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Apple Pay's now your ticket to ride New York's subways

You'll be able to pay for single rides by holding your iPhone or Apple Watch near turnstiles for certain New York subway lines and buses. Google Pay and Samsung Pay users will be able to tap-to-ride, too.

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Starting May 31, certain subway stations and buses in New York will accept Apple Pay. 

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Goodbye swipes. Starting Friday, you'll be able to access the New York subway and bus system by scanning your iPhone or Apple Watch

The New York Metro Transportation Authority that day is turning on contactless payments in some subway stations and buses in the city as part of its new OMNY system. You'll be able to pay for single rides using your iPhone, Android phone, wearables like those from Fitbit, or tap-to-pay credit and debit cards. 

Contactless payments will replace the New York MetroCard, the much-hated, yellow, plastic card used exclusively on New York transit since 2003. The magnetic stripes on those cards often stop working, causing riders to repeatedly swipe them at turnstiles and slowing down entrance into a station. There are also sometimes long lines at terminals to add money to cards or to purchase new MetroCards.

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The promise of contactless payments is to change all of that. All you have to do is wave your iPhone or other supported device near a turnstile to pay. No more lines. No more cards to keep track of. 

Transit may end up being the most popular use for mobile payments, the concept of using your phone to pay for goods and services. Apple, Google and Samsung have all pushed their own payment systems, but they've been slow to take off with users in the US. But it's hard to argue with the convenience of using a phone to enter a hectic New York subway station. 

More than two-thirds of New York subway riders have missed a train while waiting in line to reload a transit card, according to a poll by Visa. About 83 percent of people surveyed said they have had trouble getting their transit card to work at the turnstile, Visa said, and two-thirds have left or forgotten funds on a transit card, at an average of $35.10 lost. 

"Contactless payments have shaped the way consumers pay all over the world, saving valuable time and delivering a fast, easy and secure way to pay," Dan Sanford, Visa's global head of contactless payments, said in a statement. 

New York isn't the first city to roll out mobile payments on transit. Tokyo, London, Beijing and other cities around the globe have launched the service over the past few years, while Portland earlier this month became the first US city to integrate the Apple Pay Express Transit system into its new contactless payments system.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said last month that the MTA would begin rollout of Apple Pay in early summer

"As we've seen in places like London, Tokyo and Shanghai, contactless entry into transit systems helps to spur broader Apple Pay adoption, and we believe this will get even more people using Apple Pay in the United States," Cook said during a call about the company's quarterly earnings.

Apple Pay on the MTA

The Apple Pay mobile payments service initially started in late 2014 as a way to pay for items in stores without taking out a wallet. It now works with transitloyalty cards and tickets. Cook has famously said Apple plans to "kill cash."

And Ticketmaster has just announced that it'll be accepting Apple Pay for ticket purchases on the web and through the Ticketmaster app, and over 50 of its entertainment and sporting event venues are launching contactless tickets this year, including the vast majority of NFL stadiums.

For transit, Apple has introduced something called Apple Pay Express Transit. You need to update your phone or watch to Apple's latest software -- iOS 12.3 and watchOS 5.2.1, respectively -- and select your default payment card for transit before you get to the station.

On your iPhone, open Settings, tap Wallet & Apple Pay, tap Express Transit Card, then select a credit or debit card, and authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID. You also can open Wallet on your iPhone, tap on a credit or debit card, tap on [...] in the top right corner, tap Express Transit Settings, select a credit or debit card, and authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID.

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Before using an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay for single ride on New York transit, you have to select your default payment card. 

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Once there, just place your iPhone or Apple Watch near the reader, and you're automatically charged for a single ride. You don't have to wake or unlock your device, double click, open an app or even use FaceID or TouchID. That makes the process speedy. 

Express transit works with the iPhone SE, iPhone 6S or iPhone 6s Plus or later and the Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 or later.

The process is similar for Android users. You can ask the Google Assistant for real-time transit information  ("Hey Google, when is the next train?"), and in the coming weeks, Google Maps will show you which routes accept Google Pay. You'll also be able to add a credit or debit card right from the Google Maps app. 

For Samsung Galaxy devices, using Samsung Pay on the MTA is the same as using it in a store. Swipe up to activate, quickly authenticate with your fingerprint, iris or PIN, and then hold your phone near the MTA's OMNY reader.

For now, the MTA only lets you buy single rides, and tap-to-pay only works on buses in Staten Island and on the 4, 5 and 6 trains between Grand Central and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

By the end of next year, all New York subway stations and bus routes will accept Apple Pay and other contactless payments. And the MTA will roll out different fare options, not just single rides.

In 2023, the entire system will be MetroCard-free. 

Originally published at 3 a.m. PT
Update at 11:18 a.m. PT: Adds Fitbit.

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