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All stations via bank

From March Londoners will have a new way to pay for travel.  If you’re lucky enough to have a contactless bank card you will be able to use it when travelling by bus. By the end of the year you might as well throw away your Oyster Card as you’ll be able to use your contactless bank card on the tube, tram and overground as well.

As someone who uses a pay-as-you-go Oyster Card to travel to work on the days that I’m too lazy to cycle, I look forward to the possibility of no longer needing to queue to load cash on to my card.  In fact, Transport for London (TfL) estimate a 24% decrease in queues at ticket offices once the new system has been rolled-out.  Visitors to London are also expected to benefit as anyone with a contactless bank card will be able to use the new system.  Just in time for the Olympics when we’ll have more visitors than ever!

However, not everyone stands to benefit from the new policy.  Indeed, most Londoners don’t have a contactless bank card, myself included.  This is likely to remain the case until more banks offer their customers contactless cards.

The London Assembly Transport Committee’s report The Future of Ticketing outlined five key principles which they believe TfL should adopt in order to maintain passengers’ trust and ensure the new system is fair and flexible.  Overall the new system is to be welcomed, as long as it gives passengers the freedom to use other ticketing options.  The Committee calls for the highest levels of data security and customer support, as well as ensuring passengers without access to a contactless bank card are still able to receive the best fares.  As the rest of the country heads towards the ITSO standard smartcard model, the report also encourages TfL to ensure the system is compatible as possible with other ticketing systems in other UK towns and cities.

As the first city anywhere to adopt such an approach to public transport ticketing, decision-makers around the world will watch with interest at how Londoners and visitors react to the new system.  Those involved with developing transport policy will be interested to see whether people are encouraged to make more trips by public transport because of the flexibility offered by the new payment method, particularly whether it attracts a new type of public transport user.  On the other side, banks and credit card companies may want to keep an eye on whether the system encourages greater use of contactless cards, as well as demand from customers for more widespread availability of the technology (see my colleague Elke Neuteboom’s webinar on Contactless Payments for more on this subject).  How many people will see their fellow passengers using a contactless bank card and think ‘I want to be able to do that’?

Oyster is now the preferred option for passengers in London, with 85% of all fare transactions made this way.  The new ticketing system offers a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of contactless bank card technology.  In a few years we could see a considerable increase in the use of contactless bank cards, particularly for travel in London, though the extent of this remains to be seen.  One thing does remain clear for now; until my bank offers me a contactless card I’ll have to join the top-up queue for the foreseeable future!

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