Why are so many people being double-charged to use the NYC subway?

Jan 19, 2020

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Late last year, I visited London and marveled at the efficient contactless payment system the Tube uses. I became even more excited to adopt New York City’s contactless fare system — called OMNY — when I returned home from London. OMNY started its rollout in May 2019 and is expected to be available across MTA buses and subways in late 2020. 

Image courtesy of Omni.info
Image courtesy of Omni.info

I am a heavy user of Apple Pay, connecting it to any account that will let me, and using it as my main form of payment at stores. My Apple Watch with Apple Pay has been one of my favorite purchases in years, so you can bet I’m going to be one of the first people to enthusiastically use OMNY.

One of the main differences between the London and New York systems is the portal for contactless payment. In London, they use small plastic yellow terminals, while in New York they are introducing small iPad-like screens. Introducing a fragile terminal in New York seems like an obvious flaw, and before the system is even fully rolled out I counted at least 2two broken screens at the Union Square subway stop.

As a member of TPG’s social media team and a millennial that likes to photograph everything, I wanted to snap a quick photo of the broken terminals while passing though at a low traffic time. After taking the photo, I kept my phone in my right hand and used my left hand to reach over and swipe my unlimited Metrocard. Before the card could register, my phone authorized the contactless payment.

How could it do this? Apple Wallet has a feature called “Transit Express.” Once toggled on, it’s designed to authorize transit payments without additional authorization.

I’m not the only one this is happening to. For some, this double-payment is happening even while their phone is safely in their purse or pocket.

Since I use my Apple Watch daily, I’m surprised this has only happened to me once.

In a Twitter reply to an OMNY double-pay complaint, MTA is encouraging subway customers to disable Transit Express while using the subway system.

Maybe I toggled the function on when I was in London. Maybe it slid on when I added my new Amex Gold card to my Apple Wallet. However it got turned on, let my mistake be a lesson to you. Unless you’re going to use Apple Pay at the OMNY terminals, make sure this feature is turned off.

Featured image by Maxian/Getty Images

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