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  • Thierry Spanjaard

New York, Paris: the end of an era

Announcements from transit authorities in major world cities show we are reaching the end of an era: New York and Paris transit authorities now accept contactless payments all over their network and are engaged in a process to discontinue all magstripe tickets and cards in the coming months.

Magstripe has played a significant role a few decades ago as the first step towards automation of payments. For the first time, they were a means to control mass transit payment without having to resort to human ticket punchers.

In New York City, OMNY (One Metro New York) is now deployed all over the city, in every New York City bus and all 472 subway stations. OMNY readers and infrastructure not only support their own OMNY prepaid contactless cards, but also contactless banking cards, a technology known as “open loop” and mobile wallets such as Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay, and more. Transactions are actually run on centralized servers in account-based mode: “OMNY allows riders to create personalized transit accounts to see ride history, check balances and add transit value, as well as report lost or stolen cards to protect their funds. OMNY also enables riders to use payment media such as credit and debit cards and mobile devices at the bus or turnstile, instead of purchasing or adding value to a separate fare card,” says Cubic Transportation Systems, a leading developer of public transport payment systems, that already introduced New York magstripe MetroCard in 1992 and is also behind Transport for London Oyster Card and Open Loop payment systems, and many more.

In Paris, IdF Mobilité (IDFM), the transit authority in charge of transportation in the Region, announced that Edmonson-format cardboard tickets with magstripe would be discontinued in 2021. The Authority is now issuing a variety of transit passes, in the form of contactless cards using Calypso standard. IDFM also plans to support payments directly from mobile handsets, but, for the time being, the transit authority app only allows reloading contactless card-based Navigo passes from a smartphone.

More globally, the world of mass transit payment is getting increasingly complex as most networks tend to accept a wide variety of payment means. Most networks keep on issuing their own physical fare media, generally contactless cards, but they also include open loop systems, accepting direct payment by debit or credit cards, mobile wallets, SMS-based payments, the addition of a transit application on a multi-purpose card, etc…

The mass-transit industry is progressively evolving towards Mobility as a Service (MaaS), defined as the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand, typically integrating all forms of public and individual transport means such as trains, metros and buses on par with ride-, car- or bike-sharing, taxi or car rental/lease, or a combination thereof. MaaS aims at bringing users the best transit options thanks to an extensive collection of their data in order for transport operators to always better adapt their offer to customer needs.

Magnetic tapes and cassettes are already a distant souvenir. While magstripes are still present on most credit and debit cards, they appear as a survival of the past, as, along with embossing, they are very seldom used now for transactions. Other applications of magstripe cards and tickets such as parking lots and physical access control in hotel rooms are also replaced with other technologies: either cheaper barcodes or more sophisticated contactless cards and tickets. If magstripe tickets have not yet totally disappeared, there is no doubt we will soon see the end of the technology. © Photos: Thierry Spanjaard

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