Octopus smart card travels well in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has had a success story in the shape of the Octopus transit smart card, launched in November last year.

An initial allotment of 3.7 million cards, each of which requires a down payment of 5, sold out earlier this year. The consortium behind the card, Creative Star, which consists of six of the city’s transport operators, has now begun distributing a second order of 3 million cards. And this in a city with a population of 6.5 million.

The card can be used on most forms of public transport in Hong Kong, including the Mass Transit Railway, Hong Kong’s underground system, the overland rail service KCR and buses. The cards get rid of the “fumble factor” – searching for the right change and queuing for tickets. Instead, cash is loaded onto the cards at terminals in MTR stations. And because the cards are contactless, travellers only have to pass the wallet over a sensor instead of feeding the card through the machine.

Not surprisingly Mondex and its close rival Visa Cash are looking enviously at the Octopus card’s success. Mondex is working in collaboration with Hongkong Bank on a similar contactless card. Launched at the same time as the Octopus system, the card has been slow to take off. While about 5,000 outlets accept the card, in June it was reported that of the 125,000 cards approved and issued only 38 per cent had actually been used.

But if Mondex was to create a contactless card for use on transport as well as other areas, it could achieve critical mass.

However, it will be difficult to displace the established Octopus smart card, which has the seal of approval from Hong Kong’s travelling public.

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