NSW looks to facial recognition as Opal card alternative

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NSW looks to facial recognition as Opal card alternative

Proposes “frictionless transport payments”.

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has raised the prospect of Sydney commuters one day ditching their physical Opal card and paying for public transport using just their face.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night, Constance said “frictionless transport payments” would become available on the public transport network “in the not too distant future”.

“In the transport space we’ll use facial recognition technology to scan customers who’ve ‘opted in’ and linked their Opal account,” he said.

“No more gate barriers – just a smooth journey.”

Constance said the technology would work like Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ initiative to allow commuters to move through the ticket barriers without having to tap on or off.

It could explain Transport for NSW’s (TfNSW) reluctance to introduce more tactile payment methods such as a virtual equivalent of the Opal card in a digital wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay.

This is despite the agency’s work to bring contactless payments using credit and debit cards, as well as credit and debit cards via mobile wallets, to the public transport network over the last two years.

After rolling out contactless payments to metropolitan and regional heavy rail last November, Constance said TfNSW was “about to expand the technology” to buses.

The use of facial recognition could help NSW deal with a public transport system bursting at the seams, with the network witnessing a “4.7 percent increase in patronage” in the last 12 months alone.

“Sydney’s train network carries 420 million passengers a year. That’s up from 308 million passenger trips five years ago,” he said.

“There isn’t another railway in the world which has seen a 35 percent patronage demand increase and that’s why the NSW government is investing over $4.3 billion on the Sydney trains network alone.”

Netflix for Transport

Constance’s vision for “frictionless transport payments” would likely work alongside the Netflix model for transport that he proposed last month, whereby commuters would pay a weekly or monthly fee to use the public transport system.

This he said could have “different pricing for public or private providers ... built in” so that commuters can book an Uber or jump on the recently launched Sydney North West Metro all on the same subscription.

“This may sound like a pipe dream – but it’s almost a reality in London,” he said.

“A company called Citymapper already plots a range of routes using buses, trains, trams, bikes and ride shares in its journey planning app and soon people will be able to pay for it all under one subscription.”

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