Eftpos marooned as NSW ‘completes’ contactless rollout

George Lekakis Payments, mobile & wallets

A major storm is brewing between Eftpos Australia and the Berejiklian Government in NSW after the American company charged with building a new contactless fare system for Sydney public transport announced it had “completed” the roll out.

The new platform, which accepts contactless payments from commuters using debit and credit cards issued by Mastercard, Visa and American Express cannot process Eftpos-based payments on millions of debit cards issued by Australian banks.

Some digital wallet services offered by Apple and Google also have no access to the system if commuters use Eftpos as their default processing network.

A spokesperson for NSW transport minister Andrew Constance confirmed to Banking Day that customers relying on Eftpos-based debit cards and digital wallets would have to continue loading value to Opal transit cards or consider using an alternative provider.

Despite these shortcomings, Constance yesterday lauded the new system as a “milestone” after the rollout of a contactless platform for government buses.

“This achievement marks the final piece of the contactless payments puzzle,” the minister said.

Constance did not address the reasons why millions of Australian debit cardholders have no access to the contactless system that is now operating across all forms of public transport in Sydney.

In response to questions from Banking Day, the transport minister’s senior spokesperson said it was the government’s intention to extend the contactless functionality to users of Eftpos services.

“We’re not going to leave commuters in the lurch, but at the moment that [Eftpos debit cards] is not an option,” the spokesperson said.

“People with those cards will have to use an Opal payment card or an alternative card.”

When asked when holders of Eftpos debit cards were likely to get access to contactless payments, the spokesperson said: “I don’t think there’s a firm date”.

Despite the efforts by Constance’s spokesperson to suggest that no payments scheme was locked out of the Sydney’s public transport payments market, the diplomatic messaging appeared to be contradicted by Cubic – the Californian company commissioned by the government to engineer the contactless rollout.

In a press release issued yesterday, Cubic suggested no more work was required on the Sydney contactless project, describing it as “completed”.

“With the project in Sydney completed, Cubic is now beginning the installation of a new contactless system across the state of Queensland, beginning with regional bus trials,” the company said.

An Eftpos spokesperson declined to comment on why the payments company was not part of the new contactless infrastructure for Sydney transport.

But the spokesperson highlighted Eftpos’ ambitions to be involved in payments systems for public transport in Australia.

“As tap payments are introduced on transport systems across Australia, it is vital for Eftpos debit to be included to ensure all Australians with a debit card have access to the benefits of this technology,” the spokesperson said.

“The inclusion of Eftpos, in addition to the international card schemes, could also help drive competition and better outcomes for state governments and taxpayers.

“Eftpos Tap & Pay for transport would provide a number of important benefits for budget conscious Eftpos cardholders, including not having to preload funds on transport cards, and a seamless interstate transport experience.”