As of this morning, you can use your contactless bank card to pay for a bus journey on any route in London (excluding the 9 and 15 ‘heritage routes’ served by the old-school Routemasters).
Did you go rushing to the nearest bus stop, Mastercard clasped tightly in your hand, this morning? No? Just us, then. Everything seemed to work according to plan, and the fare of £1.35 (the standard Oyster fare) will presumably be debited from our bank account. However, while this is a very welcome move by Transport for London, who are apparently keen to do everything within their power to encourage people to pay their way without resorting to cash, there are some caveats.
Firstly, the standard Oyster daily cap doesn’t apply. Take a bus odyssey around London for a day with your Visa card and you could soon rack up a hefty bill. According to TfL’s press release, this is to “make [the system] more simple to introduce and ensure it is successful before rolling it out to the wider transport network”. Colour us unconvinced.
Secondly, if you’re the type who keeps your Oyster in your wallet, it might be a good idea to take it out and swipe it when you’re getting on a bus: the press release notes that “customers should be careful to keep any contactless cards they have separate when touching on the card reader to prevent them interfering with each other.” In other words, they can’t rule out the chance that, even if you’re packing an Oyster, your contactless card won’t accidentally be debited instead. We tried it out this morning and the machine appeared to read the Oyster card, which is encouraging, but this might not be the case for everyone.
TfL have indicated that they’ll roll out the system to the Tube, DLR and Overground networks toward the end of 2013. Long-term, this is probably the beginning of the end for the Oyster card as a separate card, as the NFC technology used will also permit payment via mobile phone. It’ll be microchips after that — you heard it here first.