A woman uses her cellphone to pay Metro fare at the People's Square Station yesterday. Payment by scanning a QR code via mobile phones will be available in all 389 Metro stations in Shanghai this Saturday. (Jiang Xiaowei)
Chinese passengers will be able to use their smartphones to pay for Metro journeys from Saturday. However, foreign passengers will have to wait another couple of months, the city's Metro operator said on Tuesday.
After a two-month trial on the maglev line, payment by scanning a QR code will be available at all the city's 389 Metro stations.
To use the system, passengers must first download the "Metro daduhui" app and then link their Alipay or UnionPay card to it. After they register, passengers can click "Chengche" (taking a train) and a QR code will be generated.
UnionPay users can link their cards with the app but Alipay users must register with Zhima Credit, a credit system developed by Alibaba.
Metro operators said android smartphones must be at least android 5.0 for the app to function while iphone users must upgrade to at least ios 9.0. The app does not support iphones older than iphone 5.
The Metro is looking into other payment methods such as WeChat, but tests are still underway.
The app offers two ways of paying. One is to deposit money (at least 10 yuan (1.5 US cents) from Alipay or UnionPay. Otherwise the system will automatically take the fee from the user's Alipay or bank account after each trip.
"Passengers won't have to top up their app frequently to board the Metro," said Jin Tao, general manager of the Metro's information management center. "Actually, you don't even need Internet access to scan the code once it's generated."
Jin advised passengers to open the app some time before scanning as "generating a QR code requires Internet access and it would save people behind some time for waiting."
Every station will at least have four turnstiles – two entering and two exiting – that support the QR scan. All turnstiles in stations of Line 17 and the east extension of Line 9 will support the method.
"We wish to provide an alternative apart from transport cards for out regular passengers," said Wang Ziqiang, deputy general manager of the Metro's operation management center. "But more importantly to provide more convenience to those who don't have a transport card and have to line up to buy a one-way ticket every time they take the Metro."
About 20 percent of the 11 million people who commute via the Metro everyday use a one-way ticket, Metro statistics show.
At a ticket machine at the People's Square station, a tourist surnamed Que from Tianjin said he would welcome the new payment method. "I've been in Shanghai for three days and I found some machines only accept coins," said Que. "It is rather annoying as we don't usually use coins in Tianjin."
From January 20 to February 28, passengers who scan their phones will enjoy discounts. With Alipay, 5 yuan will be waived for the first trip. In addition, passengers can enjoy two trips a day at a 20 percent discount. With UnionPay, passengers will have 2 yuan off for two trips a day.
However, the interchange discount that transport cards offer will not apply.
A new feature of the app will allow people to use bikes from the ofo and Mobike companies. The Metro is discussing further details with the bike sharing firms.
"We want to set a model around the Yangtze River Delta to go one step ahead to integrate different commuting ways." said Jin. "Our goal is to popularize a common payment method in provincial regions."
The Metro is considering expanding QR scan payments to the Shanghai-Jinshan railway line and tram service in Songjiang District which is set to debut this year.