TfL announced last year that it wanted to scrap cash fares, saying that just 1% of passengers pay with coins. Yet that's 24m journeys a year and twice as many as pay with contactless cards. A consultation was held: even though two-thirds of the 37,000 respondents were against getting rid of cash, TfL is going ahead. (We wonder if the fact that three-quarters of those same respondents don't use cash themselves had anything to do with it.)
Some of the chief concerns have been addressed. TfL reiterates that no vulnerable person should be left behind, and says drivers will be sent on refresher courses to have that more firmly drummed in. A new 'one more journey' feature will be introduced, so you'll be able to swipe your Oyster even if you have a balance of less than £1.45 (the current single Oyster fare). However, if you didn't realise your card was in negative balance or your journey home takes two buses...tough.
The other main action TfL will take is a publicity campaign around Oyster and contactless payment cards, now being rolled out across the whole transport network and so increasingly more likely to be used. But really: is there anyone left in London who doesn't know about Oyster? Paying cash costs 95p more than using Pay As You Go. There must be a reason people are doing so.
Another major worry was tourists and visitors from out of town. According to TfL, most tourists already know how to pick up an Oyster card, but they're not going to significantly increase the places from which cards are available. Some more Ticket Stops might open up, but the idea of putting Oyster vending machines by rail stations and bus stops as well as in tube stations was rejected. (There's also an interesting timing issue around this announcement: this week's strikes are partly about all tube ticket offices closing in 2015, which will cut off a useful point of access for the confused tourist. But this is all part of TfL's push towards automation.)
It seems to us that this move will primarily cause problems at night: lost cards or cards in negative balance, with nowhere around to top up or get a new one. Even with extra driver training it's almost inevitable we'll see stories appearing in the local press about young people deemed to be shitfaced rather than vulnerable, left to stumble home alone.
With TfL believing it can make £130m in savings up to 2023, cash was always on borrowed time, but we're surprised it's being withdrawn so early. Contactless payment cards still aren't in the pockets of many Londoners (or visitors) to be used as back-up. TfL has knowledge that card issuers are sending new plastic out to those of us in the south east over the next few months, but there's still a way to go before we're all swiping as second nature.
Read the full results of the consultation and TfL's plans.
Photo by David Fernández Molina from the Londonist Flickr pool.