Future of Mobile Wallets: NFC and Mobile MetroCards


Picture this: It’s 8:20 in the morning and you’re rushing off to work with your umbrella, apartment keys, and shoulder bag in hand. You head down the block and into the subway station. You rummage through your bag in search for your MetroCard as your train approaches the station. You swipe hurriedly, but when you look down, you read this message: Please swipe again at this turnstile. Your train has just arrived. You swipe again only to get more bad news: Insufficient fare. Your train pulls out of the station.

Anyone living in the Big Apple knows what a hassle it can be to keep track of those flimsy MetroCards. Since the ‘90s, MetroCards have been the “modern” way to pay for public transportation. Today, however, physical cards are becoming outdated. They are a hassle to refill, easy to lose, and can be unreliable—so what’s the alternative? Mobile MetroCards.

Many large European cities have successfully adapted to mobile payments within their transportation system. Thousands of London commuters pay for their rides by waving their cell phones (or enabled credit or debit cards) at the subway turnstiles or bus fareboxes. Similarly, the fashion-forward city of Milan has just announced that their new transportation system is supported by Apple Pay, allowing users to pay for tickets with their iPhone or Apple Watch.

The New York City transit system is recreating a comparable program for its buses, trains, and subways. This transition is already underway, and is expected to be completed by 2023. According to The New York Times, “the system will work through apps like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay as well as “contactless cards” — credit or debit cards with embedded chips that rely on a wireless technology known as near field communication, or NFC.”

NFC is the same technology already used for in-person payments with the mobile wallet. NFC allows two devices to communicate and share data when they are close together, and is highly encrypted to maintain security. It has enabled contactless payments, and has the potential to replace that faulty MetroCard swipe with a quick wave or tap of a smartphone. Not only would mobile MetroCards be more convenient for millions of daily commuters, but it would also make keeping track of travel expenses much more reliable. Never again would you have to worry about a lost, stolen, or empty MetroCard.

And mobile MetroCards are just the beginning! For years, mobile wallets have supported boarding passes, loyalty and gift cards, tickets, and offers. With newly developed mobile college IDs, the list of mobile wallet capabilities will only continue to grow. Smartphones and other mobile devices are so heavily ingrained in our daily routines that it won’t be long before the mobile wallet becomes a day-to-day necessity. One thing’s for sure: in the realm of possibility for mobile wallets, we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg.


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