Cashless Buses: Your Experiences

Photo by Mani Babbar Photography from the Londonist Flickr pool

Photo by Mani Babbar Photography from the Londonist Flickr pool

It’s been just over four weeks since Transport for London stopped taking cash payments on buses. We’ve had our own issues with the new system (one Londonist staffer’s Oyster card failed when she tried to tap in; luckily one other person — out of seven of us — had a contactless card and could pay. And the presence of an information officer at a bus stop didn’t stop two tourists trying to board a number 11 without Oyster cards on Monday lunchtime) but that’s not enough. So we asked you on Facebook. A social media voxpop, if you will.

Of the 50+ comments, there’s a fairly even split between people who love it for speeding up journey times and can’t see the problem when Oyster and contactless are available, and others concerned about tourists and irregular bus users, as well as those who’ve had negative experiences.

A lot of you are doing what we had to: paying for friends and even strangers with your contactless cards, and getting cash in return. (By the way, the contactless fare is £1.45, so if someone tries to give you £2.40 — the old cash fare — do put them right. Or accept a 95p tip, it’s your call.) Others have experienced some of the drawbacks of contactless for tourists: you can’t pay for a family with one card (of course, you also can’t with Oyster) and cards issued overseas can attract hefty transaction charges.

It’s not just tourists being caught out. Several comments mention people ending up having to walk or not being allowed onto the bus despite TfL’s assurances that nobody vulnerable would be left behind, though some also report drivers letting them on for free. This comment from Claire Deacon not only made us laugh, it seems to sum up the discussion:

Noticing lots of confusion for occasional users; they seem not to be aware until they questioningly proffer a handful of coins only for the driver to look at them as if they’d asked to take a shit in his hat.

Some of you also made suggestions that could help improve the situation, if TfL is listening:

  • More information, particularly for tourists.
  • Provide more places to top up Oyster cards, particularly late at night. Ticket machines at stops?
  • Better driver training.

Another way to pay was unveiled on Monday. If you have an Android phone on EE you can use Cash on Tap to pay for buses. Once it’s set up, just hold your phone to the reader. It all works like contactless which means you’ll be billed the next day and, like contactless, you now get daily and weekly Monday-Sunday capping on buses. And when contactless is rolled out to all users for the tube, DLR and Overground you’ll also be able to use your phone.

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  • vipul yadav

    It doesn’t help unless u r londoner, it’s worse for tourists..

  • peejay

    If a bus user can’t pay, but is willing to, my understanding is the driver should offer a permit to travel which the user later pays.

    Nothing about this for those without a working card though.

  • J.S.

    Another way for the security state to keep its all-seeing eye on all of us. This is the primary impetus driving the ‘cashless society’.

    • Badbob

      The buses all have cameras now!

      • J.S.

        That’s a problem, too. We’ve all decided to surrender our privacy in exchange for false security and convenience.

      • Norm

        Yes they have but to there’s owN convenience I was on the 103 route and was thrown from my seat with another passenger,a car pulled in front of the bus when pulling away from bus at civic centre,bus breaker and through me and another passenger to the deck,and stage coach denied it happened.i still have an injured leg and neck.

    • hostile_17

      Fine, go ride on your horse. The rest of us will use credits cards etc. as it’s easy.

    • Tim

      For now you can still buy an oyster with cash and travel with it – no ID, name etc required

  • Minstral

    Difficult for Children who live just outside London without access to Oyster or contactless. Basically they are excluded from buses as my daughter found out last week and ended up unable to complete her journey. Aged 15 and Stranded in Purley

    • Ben Parsons

      How does she not have access to Oyster? It’s not a secret club – anyone can buy one.

      • Sally

        Yes anyone can get an oyster, but those under 15 have to apply online for a zip card oyster (with photocard) and address in order to get child fares. If children under 15 are visiting from outside London, they have to buy an oyster and pay adult fares. Doesn’t work

        • Jasper Walker

          She couldn’t have paid a child fare with cash either… Really should have ordered an Oyster card online, irresponsible letting her going out without means to pay

          • Minstral

            Here we have buses which we use cash for so didn’t really expect a problem. She had cash!

            The ZIP card costs £10 which for a single bus fare is a bit expensive.
            It’s the young occasional traveler that get’s caught with the Cashless system.
            When we come into London normally we buy a Travelcard with our rail fares so have no need for an Oyster Card.

          • Causton

            Will you really only use the Oyster once? Even if so, buy an adult one for £5 and top it up with £5 it would be cheaper.

