

  • Get your device ready, first, for fastest entry
  • “Card clash”: touch only your desired payment method
  • Multiple credit cards: always use the same card on the same device on Ventra readers

Another downside of EMV contactless is that it’s a very dumb smartcard that cannot support various point to point fare structures (student, senior, commuter passes, etc.). EMV is also the slowest payment technology out there. It was created by a credit card consortium for leisurely check out at a department store, not for daily crush of commuters zipping through transit gates at rush hour. EMV transactions are always slower than a transit card at the gate with none of the functionality or benefits. The differences between native transit virtual cards and EMV are nicely captured on the HOP page.

HOP card on Apple Pay and Google Pay

iOS 12.3 added a EMV Express Transit option for payment cards (credit and debit cards) to be used like a transit card on open loop transit systems that support it. At present TriMet is the only system that supports Apple Pay EMV Express Transit. As the iOS 12.3 Wallet Express Transit option setting makes clear, there are transit cards and there are payment cards. Express Transit payment cards are sort of like transit cards, except they’re not.

Payment cards are owned by the bank, not the transit company or the customer. That means conditions for both transit company and customer to use it. Service can be turned off without notice, such as Singapore transit users stranded mid-trip with canceled cards. Transit cards however are owned by the customer, the prepaid balance you put in them is yours. Anybody, even without a credit card or credit rating to their name, can get a transit card.

I’ve always questioned the purported wisdom and convenience of letting banks directly on transit fare gates. It’s a devil’s bargain as Chicago Ventra found out with their own Mastercard branded debit card experience. Predatory banks and fees will never go away. My position is that it’s a better long term business opportunity for transit companies to limit bank cards to the backend for adding money to transit cards on digital wallets, where they really shine, and focus instead on building better services tied to transit cards that benefit customers and businesses of the entire transit region, aka a transit platform business model.

Building a Future: interoperable transit cards and e-money

There is some interesting discussion regarding Express Transit vs EMV on the MacRumors site. Most people see the convenience of Express Transit without Face ID/Touch ID, some don’t. Heavy travelers in particular prefer one EMV card thing to ride transit anywhere rather than juggling different transit cards. It’s a trivial issue on digital wallets but they have a point. It is exactly a key issue explained by Egon Terplan in his article Falling in Love With the Trains of Japan: nationwide interoperable transit cards.

It took Japanese transit companies a decade to make their transit cards interoperable with each other through incremental upgrades on backend systems and IC smartcard issuance. This is much easier to achieve with digital wallets attached to cloud backends, and since most transit fare card systems in America are designed and/or operated by the same company, Cubic Transportation Systems, interoperable transit cards shouldn’t be that hard to do. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the usefulness of a HOP prepaid card that works on Chicago Ventra, NYC MTA, LA TAP, and vice versa.

This usefulness can be vastly expanded with the addition of an e-money service that frees the prepaid card balance for other uses outside of transit, a transit card version of John Hopkins J-Card or DukeCard e-money that works nationwide is a powerful thing. It is hard to explain just how powerful and transformative simple things like Apple Pay Suica Express Cards can be unless you experience them first hand. The simple ‘it just works’ success of Suica is built on layers of infrastructure where each new layer adds functions that strengthen the whole.

Now that transit cards are finally arriving on digital wallets in a big way this year, with Apple Pay and Google Pay delivering some of those advantages to smartphone users, I hope that America can experience it and be inspired to build regional interoperable transit platform businesses over time.

Looking ahead, New York MTA OMNY EMV contactless service launches May 31, with Apple Pay EMV support arriving in July. LA Metro has said they expect Apple Pay EMV support for the TAP fare system later this year as well. Neither system is expected to support Apple Pay Express Transit at launch.

Meanwhile Hong Kong iPhone users are fervently hoping for Smart Octopus on Apple Pay with Express Transit now that the Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay exclusive is apparently over. iOS 13 might be a Apple Pay Transit coming out party for many. That would be great fun.

