Octopus Card

Octopus card

Everyone car­ries an Octopus card in Hong Kong, because it’s used every­where. When you take the bus, you pay the fare by tap­ping your wal­let (with Octopus card in it) on the scan­ner; the fare may change depend­ing on whether you take it before or after cross­ing the har­bour. Subway fares aren’t flat-rate either, so short­er routes are cheap­er. The dis­tance you trav­el is tracked by scan­ning your card when you get on and again when you get off, and the appro­pri­ate amount is deduct­ed.

Even vend­ing machines, park­ing meters, con­ve­nience stores, and restau­rants have Octopus scan­ners used to pay for their ser­vices. It’s also used as an iden­ti­ty sys­tem, where stu­dents sign-in to class by tap­ping their cards on door scan­ners, or res­i­dents enter their apart­ment build­ings with­out need­ing a key.

The Chinese name for the card is “eight arrived pass”, because eight has spe­cial mean­ing in Chinese, espe­cial­ly when it comes to direc­tions. The English name comes from an octo­pus hav­ing eight ten­ta­cles, and the logo is an infin­i­ty sym­bol that’s also in the shape of an eight. So clever.


  1. After the rev­e­la­tion that a China-based orga­ni­za­tion is engaged in sophis­ti­cat­ed elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance and manip­u­la­tion of com­put­ers all over the world; I think that I would be ner­vous about my finan­cial free­dom based on a sin­gle card that most peo­ple use that could be sim­i­lar­ly manip­u­lat­ed by a bureau­crat­ic whim.

    A total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment with that kind of con­trol is real­ly scary in times that are already increas­ing­ly creepy in a “1984” kind of way.

    • I would gen­er­al­ly agree with you, espe­cial­ly when it comes to the role of China in Hong Kong. They’ve imple­ment­ed a “hands-off” pol­i­cy for 50 years after the takeover, but my uncle says that the enter­tain­ment and news have sub­tly Communist over­tones.

      But after using the sys­tem and see­ing how con­ve­nient it is, I’m of the mind that if you do noth­ing wrong, then you have noth­ing to wor­ry about. All things that can be paid with the Octopus card have oth­er options for pay­ment as well, so it’s not a com­plete lock-down. Yet.

  2. I think the smart cards for stu­den­t’s ID and access con­trol belong to dif­fer­ent small sys­tems, much like the elec­tron­ic keys for indi­vid­ual hotels.

    The Octopus start­ed out as only for the tran­sit sys­tem —the 8 ten­ta­cles sym­bol­is­ing the exten­sions of the tran­sit sys­tem —thus the name Octopus. Now it’s used also for all kinds of small pur­chas­es. Hey, I nev­er thought of the logo as the infin­i­ty symbol—how fitting—infinite pur­pos­es and all. I bet the orig­i­nal design­er nev­er thought of that.

    • I read that the sys­tem has won the Chairman’s Award for World Information Technology and Services Alliance, but that was in 2006, after it’s ubiq­ui­tous imple­men­ta­tion.

      The infin­i­ty sym­bol is also a Möbius strip, which only adds to the clev­er­ness.

  3. I thought it was fan­tas­ti­cal­ly con­ve­nient while I was there, for tran­sit pur­pos­es. But the sur­veil­lance aspect is real­ly too creepy in my opin­ion. It’s so damn easy; but it could go so wrong.

    I think it would be great if they could assure peo­ple of usage and pri­va­cy safe­guards (such as: per­haps only one group of peo­ple would have access to cer­tain infor­ma­tion gen­er­at­ed by the card via encrypt­ed means). And there’s always theft.… I real­ly hate crime and sur­veil­lance. I feel like our world as we knew it in the few years when I was a child was a much dif­fer­ent, much more secure place than it is now.

    • I know there are cer­tain safe­guards in place, but that may mean that some­one has­n’t bro­ken those safe­guards yet. There have been cas­es of peo­ple find­ing glitch­es in the sys­tem and reciev­ing free refunds or skip­ping tran­sit pay­ments.

      There’s a lim­it on the amount of mon­ey that can be stored on the cards of $1000 HKD (or around $150 USD), which is def­i­nite­ly in peo­ple’s own best inter­est.

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