Contactless On Public Transport: Some More Answers

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 45 months ago
Contactless On Public Transport: Some More Answers

Photo by M@

Following our recent updates from Transport for London about how contactless cards are going to work on the transport network, and how you're finding cashless buses, we had some more questions about contactless that we realised hadn't been answered so far. We got back in touch with TfL and can now shed a bit more light on the new payment system.

Travelling With No Money in Your Account

As explained previously, the TfL system will apply a charge of £0.00 to your card when you first tap in and work out how much to charge overnight. So is it possible to travel without any money in your account? The short answer is: yes. The longer answer is that you won't be able to make any more journeys using that card until the 'debt' is paid. Also beware of bank charges if you're going over your authorised credit limit.

Revenue Inspection

With a £0.00 charge going on to your card and no receipt given, how are revenue inspectors going to tell if you've paid? (At the moment, on buses, inspectors get a print out of the last four digits of the cards that have been used to pay. We had visions of inspectors grappling with lists of 90 or so cards used over a bus journey, trying to work out whose card is whose.) Instead, TfL is starting to issue inspectors with portable card readers which will be able to read the card's recent journey history.

If you haven't touched in, you'll be charged the usual penalty fare (currently £80, reduced to £40 if you pay within 21 days) — though the inspector does have the flexibility to review your history and not give you a penalty if you don't look like you repeatedly take the piss. The system will charge you the maximum fare though. We also wondered about what happens if your card isn't showing a fare because of accidental card clash; in that situation, you'll need to appeal. [We updated this paragraph on 13 August for clarity.]

Reader Paul Corfield made a good point on our cashless buses article: quite a few of us are paying for friends or even strangers with our contactless cards. But of course, if you get off before the person you've paid for, you're leaving them at risk of a penalty fare because there's no receipt or ticket to hand over. It's the same with Oyster, but for most of us our contactless is the 'back up' — that's what we have spare rather than an extra Oyster card.

Tapping In and Out

If you forget to tap in or out with your contactless card you'll get the same maximum fare as you would with Oyster. However, since the day's fares are calculated overnight, the system should be able to apply its automated 'common sense' at the same time — where it knows you haven't tapped in or out but thinks it knows where you were going — so it should be able to work out your refund before you get charged. If that makes sense.

Time Limit

Did you know there's a time limit on your Oyster journey? Depending on how many zones you travel through, you have between 70 minutes and over five hours to make your journey (this last applies to travel through over 20 zones on a Sunday or a bank holiday. Sounds like a new tube challenge to us). Go over that limit and you'll be charged the maximum fare. There will also be a limit applied to contactless journeys.

When is Weekly Capping Coming to Oyster?

TfL says:

"We are looking at introducing this as soon as the current Oyster technology can be updated. This is a complex process as it requires changes not only to the card readers but also to our back office and retailing systems. We need to ensure that the solution we identify provides a smooth and painless transition for customers. In the meantime customers can purchase a weekly travelcard on their Oyster which will ensure they receive the same fare benefits."

Last Updated 12 August 2014

Paul Corfield

Hmm interesting. So if TfL don't get paid by your bank they're going to stick your bank card number on a card hotlist and send that round to all card readers on the transport network. I can see why that would be necessary for lost and stolen or fraudulent bank cards but you could be left stranded because of a problem with your bank account. As we know not every failure to pay results from a customer mistake - bank systems often go wrong or get delayed. I assume there will be some sort of rigmarole involved in getting your bank card off any hotlist - is that process with TfL, your bank or both?

Thanks for filling in a bit of a knowledge gap. If I'm understanding correctly then something is actually written to the chip on the bank card which then allows a read by a revenue inspector to verify you're travelling "properly". That solves a riddle about revenue inspection capability.

I thought the new system also highlights any incomplete journeys on a TfL website / your TfL account so you can complete or correct any missing journey info. TfL can then correctly process the charges and refund any overpayment resulting from the levying of a maximum fare. The Oyster Account webpage has been modified to provide a link to a new web page so you can register a contactless payment card. Once done I believe that will then give you access to all your journeys made with the payment card.

One of the reasons people can exceed the max journey time limit is if journeys get linked across Out of Station interchanges (OSI). Even if you break your journey between journey legs it can still happen. Having read CPC trial feedback it seems the TfL "magic box" can spot these and separate them out into two journey legs thus avoiding the max fare charge. This tends to happen if people made a circular trip from A to B to A but use a different mode back from B. An example would be Canning Town to Canary Wharf - out on the Jubilee Line but back by DLR. There is an OSI at Canary Wharf between LU and DLR and the system currently joins trips together *if* you re-enter at the DLR side within the interchange time limit. The Oyster Rail website has another example of this sort of thing happen and shows what happened during the CPC trial with auto correct.

Massimo Alessio Zeppetelli

Really great research. Well done Rachel


Still unclear now that I am unemployed, how to work out the best way of paying and using the tube now I am no longer a regular commuter. Anyone any ideas?