How many payments professionals does it take to hire a bike? Three! (A story of Chip & PIN)

by Erin McCune on June 12, 2013

in Card Technology, Chip Cards, EMV, Erin McCune, Prepaid, Transit Payments, UK

Bicycles are my preferred form of transportation so I was eager to explore London using the Barclay’s-sponsored bike share program. Unfortunately, you need a Chip & PIN card to rent a bike using the automated stands and all I have are U.S. issued mag stripe cards. I was foiled:


After I tweeted about my disappointment (above) a number of payment geek friends offered to help me out (including Frank Mastrangelo at Bancorp who offered to issue everyone at Glenbrook a Chip & PIN prepaid card for travel).

Locally, here in London Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion (payments professional #2) came to the rescue and gave me a prepaid card of his own, kindly loaded with a bicycle budget. But when I went to use it I realized that I didn’t ask Dave for the PIN (or if he told me I promptly forgot it!).

Luckily I was with Chris Jones of PSE (payments professional #3) and he has an annual membership in the bicycle scheme. So he simply inserted his little key fob and off I went:


After a flurry of emails with Dave I did eventually get the PIN for his card and was able to hire a bike to get to my meetings in the City of London later in the afternoon.

This little cycling fable illustrates a troubling breakdown of the International card brand promise, something we’ve explored previously on Payments Views (here). And it wasn’t just bicycle hires – I wound up getting cash from the ATM and using it to buy tube tickets and train tickets (rather than wait in the long queues at Waterloo to pay a person at the counter with my mag stripe card). As a result I now have a huge handful of very heavy British coins that I received as change from the ticket machines.

I realize that the US is planning to move to EMV. But when we do eventually shift over to EMV, we’ll be using a combination of Chip & PIN and Chip & Signature (it’s up to the Issuers) so I am not entirely sure that this problem will be resolved. Just in case, I’m going to take Frank at Bancorp up on his offer.

9 Responses to “How many payments professionals does it take to hire a bike? Three! (A story of Chip & PIN)”

  1. Dave Birch says:

    Er… umm…. no, I didn’t tell you the PIN because that would be in direct contravention of issuer rules… I never disclose the PIN to a third-party under any circumstances… you are remembering incorrectly, probably dizzy from over-exercising… you found the card in the street, remember, nothing to do with me and you guessed the PIN correctly… what a stroke of luck…

  2. Ed Bachelder says:


    Nice Photo and Great story: It is interesting that your solutions – Cash and Fobs – were needed to solve the card payment challenges. If you used a London Cabbie, how did you pay for a ride?
    -Ed B

    • Erin McCune says:

      Ed, I didn’t take cab – I either walked or rode a bike, or jumped on the tube. Would have been a good experiment. I presume they take mag stripe cards, like the shops do (with a little cajoling and occasionally the guidance of a supervisor).

  3. Erin, welcome to the Real Advanced World, aka the other side of the pond.
    Funny to hear the story, and yeah, congrats for GUESSING the pin correctly. Good to hear all the familiar names in European payments were involved in making it work.
    What about VISA’s policy of always ‘honor all cards’?

  4. David Chase says:

    Nicely said. After living in the UK for 10 years while the conversion was in process, you get used to having your magstripe-only card working in less and less places. Here in the US, of course a bigger market than the UK, it would take us several years to convert as not only do you have to convert the millions cards in holder’s hands, but also all the equipment in any establishment that accepts cards. Do-able as the UK proved it, but prepare for handling both for years to come. So now what do I do with the Square gizmo plugged into my phone?

  5. Albert Drouart says:

    Hi Erin,

    To avoid this problem I got a US chip/pin card from Andrews Federal Credit Union — it has worked in attended parking meters in Paris as well as parking garages in France, Switzerland and Belgium. 🙂

    After too many experiences like yours I couldn’t take it anymore… Andrews issues these cards for our military in the US since I assume they hear a lot of complaints!

  6. Kirk Tutterrow says:

    Erin, you mention the move to EMV in the US. But is the US perhaps too late? Given the infrastructure costs of EMV rollout, would a leapfrog to mobile payments be a better path? This has been a bit of a conversation for the last few months in the US and I’d certainly like to hear your and everyone else’s thoughts.

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