Transit behind Taipei contactless take-up

The wide underground island platform in Taipei...

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Taiwan’s interest in the practical uses of contactless dates back to the beginning of the last decade. In the years since, it has been behind a series of innovative deployments that have highlighted the advantages – and challenges – of rolling out such new technology. At the heart of its contactless initiatives is its capital, Taipei.

In the transport world, Taipei City Government, Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation, 13 private bus companies and several banks have been behind a contactless mass transit system used on buses, the Metro, public off-road parking lots and taxis. The EasyCard travel card was launched in 2003 and is now used in more than 100 Metro stations on a network covering around 1,500 access gates, 700 token vending machines, 250 ticket office machines and 160 information points. The card can also be used on the city’s 5,000 buses and at around 50 public car lots.

EasyCard has since evolved to combine transport and payment. When the combined-use card was first launched, it featured a maximum storage value of US$314.47 and a daily spending limit of US$93.42. Merchants now accepting the card in the city include 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, OK-Mart, Hi-Life, Starbucks, Wellcome and Matsusei supermarkets, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza.

In another move combining transport and payment, 3G operator Vibo Telecom is behind the 3G handset-based  V-Tone + EasyCard NFC payment service for travel. Consumers can use their handsets to pay for subway and bus fares, as well as parking fees at government-run parking lots in the Taipei metropolitan area.

Unsurprisingly, the payments world has also given contactless its backing. In 2002, Taipei Bank began issuing hybrid contact and contactless cards to around 3,000 employees of First International Computers (FIC). The cards can be used for payment, building access control, parking and employee identification. The contact Chip is JCB EMV and a contactless Mifare chip is used for access control.

Visa, Chunghwa Telecom, Chinatrust Commercial Bank (CTCB) and Nokia have also got in on the act in Taipei. They were behind a six-month trial of a feature-rich implementation of the Visa mobile platform in 2007-2008. During the trial around 500 users tested NFC-enabled Nokia handsets, over-the-air (OTA) personalization and Visa payWave contactless payments plus the effectiveness of merchant direct marketing offers sent to their phones.

Marketing initiatives are an important feature of many of the city’s contactless payment deployments. For example, Taipei Fubon Bank offered MasterCard PayPass-enabled key fobs on a soccer ball key chain as part of its 2006 FIFA World Cup promotion.  Customers could win prizes when they used their key fob to make purchases. And in 2007, Taiwan Mobile was involved in a payment trial with Taipei Fubon Bank and MasterCard PayPass. More than 2,000 merchants across Taiwan and 100 users took part in the scheme, in which participants used Nokia 3220 handsets to make payments and download electronic coupons over the air by tapping the phones on tags in smart posters.

Discount coupons and smart poster tags have featured in other implementations as well, such as Blockbuster’s trial of discount coupons at all 61 of its branches in the Taipei metropolitan area

Alternative form factors are also a part of the contactless landscape in the city, as firms use bridging technologies while they wait for NFC on mobile handsets to take off.  For example, in 2010, Chunghwa Telecom and High Tech Computer (HTC) were linked to plans to issue 10,000 NFC dongles that could be used to make retail payments, download coupons, view information, collect discount vouchers, and ride Metro trains and buses. They communicate with apps on the subscribers’ cell phones and can be worn round the neck or carried on key fobs. The technology was showcased at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo in November 2010, where they could be used on tags fixed to displays and kiosks at the event. The dongles could also include a PayPass application issued by Taishin Bank and E Sun Bank.

Taipei has been behind one of the most innovative use of contactless in domestic schemes: home access. In 2007, property developer Farglory Group gave residents at some of its newest complexes in Taipei County cell phones to open their front doors. Two BenQ T80 handsets were issued to each of the almost 6,000 apartments. Companies involved in the program are believed to have included Chunghwa Telecom and Cathay United Bank.

Click here for the League Table on Taipei

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