Transport for London yesterday activated the Express Transit feature, designed to make it easier to use an Apple Watch or iPhone to pay for public transit journeys.

I got the chance to try it on a couple of short journeys across London last night, and it’s one of those tiny things which makes a worthwhile difference to the experience…

My Apple Watch is my usual way of paying for things. In London, pretty much everyone accepts contactless payment, from the smallest convenience store to major chains. Any payment terminal which allows contactless automatically supports Apple Pay for the £30 ($40) limit applicable to contactless cards – which covers the vast majority of everyday purchases – while a lot of places also explicitly support Apple Pay, which allows much higher-value transactions.

The normal limit is, of course, fine for getting around London on the tube, light rail, overground rail, buses, and trams. But you used to have to activate Apple Pay with a double-press of the side button on the Apple Watch. No big deal in summer, but can be pretty awkward in winter, when the Watch may be under several layers of clothing, and you may also be wearing gloves.

Doing it blind through sleeves wouldn’t always work, so it could negate the convenience of not having to get a card out of your pocket (though is still more secure, of course).

But now that Express Transit is active, no button-pressing is required. Just hold the Watch close to the pad at the barriers and they open automatically.

I did discover one snag, though an easily-solved one: if you have Express Transit active on the phone too, the long range of the TfL scanners means that the phone often activates at the same time, resulting in an error as the pad thinks you’re using two cards simultaneously. This is easily fixed by ensuring you have Express Transit active on the Watch and inactive on the phone:

Watch: Watch app > Wallet & Apple Pay > Express Travel Card > (Choose card)

Phone: Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay > Express Travel Card > None

See our How to for more detail.

Express Transit is a very Apple-like feature: a small detail that makes a surprisingly big difference to the user experience. Now using Apple Pay for public transit Just Works, in winter as well as summer.

The feature isn’t yet supported in many cities. You can use Express Transit on Suica in Japan, select transit cards in Beijing and Shanghai, select parts of the MTA in New York, Hop Fastpass in Portland and all Transport for London services: tubes, trains, light rail, buses, and trams.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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