National Common Mobility Card: Is it revolutionary or just a fad?

An NCMC is essentially a contactless card that aims to enable a common payment option for different transit options. “The concept is that of a single card that will be accepted at any metro location in India,” said Mihir Gandhi, partner, leader – payments transformation, PwC India.

Metro rail networks in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai have their own respective ‘smart’ cards for their passengers. These cards can be used to travel only in the metro network of the same city. For instance, a Delhi metro card cannot be used in any other metro. NCMCs, though, are interoperable and are meant to be used for metro across different cities and other transit options, like buses and trains, and also for retail payments.

Graphics: Mint

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Graphics: Mint

Many countries, like the UK and Australia, have common mobility cards and even allow NFC-enabled debit and credit cards on Visa and Mastercard networks to be used for public transit.

How it works

NCMCs are issued as prepaid and debit Rupay cards and will soon be issued as credit cards as well. A prepaid card can be bought from metro stations by completing online KYC at the issuing bank’s platform. Debit cards, on the other hand, are issued by the bank.

The NCMC debit card, however, functions like a prepaid card for offline transit payments at metros, railways, buses and can be used to parking fees. The card has an offline wallet wherein money can be loaded and then be used for offline transit payments. “Metro payments are offline transactions, which means there is no instant connectivity to servers to check whether you have enough balance in the bank account. The card has a chip that acts like a purse which needs to be loaded for making transactions,” said Gandhi.

Essentially, instead of getting a separate prepaid transit card, you can just get a Rupay NCMC debit card that can be used for transit payments as well. The NCMC debit card can be recharged or loaded from the bank account directly.

In case of payment failures, the cardholder, both for prepaid and debit cards, has to contact the issuing bank for resolution. The metro staff at the station doesn’t offer support in this regard.

Challenges galore

Currently, prepaid cards are more widely used compared to debit cards. In all major cities, different banks have launched prepaid NCMCs (see graphic) in collaboration with the metro corporations, which can be used across different cities.

Most prepaid NCMC cards come with a maximum storage value of 2,000 and largely support offline retail purchases.

As for different transit options, the NCMC card currently cannot be used for bus travel in Delhi (Delhi Transport Corporation bus network) and Bangalore (BMTC or Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus network) and local trains network in Mumbai.

These challenges, along with higher usage of UPI for smaller online and offline payments, have prevented the uptake of NCMC cards in a big way. Moreover, there is a general lack of awareness among the employees of metro corporations in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai who still continue to sell their in-house smart cards instead of pushing NCMC cards.

This Mint writer visited two different metro stations in Delhi to purchase a metro card and was offered the in-house ‘smart’ card by the staff.

As per news reports, the government has directed all banks to make NCMC the default option in all new Rupay debit cards that are being issued and also when the old cards are reissued. In cities such as Pune where the metro has started operations recently, NCMC cards are the default transit cards being given to passengers.

Other use cases

A common card that enables transit payments along with other day-to-day small value transactions have been a huge success worldwide. But in India, UPI has become the go to option for small payments and hence, a common prepaid card such as NCMC may not see huge uptake. However, Gandhi argues that a contactless card offers the convenience of instant payment.

“Tap and pay doesn’t require a PIN or other authentication method, unlike in UPI payment. That’s a minor convenience that you get on using a card,” he said.

One major use case of this prepaid card is that parents can use it to give their children a monthly allowance and monitor their expenses. It will come in handy especially in cases where children use public transport for regular commute.

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