Starting Some Time Next Year, You will be able to Tap Into Washington Metro With An IPhone. WMATA announced the development in a tweet on Thursday, teasing more announcements to come.
It’s still not clear exactly when this program is launching next year, but here are some basic details about how it will work, per Brian Anderson, WMATA’s director of innovation and digital communications: You’ll be able to upload your card into your Apple Wallet, walk right up to the gates, and tap through.
When you exit at your stop, you’ll tap again, and the gates will deduct the appropriate fare from your card. The SmarTrip card will not require the usual touch ID or face ID needed to use Apple Pay, per Metro—if it did, that would likely clog things up rather than streamlining them. (You’ll also be able to use your Apple watch to tap through.)
Riders will also be able to load value from their phone through the mobile wallet, Anderson says. Almost all fare products Metro customers are accustomed to will be available in Apple Wallet, including some passes, SmartBenefits, and regular fare value. The new cards will be a particular boon to bus riders, Anderson says, as they often have to go to a store or a station vending machine to add value to their cards, or they use cash and slow down the boarding process—with this development, they’ll be able to load value straight from their phones.
“We see this totally as the next generation of fare payment and an upgrade of the SmarTrip,” Anderson says. “SmarTrip, it’s 20 years old. It served us well. It was innovative at its time, so it’s time to take that next step of an innovation, right?”
There is not yet a solidified timeline for launching the program, though Metro says it will be available in 2020. It appears that the service will be available on Apple products first, but a Google spokesperson confirms that the company is also working with Metro to launch a mobile card for Android users in 2020.
Metro says it has completed all the technical work on the back end to allow for the setup of mobile payment services. Now, each provider (Apple and Google) will come in and complete their end of the work to enable mobile payments. Per Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, this is why there’s no concrete timeline for launch.
Some more information from Apple on its Express Transit service: You’ll need to have an iPhone SE, iPhone 6S, or iPhone 6S plus or later to use it. You can also use it with the Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 or later. You have to be signed into an iCloud account with your Apple ID, and you have to have a card in your Wallet that is eligible for Express Transit (eventually, SmarTrip cards will be).
To use it, you won’t need to wake or unlock your phone, per Apple: You just need to hold the top of your iPhone close to the middle of the reader until you feel your phone vibrate and see a check mark on your phone screen. That means the payment has been made.
On an iPhone XS or later, you can even tap in when your phone is dead (for up to five hours).
Some stations in New York and Portland already have a form of this technology available from Apple.
But Anderson says that what’s unique about D.C.’s launch is that once Apple turns on the service, it will be available to use at every station, on every bus, and in every parking garage on the system—anywhere SmarTrip can be used.