Moscow Metro, one of the largest metro systems in the world, has expanded its large test of facial recognition technology to enable customers to pay fares. A systemwide rollout could happen as early as next month.
To use Face Pay, passengers link their bank cards with a facial photo on a secure website. At the turnstile, cameras and facial recognition software match the passenger’s face to the photo and charge the linked bank card. The system, scanning faces without masks, takes one to two seconds to recognize the passenger and about two more seconds to make the payment and open the gate. However, in a mask, it can increase to three or four seconds the recognition itself, said a Moscow Metro official in June.
• Moscow Metro
Moscow Metro said today it has increased the number of lines supporting a large test of its “Face Pay” service to more than half of its total lines. The metro system, one of the largest in the world, remains on track to roll out the service across the entire metro this year.
Face Pay uses facial-recognition technology to enable customers to pay for their fares hands-free. It officially launched the test with 1,000 passengers earlier this summer on one line. It announced today it had added five more lines, including its most popular line, Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya. That brings the number of lines with at least one turnstile supporting facial recognition to nine.
The metro today also asked for more customers to join the pilot and noted that it is offering a promotion of half off the price of rides for participants. According to a news report Friday, there were 15,000 passengers testing the Face Pay service on four lines. That was before the announcement of the expansion to five more lines.
The Friday report said Moscow Metro and acquiring bank VTB were planning to expand the service to the entire metro by next month. That would mean Face Pay would be live at more than 260 stations. The metro has given more general estimates of when it would launch the service systemwide, saying it would happen sometime in 2021.
In a separate announcement today, Moscow Metro listed Face Pay as one of four major ways for customers pay for metro service. These also included the closed-loop Troika card and contactless open-loop payments, including with NFC devices. The release indicates that in addition to the older Moscow Metro lines, Face Pay would also be accepted on the more recently built Moscow Central Circle metro line and suburban rail lines.
“Passengers should have more ways to pay for their fare, including using advanced technologies,” Maxim Liksutov, deputy Moscow mayor and head of the city’s Department of Transport, said in a statement. As for the performance of the biometrics technology during the pilot, he said in the statement that Face Pay so far “works stably.”
As Mobility Payments reported earlier, however, masking requirements for Covid-19 on the metro were slowing down verification times for the facial-recognition technology, a Moscow Metro transit official acknowledged in June. The metro had earlier tested the technology at turnstiles with employees and at ticket offices.
Roman Latypov, first deputy CEO for the strategic development and client work for Moscow Metro, said tests showed that the facial-recognition system still worked with users wearing masks. But masks sometimes significantly slowed down the total time it took for the system to recognize the user, complete the transaction and open the turnstile to five or six seconds. The agency was still satisfied with the technology, he added.
To use Face Pay, passengers link their bank cards with a facial photo on a secure website. At the turnstile, cameras and facial-recognition software match the passenger’s face to the photo and charge the linked bank card. The system, when scanning faces without masks, takes one to two seconds to recognize the passenger and about two more seconds to make the payment and open the turnstile, said Latypov.
“However, in a mask, it can increase to three or four seconds the recognition itself. It may or it may not; it really depends on the face,” he said, speaking at the Transport Ticketing Digital Summit conference in June. “We didn’t find a pattern yet. It works, however, sometimes (it’s) a bit long.”
Moscow Metro indicated that it had considered other biometrics to identify customers, namely fingerprints, but noted that “fingerprints may not be entirely safe–especially in the midst of a rampant virus.”
Government officials in Moscow already make frequent use of facial-recognition technology, including to identify criminal suspects, Covid quarantine cheats and, reportedly at times, anti-Kremlin protesters. While Liksutov, the Moscow Transport Department head, in earlier statements did not directly address privacy concerns with using facial recognition for fare payments, he did say that Face Pay will “not be mandatory” and that all other payments options will continue to be available.
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