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Apple Pay Showed Me How Far Behind America Is

As I walked up to a London subway-station turnstile to catch a ride, I was filled with curiosity and anxiety. Would this trick that my friend told me about really work? How could it?

After activating Apple Pay, I simply held my iPhone to the NFC reader on a turnstile, and the card reader flashed a green light, signaling that I'd paid my fare. And my jaw dropped at the convenience.

While the Underground system didn't do a good job of promoting this option — instead advertising its proprietary Oyster cards — the method requires so little instruction. The previous night, a buddy had told me that Apple Pay on my iPhone (or any payment program on an NFC-enabled payment device, such as Google Pay on an Android phone) was all I needed to ride.

As I used my iPhone to gain entry to trains and busses, I realized how much time it would save — and how much time I'd wasted in the past.

That the rest of the world had access (since 2015, at least) to a technology that seemed futuristic to me felt unfair. (Yes, start the symphony of tiny violins.) Millions deal with the constantly rising prices of the NYC subway system — why are they stuck with the outdated technology of New York's flimsy MetroCards? Also, only three US transit systems let you use Apple Pay for rides (Chicago's Ventra system, Portland's TriMet and Salt Lake City's Utah Transit Authority).

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After I returned to New York, I reminisced about the ease of London transit, which can be found across other European cities, too. The first time I needed to take a train back home, I wasted minutes at the MetroCard kiosk, refilling my monthly card. Instead of just using NFC to hop on a train, I fumbled to extract my wallet, remove and swipe my credit card, navigate a menu system, tap in my area code, and wait for my refilled MetroCard to eject.

That process isn't terriblefor a monthly task, but it can create too much friction when I'm running short on time. And for many people, the refill process happens more frequently, as the NY Metropolitan Transit Authority's (MTA) $121 monthly card is too pricey for many riders.

The one saving grace of this whole situation is that the MTA understands how outdated its current system is. In 2017, the organization announced plans to roll out tap-to-pay systems in 2019. But considering how the MTA loves to push its deadlines back (ask about the 2nd Avenue subway line), I'm not holding my breath.