          • Minstral

            I have an old oyster card I set up years ago – it has about £3.80 on it and has for about 4 or 5 years. I never have a call to use it

            If you live just outside London you normally buy a day Travelcard when you go into London as part of the train fare. So why would you ever use an Oyster Card.

            Just ordered my Key card so maybe things will change

          • Crassica

            But who is to know? I live in the middle of London and did not have a clue until an automated message on a bus started announcing the cashlessness of buses.

  • I-A

    It is ridiculous and very short-sighted on behalf of TFL to make buses cashless. Last Sunday evening where I live, none of the newsagent/top-up location were able to top-up my oyster card due one reason or the other. The bus driver would not allow me to tap nor give me a provisioning slip which I can later pay at the station. Even though you are allowed “one” journey, the bus driver would have none off it. I ended up being late and had to walk considerably just to finally find an top-up location.

    TFl have definitely got this wrong. They should have run an extended trial to see usage of cash on buses. Numerous people had advised TFL exactly on this particular issue in their consultation but a disconnected/adamant following is not helping London commuters.

    • Badbob

      I have to disagree. Since the buses have been cashless I have not seen anyone try to get on with an empty or non functioning Oyster and then try to pay with a £20 note. This generally ended up in an argument and then a Mexican stand off, with the passenger refusing to leave the bus and the driver refusing move.

    • Rob

      Couldn’t you have just tapped? It allows you to go negative automatically.

  • Bus driver

    Being a bus driver of a high tourist route passing through main attractions in London, a lot of oversea visitors are well prepared with their oyster than the odd Londoner. I thought it was going to be a stressful transition but it’s gone very smooth

    • Jon Millwood

      This is the situation I was expecting. We’ve visited Berlin, San Francisco and Los Angeles over the last few years and every time I researched their fare system and knew what I was doing before we arrived. In LA we found the station completely staff less but were able to buy a smartcard from a machine and add a 1 day Travelcard to it (our first journey was on the subway and I therefore had a ticket when we got on a bus later in the day) . I expect many tourists in London have similar experiences, their first journey is from Heathrow so the purchase an Oyster card and top it up or get a paper Travelcard.
      I expect most people who will have issues are those who live in England and haven’t been to London in a few years and don’t expect anything to change. But then all of the friends I have who visit (even once every 2 years) have Oyster cards.

      • Kay

        Wait, you used public transport in LA, the city of cars and show boating?! – WOAH, that alone warrants applause.

  • Gary Caruthers

    Personally had no issue. I have both Oyster and a contactless card which my bank sent me within 4 working days. Its easy and its convenient.

  • Natalie

    Landed at London City Airport just before 9pm last night with a friend from out of town. Wanted to buy an Oyster card for her so we could go on the DLR then change to a bus. The London City ticket office closes at 21:00 and there was a queue – so a staffer waved us away as “there is no way you would get served before the system goes down at 9pm”.
    No machines to sell you an Oyster card at LCY, and my friend doesn’t have a contactless debit/credit card. So we had to buy a ticket for the DLR and then walk as unable to buy a ticket to catch a bus.

    Totally understand stopping cash payments if one can always have the ability to purchase a non-cash ticket no matter what time of day or night – but I don’t support it at all if they’re taking away all means of us paying at 9pm!

    • Jon Millwood

      If you buy a travelcard it would cover bus and DLR and isn’t much more than cash fare on each mode alone would have cost.

      But yes I agree, the DLR needs machines to sell Oyster cards same as the Underground now has.

  • Kimon Frousios

    I think the principle of sorting out your fare before you get on the bus is great. But it was premature.

    For that to work you need the relevant infrastructure to allow people to easily pre-buy paper tickets wherever they happen to be. In Greece you buy them by the dozen in any tobacco shop and carry them in your wallet until you need one. And if you happen to run out you can ask another passenger for a spare and someone usually has one to give/sell to you. It’s been so for decades and everyone knows it and tourists manage to comply. But that is not the case in London.

    • Chloe

      We had paper tickets but there was a problem with forgeries.

    • HHGeek

      I loved our bus carnets, for the brief period that they existed. I’d stock up like a f*cker just before the prices went up in January. One year I managed to buy enough that it kept me going for about 18 months …

  • Youssef

    It seems that quite a few corner shops refuse to top up oysters late at night (I had to walk from Old Street to Stroud Green and none of the cornershops on my way were willing to top up my oyster. Some said the system “closes” at 1am, others mentioned security or something like that).
    Can’t they have Oyster machines on the outside of a tube station, so even when the tube is shut you can still top up?

  • Bob

    On the whole, cashless is fine but there should be some driver intelligence. Last week I broke my arm playing sport and although I had a £20 note, I was not allowed on the bus to the hospital. My girlfriend had her Oyster card but couldn’t pay for herself and me.

