ApplePay coming to NYC transit this weekend

Beginning May 31 you’ll be able to use ApplePay to ride transit in New York City. I’m looking forward to my next annual NYC theater trip when I don’t have to guess at how much to load on my Metrocard, inevitably returning home with a balance that expires. And there will be one less slip of paper to keep track of when I’m out of my element.

Where you can use it

This is a gradual roll-out, so at launch, it’s limited to:

  • Subway stations on the 4, 5, and 6 trains between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and Grand Central-42 Street
  • All Staten Island buses

If you need to make a transfer to another train or bus, you should continue to use Metrocard until your whole ride can be completed with contactless, as the Metrocard and the contactless (OMNY) systems don’t coordinate with each other so you’ll end up paying for a transfer that could otherwise be free if you have to swipe in on two different payment methods.

Express Transit

MTA is using a new feature in Apple Pay that was introduced in iOS 12.3 and watchOS 12.2.1 called “Express Transit” which allows you to make these small transactions without having to activate your card with Face ID/Touch ID, or even without having to wake up your iPhone or Watch. Register your card of choice in your device ahead of time, and simply tap your iPhone or Apple Watch to the turnstile when you enter. No need to load a card or prepare your device ahead of time. It just charges the associated card for the ride.

Minimum requirements for Express Transit are:

  • iOS 12.3 or watchOS 12.2.1
  • iPhone SE, 6S, 6S Plus
  • Apple Watch Series 1
  • A registered Express Transit card in your device’s Apple Pay settings

To register an Express Transit card in iPhone open Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Express Transit Card. To register in Apple Watch go to the Watch app on your iPhone > Wallet & Apple Pay > Express Transit Card.

MTA’s new OMNY system

The new payment system is called OMNY, and it does not only work with Apple Pay, though the iPhone has this Express Transit feature that makes it quite seamless. You can also use any contactless card or contactless mobile wallet app.

Sidenote: if you have one of these contactless credit or debit cards (look for the little radio icon on the back of your card) you can use it anywhere Apple Pay, Android Wallet, or contactless is accepted simply by touching the card to the payment terminal. It’s much faster than the chip reader and you don’t risk inserting your card into a credit card skimmer.

Currently, OMNI and Apple Pay can only be used for full-fare payments. Student discounts, passes, etc., will be available once all stations and busses have been upgraded sometime in 2020.

But what about when your iPhone battery runs out?

When your battery runs out how do you get on the subway? If you’re using a 2018 iPhone model (XS, XS Max, or XR), your iPhone has a “Power Reserve” mode that will allow Express Transit to function for up to 5 hours after your battery dies. This only works when your battery runs out. If you manually turn your iPhone off this feature is not active. To check if Power Reserve is active you can press the side button on your iPhone, though the more you do this the more the reserve gets eaten up. You can also always use a contactless credit or debit card.

Traveling to a new city

Note that in Japan you will use a Suica card for Express Transit, and some other cities only accept certain types of credit cards, so as you get to a new city you may need to adjust your Express Transit settings to use the appropriate card. For a current list of cities visit Apple’s support article on the subject.

And London, soon

London has long allowed Apple Pay in their subway system, but they have announced that support for Express Transit will be arriving in the coming months, making the process much more efficient. No more need to unlock your device.