Last but not least here are some Express Transit card tips and other things I have learned from 2 years of daily Suica use.

  • HOP and Ventra use the same MIFARE technology as Student ID cards, Express Transit device specs are the same: iPhone 6S and later, Apple Watch Series 1 and later. iOS 12.3 or watchOS 5.2.1 are required to use Apple Pay HOP.
  • Express Transit only works while Face ID/Touch ID is active. Express Transit stops working when Face ID/Touch ID is disabled. Be careful if you wear a face mask on your commute or put iPhone X, XS, XR in a tight pants pocket. It is easy to disable Face ID without realizing it with a rude passcode request at the transit gate. Face mask users can mitigate this by turning off Raise to Wake. If you still have problems the last resort is turning off Face ID for unlocking iPhone, be sure leave it on for Apple Pay.
  • Express Transit on Apple Watch is great, depending on which wrist you use, but in winter when wearing layers of clothes, iPhone is faster to whip out at the gate. iPhone is also free of left wrist vs. right side gate reader issues. As one reader points out: “Apple Watch works great for Express Transit except it’s on the wrong wrist in many cities. I’m a broken record at this point but a smart band would be a terrific addition to the lineup (and would solve this problem).”
  • iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC problem which can cause endless gate errors with Express Transit. You may need Apple to replace it, never an easy thing.
  • iPhone XS/XR users can finally put the Express Cards with power reserve feature to good use, it is cool and assuring knowing that you have 5 hours of reserve power to clear the final destination gate.


Apple Pay HOP launched on TriMet May 21. Loading HOP differs from Apple Pay Suica in that direct plastic card loading to Wallet is not supported and a HOP account is required. HOP is similar to Suica in that the plastic card is deactivated when it is added to Apple Pay Wallet, only one card can exist one device at any time: the same Apple Pay HOP card cannot be on both iPhone and Apple Watch.

New iPhone users with iOS 12.3 or Apple Watch users with watchOS 5.2.1 can download the HOP Fastpass App and add a virtual HOP to Apple Pay Wallet with a $3.00 fee. Plastic HOP users can add their card to Apple Pay Wallet with the HOP Fastpass App. There are TriMet video explanations for new users and existing plastic HOP users.

TriMet supports 2 kinds of Express Transit. Apple Pay HOP Express Transit is exactly the same as a plastic HOP card. It’s just as fast and supports the full range of fares. EMV Express Transit allows a payment care (credit/debit) to be set for transit but uses slower EMV mode and only supports standard Adult fare.

Last but not least some local news coverage of “the first time in America” use of Apple Pay Transit that explains the details:

“first time in America” for Apple Pay Transit

Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve on iPhone XR and iPhone XS

iPhone XR and iPhone XS both have the A12 Bionic powered “Express Cards with power reserve” feature. This feature can be used with FeliCa based Suica and Student ID cards, and China Transit Beijing and Shanghai transit cards. Another bonus of using Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XR and iPhone XS is that A12 Bionic bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica performance is so much better than all other devices.

Engadget JP reporter Takahiro Koguchi did the duty of running his iPhone XR test unit down into Express Card power reserve mode and running it through a transit gate. It works great. I wonder how many hours of Pokemon play it took Koguchi san to run into power reserve mode with the longer battery life of iPhone XR? Even on iPhone XS at 35% battery it took me 2 hours of Pokemon and 4 cups of Beck’s coffee until power reserve mode kicked in.

I covered the iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve feature in my earlier video. If anything the shorter battery life of iPhone XS means that Express Cards with power reserve might actually come in handy as Apple Pay Suica still works for transit, purchase and cash recharge for up to 5 hours.

Come to think of it the new 7-Eleven ATM Suica cash recharge service might actually work better/faster with Apple Pay Suica Express Card in power reserve mode as the pesky and unnecessary Touch ID/Face ID step is removed. If I have a day of Pokemon and Beck’s coffee to run my iPhone XS battery down and try it out, I’ll let you know.