​NSW government to trial contactless card payments for transport system

Commuters may soon be able to tap on and off when travelling on public transport using their credit or debit cards if a trial next year is successful.

The New South Wales government will begin trials next year to allow commuters to pay for public transport by tapping on and off with their credit and debit cards, as an alternative to using their Opal card.

A Transport of NSW spokesperson told ZDNet that giving commuters the choice to pay using their Opal card, or a credit or debit card when travelling would offer them another easy-to-use and convenient option for travelling.

"Contactless payments are a major advance in ticketing technology. Customers get another option for paying fares whether they are regular commuters or visitors to Sydney," the spokesperson said.

With further details about the project to be announced as plans progress, the spokesperson said during the first stage of the project that the government will be working on finalising partnerships, including working with the finance and contactless payments sector, and developing software in time for the customer trial in 2017.

MasterCard has welcomed the state government's announcement, saying extending the contactless payment experience to the transit system will improve the user experience.

"Extending this payment experience to the transit system in NSW means that customers will be able to use their everyday credit or debit cards for public transport," the company said.

"As a result, commuters in NSW will no longer have to worry about topping up their fare accounts, and overseas travellers will find navigating the city as easy as tap and go."

In the meantime, the NSW government has updated the Opal Travel app to allow commuters to auto top-up their card using their smartphone, check their balance, and plan their travel.

Developed in partnership with Outware Mobile, Opal Travel version 2.0, which is available for iPhone and Android smartphones, also gives improved experiences for special access customers by offering a voice screen radar compatible feature, as well as information on wheelchair accessible services.

Transport for NSW also launched the Open Data Hub that will give developers access to real-time public transport information.

"By making real-time data sets freely available, the new Open Data Hub will pave the way for app developers across the world to meet a broader range of customer and business needs here in NSW," Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said.

"We've already had huge success with our popular real-time apps. The applications for this transport data are endless and I can't wait to see more creative thinking about technological solutions to meet the needs of our customers."

In May 2015, Transport for NSW revealed it handed over customer data recorded by the Opal card to NSW Police and the Department of Immigration.

Transport for NSW confirmed to ZDNet at the time that there were 66 requests from NSW Police, and 15 requests from the Department of Immigration for personal data from the Opal card system since December 2014, with 57 disclosures. There were 19 disclosures related to offences, 32 disclosures on reasonable grounds for offences, and six requests related to missing persons.

While the cards do not store data, Transport for NSW keeps personal information, trip history, and other data collected on passengers for seven years.

In addition, the NSW government announced on Monday the establishment of the Smart Innovation Centre, a new research and development to help plan and build future transport infrastructure and technology, including driverless cars.

The government has called for expressions of interest from industry, investors, and academics to participate.

The existing Crashlab, located in Western Sydney, will be converted into the new facility.

Minister for Roads Duncan Gay said one of the first key priorities for the centre will be road safety and automated vehicles.

"To prepare for the arrival of automated vehicles in the Australian car market, we're working closely with our federal and interstate counterparts examining the necessary legislative, regulatory, and road design changes -- we want to get this right," he said.

"This hub is going to support and optimise the outcomes of the introduction of automated vehicles as well as look at solutions for congestion and road safety."

Last month, the South Australian government approved on-road trials of driverless cars on the state's roads.

South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan said companies looking to trial technologies on South Australia's roads will simply have to submit plans of the proposed trial and have sufficient insurances to protect themselves and the public.

"These laws have received praise from companies at the forefront of this industry, which is estimated to be worth AU$90 billion dollars within 15 years," he said.

"South Australia is now positioned to become a key player in this emerging industry and by leading the charge, we are opening up countless new opportunities for our businesses and our economy."

The approval follows on from a trial the South Australian government and national independent road research agency ARRB Group successfully carried out in November last year that saw the country's first driverless car trial on Adelaide's Southern Expressway. The trial involved two Volvo XC90 vehicles that demonstrated automatic lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and active queue assist.