Ever since I moved to New York City nearly ten years ago, I've had to buy physical MetroCards to ride the subway almost every day. But last week, for the first time ever, I didn't have to swipe my card to get trough the turnstile and catch my train. Instead, the entire process was done on an iPhone, thanks to a demo I tried of the Apple Pay Express Transit feature -- one that will start rolling out to MTA subway and bus stations on Friday, May 31st. This contactless system, which also works with Apple Watch, is as seamless as you might expect: You just hold your device next to the screen on an upgraded tap-to-pay turnstile and, within a second, you'll see a message on the reader that says "GO" and you're on your way.
With an iPhone or Watch, you don't need to unlock or wake them, open an app or use Face ID or Touch ID. You literally just have to hold your device next to the reader and that's it. Before you can take your first ride using Express Transit, though, you'll have to make sure you're running iOS 12.3 and watchOS 5.2.1 on your iPhone or Watch. Once you have that, you will need to set up a debit or credit card to use with Express Transit, which you can do by simply going into Settings, then Wallet & Apple Pay and selecting the card(s) you want to get charged for your rides. You can also open the Wallet app, tap on a debit or credit card you already have saved, go to the "..." menu on top right corner for more options and, from there, you can choose whatever card you want.
Express Transit works with the latest iPhone and Watch models, of course, plus the iPhone SE, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, Watch Series 1 and Watch Series 2. At launch, riders in NYC will only be able to use the new Apple Pay feature on all Staten Island buses, as well as 16 subway stations on the 4, 5 and 6 lines between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center (Brooklyn) and Grand Central-42 Street (Manhattan). That said, if you're at a station with transfers, there's nothing keeping you from using your Express Transit to ride a train that's not the 4, 5 or 6. If you go in at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, for instance, you can also take the B, D, Q, R, 2 and 3 -- as long as you use the tap-to-pay entrances dedicated to the 4, 5 and 6 lines.
Aside from the limited number of stations supported, Express Transit will only let people pay for single-fare rides at first -- which will be disappointing to those who rely on weekly and monthly fares to save some money. But that's part of the MTA's plan to gradually implement its One Metro New York (OMNY) contactless payment system and, by 2023, replace the swipeable MetroCards that have been in place since 1993. Apple's announcement follows news from last week that Google Pay, too, will be supported by MTA subway stations and buses starting on May 31st.
A spokesperson for the MTA told Engadget more stations and buses will get the OMNY overhaul toward the end of the year, adding that the hope is to have services like Apple Pay Express Transit and Google Pay working across the entire NYC transit system by the end of 2020. That means week- and month-fare passes are, eventually, going to be supported. As for when Express Transit will expand to other cities in the US, Apple said it had nothing to share beyond the fact it will be coming to Chicago soon.