    • Jon Millwood

      How would you have got home from playing sport normally?

    • Crassica

      People should be allowed to pay for someone else’s fare using their Oyster card

  • Keri

    I thought TFL promised that if you didn’t have enough on your oyster and were not near a top op location you got a free ride to the nearest top up/tube location on the route. Although I have seen a few mum’s with prams left on the side of the road because they didn’t have enough on their oyster and didn’t have a contactless. I would have paid for them but don’t have a contactless card myself so stress every time I get on the bus that I have enough on my oyster to get me where I need to go… also when you question drivers on it they look like you have just spun your head around and puked pea soup like the girl from the exorcist, that said there are a couple of nice ones on my routes that have let people on for free if they are having card troubles.

  • Billy Nichols

    At main line stations within the oyster zone, one MUST be able to top up at the counter as they currently do not have this facility.

  • Kay

    Last two points are of utmost importance. Put a ticket machine on all bus stops, and those machines can give out Oytsters too, so that sorts the first time users issue. The bus drivers need to “get” that not every one in London has been here long enough to have seen the routemaster come and go, some people in the capital have literally just arrived, cut them some slack and be nice, it reflects badly on all of us. The idea of a pre-paid oyster should be an option, like a pre-paid metrocard in NYC. You can buy 5 or 10 pound oysters. When they’re used up you throw em away. They don’t have to be chip based, they can be a simple card with a bar on it, like the metrocard. But that would mean technology that doesnt exist so some will argue its going backwards.

    The problem is mostly in central London where tourists flock. Make it easier for them to get their hands on an oyster and top it up. That way a bus driver can just point to that shiny blue machine sitting outside the bus stop. TfL would never go for it though, it will cost them too much money.

    You can even install these Oyster vending machines in random places around the capital. Malls, areas of interest, outside theatres, etc. Make it easy to have an oyster, then your problem goes away…

    • Jon Millwood

      But if you have an Oyster vending machine then you are re-introducing cash payments, there used to be machines to pay cash fares at bus stops (pay before you board) but these were removed as it cost more to send someone to empty them than they got back in revenue from them.
      As a previous commenter said, maybe they could put machines on the outside of tube stations that work 24 hours a day. Or they could have a card only Oyster top up machine, maybe that attaches to a phone booth?

      • Kay

        My idea is to have vending machines all around the capital really, not just outside of bus stops. That way ‘Oytser’ becomes incredibly easy to attain. You will never be more than a walk away ideally in Central London. You should be able to top up on bus stops, you can do that by card if cash is an issue. Contactless is not the de fact standard for debit cards – and the whole you ride once for free even if you have no credit argument doesnt make things that much better, especially for those who might need to make a couple of bus journeys to get to their destination…

  • Zina Manda

    I bank with the co-operative bank based in Manchester. I have applied for two debit cards this year and neither card that they have issued is contact less. Why is this not standard issue in the UK. What century is my bank living in? I do have an Oyster card and keep it topped up but I would find it a real trial if I were a tourist. I keep two spare oysters for visitors from outside London

    • Kay

      As far as I know only Barclays are now issuing these as standard. I could be wrong. but I bank with several banks (Halifax, HSBC and RBS) – no have contactless as standard. Although I think HSBC will issue one if you ask for it.

      • Salli

        FirstDirect do contactless cards

  • Jane Heany

    There should be very visible machines at all points of entry to London alerting visitors to the necessity of getting an Oyster card and allowing them to buy one there and then. We also need machines at bus stops for top ups when people forget and also more information on the fact that you can top up at so many little shops too – perhaps give all little kiosks in the centre an automatic machine for tickets. It’s a good idea generally as it stops the holdups though.

  • random name

    Presumably having to purchase a fare from a non TFL outlet is a cost cutting exercise for TFL but an increase to the consumer as the shops wont be selling these things charitably out of the goodness in their heart. Pre-pay will make boarding quicker but was this a problem that needed to be sorted out? It creates a problem for people not in the oyster club – out of town visitors, tourists and the like. The non problem becomes a consumer problem and a cost saving to TFL but not the user. This, and Congestion charging puts me off travelling into town now from the suburbs – all getting to much of a pain.

    • HHGeek

      Surely most day visitors come in via train, and buy a travelcard anyway? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to drive in anyway – parking is (rightly) prohibitive, even before the congestion charge.

