One Year On From Contactless Payment, We’re Not Really Using It

bus_201213At the start of this week, Transport for London got very excited about the first anniversary of Londoners being able to use contactless payment cards on buses. Shashi Verma, TfL’s Director of Customer Experience, harumphed:

It is fantastic that so many people are taking advantage of the ease and convenience of using their contactless payment cards to pay their bus fares. Each week we are setting a new record for usage which gives us great confidence for when we launch on the rest of the network and make contactless fully integrated next year.

In reality, it’s not so marvellous. Around 33,000 bus journeys a day are paid for with contactless card technology. That’s nearly half the 60,000 journeys that are paid for with cash, a payment method TfL wants to scrap. The London Assembly Liberal Democrats reckon each London bus gets swiped with a contactless card just four times a day (though it’s very popular on the 38 and 73 routes).

The low current take-up of contactless would seem to herald a short-term reprieve for exchanging hard currency for your bus ride, as that was one of TfL’s great white hopes for people who, for whatever reason, haven’t got an Oyster card. Back in 2011, TfL was hoping to see 467m journeys on London buses paid for with ‘wave and pay’ in 2013/4; the last 12 months actually saw 6.5m journeys paid for in that way. So what’s holding us back?

For a start, not all of us have a contactless bank card. Your author doesn’t have one and has no idea when one may be forthcoming. And how many Londoners realise they can pay for their bus journeys with a contactless card? Consider this (and the video below) us helping TfL out with its marketing. But also – and we think this is the kicker, not mentioned in the video – at the moment you don’t get a daily cap when you use contactless. If we’re doing a lot of pay-as-you-go travelling that day, why would we choose to pay a single fare if it doesn’t go towards a cap? That’s just throwing money away. Plus you can’t yet use contactless on any other form of transport so it’s just automatic to reach for the majority method of payment (normally your Oyster card).

Perhaps we’ll use it more as contactless technology becomes more of a fixture in our wallets and TfL makes it a viable alternative to Oyster. But right now it’s a nice novelty for most of us.

Photo by richardbw9 from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • Catherine Lux

    I use it almost every day, twice a day, and love it! So much easier than having to top up an Oyster or carry cash around. I really don’t think people realize they can use them, I never see anyone else using them on my bus journeys and whenever I whip out my debit card in the queue people look at me like I’m crazy :/

    If it wasn’t for contactless payment I probably wouldn’t use the bus, I’d just walk or tube it.

  • John

    I suspect the people who know about it (like people who use public transport regularly in London) also tend to have Oyster cards, and so would prefer to use those.

    Contactless would seem to appeal more to occasional users or visitors, who are perhaps less likely to have seen the publicity.

    Incidentally, TfL is currently recruiting people willing to take part in a contactless pilot on the tube: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/28751.aspx. I applied by my card issuer isn’t yet supported!

  • Sarah

    I don’t have a weekly or monthly travel card, just a PAYG Oyster card. I use it every time I catch a bus, unless I know I am going to be a lot of journeys in the same day, then I use my oyster. I find it very convenient, and once it’s introduced across all transport it will be great, as long as there is a cap.

  • poindexter

    OK, I’m going to be “that guy”… Harrumph doesn’t mean what you think it means. And you’ve spelled it wrong. God, what a dick I am.

    • http://londonist.com/ Rachel Holdsworth

      Nope, I know what it means, and I was genuinely going for the noisy throat clearing, more noise-than-light thing. But you can have the second ‘r’ here :-)

    • londona729

      So what does it mean?

  • Helen

    I have a monthly oyster pass but love contactless on buses for when I forget to renew my oyster in time. It’s so useful when you need to get somewhere in a hurry

  • Rik

    The only benefit of contactless payment over PAYG, as far as I can tell, is that you won’t need to top up.

    I only use PAYG (occasional traveler) and have used Oyster auto-topup since introduction in 2006 ish (it adds £20 every time balance goes below £7 from my registered debit card).

    I personally see no need to change to contactless because I haven’t had to top up at a machine in years.

    I Agree that contactless payment’s biggest opportunity are tourists, but is dependent upon international adoption of contactless payment cards – and TfL acceptance isn’t going to accelerate that!

  • A traveller

    TfL will claim this significant investment of public money into upgrades to their network are justified by reductions in retail costs for ‘old Oyster’… which may require reductions in ticket office staff to make to case hold any water. My guess would be that until around 70% of all payments shift to payment cards, tfl will have to maintain the cost of two parallel systems…. not the best value for money I suspect…

  • londona729

    I think CPC are risky as no pin is needed which means that losing your card will be even more serious than it is now!. Also personally I don’t trust TfL to have direct access to my bank account- I’ve been correctly overcharged (and had to get a refund) too many times!

  • FloraLyd

    My husband uses it, (allbeit my card as his isn’t supported!), as an alternative to PAYG, however its still not as convenient as Oyster as it does not work on the tube. My main gripe with the whole thing is that I can no longer put my Oyster and contactless card in the same wallet and swipe – it takes payment from my bank account, and swipes travelcard!