Rotten Oysters
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Rotten Oysters

As the R Month Rule suggests, July is a bad month for at least one type of oyster.
Oyster” is the name of the smartcard for public transit in London, England. Passengers pre-load cards on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis, and enjoy substantial discounts (generally 50-75%) over cash or paper tickets.
Last Friday, the system failed for reasons unknown, letting millions of passengers travel for free, as reported on Londonist. Last Monday, a Dutch court overturned a publication ban on the details of a hack of the cards’ Mifare Classic security technology, the existence of which was brought to light in March and was discussed on Urban Toronto. And two weeks ago, a fault corrupted 40,000 out of the 17 million Oyster cards in existence (about 0.25%).
It’ll be interesting to see whether London’s troubles—which can hardly be described as growing pains, as the system is five years old—affect Toronto’s rollout of Presto smartcards, as well as the larger question of how best to collect fares.
On the one hand, smartcards may facilitate price differentiation based on time of use and/or distance travelled (itself a controversial proposition; Toronto scrapped zone fares in 1973), easier aggregation of travel data, greater user convenience, and more efficient use of employee time. On the other hand, it’s a fair question whether replacing our quaint yet functional method of collecting fares should take priority over, say, service improvements, and improper implementation of smartcards can raise privacy concerns.
London may not be the best model to emulate, but Hong Kong’s Octopus system—which uses FeliCa rather than Mifare Classic security technology—seems to work like a charm and remains unhacked after over a decade of use. Unfortunately, we can’t locate any public information telling us whether Presto uses Mifare, FeliCa, or something else entirely. Do any of our readers know?

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