Yet another OV-chipcard usability fail.

July 1, 2023

It seems the Dutch OV-chipcard system was invented to showcase every possible way to make a system not user friendly. Here is the latest usability fail, involving payment cards, tickets with QR codes stored on mobile phones, and Apple/Google pay.

In the Netherlands, you pay for travelling by public transport by checking in and checking out with OV chipcard. Recently, OV chipcard introduced the option to also pay for public transport with your normal payment card, which is also a contactless smartcard. It is a separate system called OVpay.

Soon, problems were reported: people were used to keep their OV chipcard in their wallet when checking in or out. That was fine until recently, because the terminals only recognised and accepted any OV chipcard in the wallet. But now, if the wallet also contains a payment card, the terminal randomly decides to either use the OV chipcard or the payment card detected in the wallet. Leading to failed check-outs, or check-ins on a payment card while people have a free travel pass on their OV chipcard (thus making people pay twice for a trip). Soon signs were put near all OV chipcard terminals instructing travellers to remove the pass to use from the wallet and to present it separately to the OV chipcard terminal.

Today I heard of a new problem (because our international guests to our summerschool were affected by it). If you travel with a ticket issued to you electronically, or that you stored in your wallet on your smart phone, you have to hold your phone close to the check-in terminal to allow it to scan the QR code on the ticket.

However, if you also happen to use Apple/Google Pay, the terminal detects this and happily checks you in based on the payment card as well, incurring an additional travel fee of 20 euro’s. (The transaction will show up in your logs as “NLOVV####” .. The problem is that to make payment for public transport more seamless, no conformation of payment (pressing a button or unlocking with Face-ID) is required. And unlike payment cards in your physical wallet, you simply cannot separate the display of your phone from the contactless NFC interface also on your phone that handles the payment.

If I understood Michael Veale (who talked at our summerschool) correctly, Transport for London (TfL) effectively lobbied Apple/Google Pay to not ask for confirmation when paying for public transport. Apparently this applies globally, not just London.


(To reclaim the 20 euro OVpay effectively steals from you, it us upon you to call +31 10 892 50 63, let them know this happened to you, and demand a refund. I propose to flood them with customer support calls to force them to fix this problem straight away!)

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