  • Jimbim

    It’s caught me out already. Not enough prepay left and there are no options to top up at 11.30 at night in a deserted part of streatham. Lots of people wanted to help but none of us thought of the option to use their contact less card. As it happens an inspector was also getting on and he was no help. When I asked what about the one bus ride without money he claimed to know nothing about it. Lots of passengers were chippingin and every one was really frustrated. In the end he asked the driver if he would take me fir free, (having checked how far I was going, not sure what difference that made) and the driver said he’d take me. When I looked later I was already 10p in debit, I suspect as I had travelled at evening peak . So a genuine mistake on my part but the fall back of being able to get to a ticket stop didn’t work. I don’t have a contact less card and don’t plan to get one.

  • Simon Cooper

    Put auto-top up on your Oyster.

    • HHGeek

      I don’t like auto top-up. What if someone nicks my card?

  • cassi

    There isn’t much of a point in all of this. Its not as if cash users were holding the bus up because you only got the occasional one. The only good thing about it is they now let you have one more journey – lets me know i need to top up without slowing me down.

  • Paul Corfield

    I’ve helped out one person who was going to be thrown off a bus for offering cash. I paid with my debit card. The only problem is that as no receipt is printed or even offered if I alight before the other passenger and an inspector then boards they’ll be penalty fared for being unable to present the bank card. TfL really should fine tune the system so that a receipt is printed on request where someone pays for someone else. On a similar theme being able to pay for more than one person with a bank card and being given a receipt for such multiple purchases would be nice “fine tunes” to the system. I recognise it may ever so slightly slow down boarding times but only on limited occasions and it’d still be faster than someone having a debate with the driver. Unfortunately TfL were not receptive to these ideas in their live tweet session last week.

    What is worrying are the reports here, in your survey and elsewhere with drivers and revenue staff not knowing how the system has changed, how to treat people consistently and making proper use of the unpaid fare notice process. This really, really needs to be sorted out and done quickly.

    The other interesting finding is the reluctance / inability for Ticket Stops to add value to Oyster Cards in the late evening. While the system does “call up” for the transaction data there’s no reason why this should render the Oyster sales point inoperative. If there are persistent retailing problems at Ticket Stops then that needs sorting out too.

  • Lixbeth

    So many confused tourists. And why have the ticket machines vanished? How do people who do not live near tube stations or shops doing Oyster card top-ups cope? There are not nearly enough places where Oyster cards can be topped-up in the centre of London, where the tourists hang out.

  • Paradise

    I think it’s outrageous that buses won’t take cash. There has been a couple of times now where my 14 yr old daughter has had to walk home in the evening because of this. Imagine what could of happened.

    • anonymous

      You and she will learn to be responsible eventually.

  • Kart Durai

    Having had an oyster for yrs, its better but still prefer the cash option if I’m out of credit

  • Andrew

    The inability to be able to top up anywhere late at night is a real problem. Retailers can’t add top up to your card and there are no ticket machines at stops.

  • nina

    What a terrible experience. I had my 84yr old father and 81yr old mother in a wheel chair. The tube station was closed due to maintenance so we went to get a bus. After waiting quite some time as the 1st bus was full we got the wheelchair on but were told they didn’t take fares on the bus and we would need to get an oyster card from the tube station. But the tube station is closed – answer was a shrug of the shoulders. There was nothing at the bus stop to give us any information at all and we ended up walking for another 20 minutes until we came to another closed tube station and a very nice man that told us where we needed to go. We got to our station and finally got home at 10,30pm. Such a lovely day out for the ‘olds’ to places they knew and topped off by visiting the poppies was marred because Boris Johnsons London had become the most unfriendly place for visitors. they want to visit the NHM soon so I will have to now spend ages making sure we don’t have the same problems again – such fun!

  • aj1985

    Travelled t London or a concert, put £10 on my card and same again on my partners. when we left to come home my partners card worked but mine said insufficient credit even though there was same amount on both cards and I had already used mine to do the same journey as my partners so we should both of had the same amount left….driver was very unhelpful fortunately a friendly passenger had a spare oyster card with some cash on. I was left feeing embarrassed though.
    didn’t enjoy the experience.

  • David Murphy

    It is illegal to accept money for any good or service and not be able to issue an immediate receipt either on paper or as a digital receipt that can be immediately accessed.
    If the display on the card reader is not working but it can still deduct money via the touch mechanism, this is illegal as well. As the amount charged must be legally displayed. As no paper ticket is issued the law is that a working display must show the amount charged or balance on the card.
    Therefore if the display isn’t working you should ride free or the bus should be withdrawn from service and made compliant with the law.
    TfL are fond of throwing the law ad nauseum at the public in the most objectionable way, as if everybody is a skiver at heart, so when IT is BREAKING THE LAW the public should make a stand! Call a cop and have it sorted on the spot!