Octopuses Everywhere!

The Octopus payment infrastructure is quintessentially Hong Kong, underpinned by speed and efficiency. Adopted in 1997, the now regionally ubiquitous payment system has its origins rooted in providing a fare collection mechanism for Hong Kong’s mass transit system. Over the years, this award-winning technology has spread and woven itself tightly into the fabric of Hong Kong society becoming widely accepted by businesses around the region.

Apart from everyday transactions such as fares for major transport operators, retail and food purchases, parking, vending machines and more, Octopus has also evolved to become a means for providing access control to facilities such as offices and libraries and for tracking attendance in schools. Octopus is, in a nutshell, an electronic payment system that uses a microchip built into Octopus cards or products. Simply holding it over a reader automatically deducts the correct amount.

Beyond its most common card form, Octopus has kept up with technological advancements by integrating seamless support for modern smartphone-based payment methods such as Apple Pay; the convenience of adding value through an official app is also available. Additionally, it features a stored-value buffer for situations where the transaction slightly exceeds the balance. There are even personalised Octopus editions for students and the elderly which let them enjoy concessionary pricing. Given all these, the meticulous streamlining Octopus has engineered for transactions becomes evident. Countless Hongkongers are now comfortable taking on the day equipped with Octopus, electing to not carry banknotes or coins. In fact, it is common for many to store an Octopus card inside their smartphone case; arguably a part of their everyday-carry essentials. Even schoolchildren can be seen to have their personal Octopus cards hanging from lanyards around their necks. Besides, acquiring tourist Octopus cards is a staple in the contemporary Hong Kong itinerary while local universities make sure to encourage and assist their international students in applying for personalised student Octopus accounts.

A clear indication of the sheer scale and spread of Octopus in Hong Kong is that there are over 35 million Octopus cards in current use, a number that is almost five times the local population. The system handles almost 15 million transactions daily—worth around HK$200 million. Further highlighting the mass adoption of Octopus is its rapid rise to prominence: an average of 1 million new cards went into circulation in the first three months, while the total count reached almost 10 million in the first five years. Hence, it is unsurprising that at 98 per cent, nearly all people aged 15-64 years in Hong Kong are Octopus users. The name Octopus signifies the number eight, in connection to the tentacles of the species. It is a metaphor for the eight principal directions in a compass rose—indicating the local omnipresence of Octopus. Likewise, the logo, while resembling the digit eight, is subtly suggestive of the infinity symbol to further emphasise a similar notion. Considering all the preceding, it is possible to fairly conclude that these are apt representations of the technology.

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