Hong Kong Tramways recently became the latest–and still one of the few–transit operators in Hong Kong to support open-loop payments. But more are coming, including the busy 10-line metro run by the MTR. Elsewhere in Asia, Tokyo Metro plans to test the technology in coming months.
MTR, which delivered more than 1.3 billion passenger trips in 2022 with its metro, will be the largest operator by far supporting open loop in Hong Kong. Passenger trip numbers are returning to prepandemic levels, with ridership on the metro increasing to just under 130 million rides in June of this year alone.
• MTR (Hong Kong)
• KMB (Hong Kong)
• Tokyo Metro
Hong Kong Tramways recently became the latest–and still one of the few–transit operators in Hong Kong to support open-loop payments. But more are coming.
Most notably, that will include Hong Kong’s metro, operated by the Mass Transit Railway, or MTR. The metro is rolling out contactless payments acceptance at gates across the 10-line metro. The service could launch in some form as early as the end of this year, MTR said in March, in announcing a HK$1.3 billion (US$165.8 million) upgrade to its fare-collection system, including new gates.
Hong Kong Tramways launched the service accepting credit and debit cards and mobile wallets this summer, installing validators on platforms serving more than 160 trams and covering six routes. The terminals take cards branded Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay and JCB, as well as one or more of these brands in wallets supporting Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet and Huawei Pay.
The terminals also accept QR code-based payments from four wallets, including Ant Group’s Alipay, China UnionPay and the Bank of China. It makes for a total of 12 fare payments cards and apps that the 200,000 daily tram passengers could potentially use. That’s in addition to the region’s premier fare-payments method, Octopus cards, as well as cash.
The Hong Kong Tramways project follows at least four bus operators in the region, including Kowloon Motor Bus and Long Win Bus, both owned by Transport International Holdings, which launched open-loop acceptance around two years ago. The services were available on more than 1,000 buses at launch with Kowloon Motor Bus, or KMB, planning to expand to its entire fleet of around 4,000 buses later in 2021. The bus companies accept much the same forms of payments as the tram operator, including Octopus and open-loop cards branded by most of the major international payments schemes. The buses also accept NFC- and QR code-based wallets.
In addition, Bravo Transport Services, owner of both Citybus and New World First Bus, announced in 2021 it began accepting contactless EMV cards and credentials in NFC wallets on a combined 1,700 buses in Hong Kong.
MTR, which delivered more than 1.3 billion passenger trips in 2022 with its metro, will be the largest operator by far supporting open loop in Hong Kong. Passenger trip numbers are returning to prepandemic levels, with ridership on the metro increasing to just under 130 million rides in June of this year alone. If the MTR also equips its light rail and buses–which delivered 180 million trips last year–it would obviously add even more open-loop transactions.
MTR is planning to launch open loop despite being one of the major owners of the company that runs the iconic transit and retail e-purse Octopus, which has dominated electronic fare payments in Hong Kong for years.
Open loop likely won’t threaten Octopus’ preeminence for some years to come, however. With more than 20 million Octopus cards on issue–carried by 98% of the people in Hong Kong–it accounts for a large majority of fare payments. Octopus is also used widely for low-value retail payments. There are a combined 180,000 acceptance points on transit gates, platforms and buses, as well as in stores, restaurants and other locations in Hong Kong
Support for open loop would have been unheard of five years ago in markets with strong closed-loop cards, such as Hong Kong and Japan. The latter market features such heavily used transit/retail e-purses as Suica from JR East and Pasmo from the Tokyo Metro.
To date, only small transit operators in Japan, mostly private bus and rail companies, accept contactless credit and debit cards and NFC wallets. But as in Hong Kong, that could also change.
Reports say that the sprawling Tokyo Metro, which operates nine lines and delivers about 2.5 billion rides a year, will launch a trial of open loop on some of its lines after next April. Visa-affiliated Sumitomo Mitsui Card is reportedly working on the service.
And privately owned Tokyu Railways reportedly plans to launch open loop at some stations along one of its commuter lines around Tokyo this summer. It would expand to all the stations of the Den-en-toshi Line next spring.
Despite the new projects, Asia, as a region, still lags far behind Europe in rolling out open loop.
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