On this day in 2012, a revolution began when London’s buses started accepting contactless payment for fares. A decade later, contactless payments make up over two-thirds of pay as you go fares on London’s buses, and over 2.5 billion journeys have been paid for this way.

On its first day, just 2,061 customers used this new fangled contactless payment option, but a year later, TfL was seeing around 33,000 bus journeys a day being made using a contactless payment card and five years later, around 900,000 bus journeys a day were being made using contactless payments.

Apart from providing an alternative payment method, the introduction of contactless payments was driven by problems faced by bus drivers. At the time, they still handled a lot of cash, with around 85,000 journeys each day paid with cash, and around 500 a day using a banknote the bus driver couldn’t give change for. They also had issues with a lot of people who tried to use an Oyster card but didn’t have enough credit on the card to pay for the bus fare. Switching to contactless meant people no longer had to lock cash away in their Oyster card and could keep it in their bank accounts.

TfL had experimented with contactless payments before the bus launch, with a Barclaycard trial that ran between 2007-10 tied to an existing Oyster card account. It was the ability developed on the back of that trial to link the contactless card directly to the bank account that enabled the launch of pure contactless card payments in 2012.

TfL designed and coded the contactless payment system in-house, at a cost of £11 million, after finding that the existing commercial solutions were inflexible or too focused on retail use rather than transport. TfL later licensed its technology to other cities, earning £15 million in fees.

The initial uptake of contactless was slower than expected though, with 6 million journeys by the end of 2013 being made using contactless payments, against an initial prediction of 25 million journeys. However, it took off in 2014 as it was expanded to buses and the introduction of daily and weekly caps reduced the need for Oyster cards.

Now, a decade after its introduction, around 70 per cent of all pay as you go journeys on buses are made using contactless payment cards or mobile devices – with the most popular bus route for contactless use being on Route 149 from London Bridge to Edmonton with around 100,000 contactless taps a week.

TfL’s development of contactless payments is also seen by many as the catalyst for contactless being adopted more generally by consumers across the world, as well as in the UK. The success of pay as you go with contactless in London has led to other cities across the world such as New York, Chicago and Sydney having now introduced contactless payment options for public transport based on London’s system.

Over the past decade, London has seen pay as you go journeys made using contactless cards or mobile devices from more than 180 countries across the world. The reason for the wide geographic use is that for visitors to London, they’re avoiding the need to queue up at ticket offices and buy a ticket or an Oyster Card, they just arrive and get on the bus or train.

This has meant that ticket offices reduced in use over time to the point that they effectively became redundant and were able to be closed with the staff moved to the ticket barrier area instead.

This is a lesson that’s been noted at other public transport organisations – put the simplified ticketing system in place and then you can close ticket offices. Until there’s a simple payment method though, you can’t close the ticket offices. TfL managed it the right way around.

Joanna Davidson, CEO of London TravelWatch, said: “We can barely remember a time when you couldn’t touch in with your bank card on a London bus. That shows just how transformational contactless has been for millions of Londoners – we think that anything that makes life easier for people to get around the capital is a real positive.”

This article was published on ianVisits


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