You Can Now Use Apple Pay On The Tube

Geoff Marshall
By Geoff Marshall Last edited 29 months ago
You Can Now Use Apple Pay On The Tube
The system can also be used in selected shops.

You can now pay for Tube and bus journeys in London using an iPhone 6 (or Apple Watch, if you have one), as Apple Pay launches across the UK. The new service allows you to touch in and out so you can make contactless payments with your chosen gadget, though it is currently limited to selected banks. We gave it a try on the transport network to see whether it really lives up to the hype (we'll have a video later in the week for you too).

Firstly, then, you have to register your credit card on your phone, which you can do by scanning the card with your phone’s camera before manually confirming the three digit code on the back (Apple Watch users have to register the card separately). Interestingly, we registered a Santander debit card without a contactless symbol — a card that could not normally be used for contactless travel. So, there's a benefit there already.

When you touch the iPhone to the Oyster pad at the Tube's ticket barrier, you have to place a finger or thumb on the home button for the TouchID to confirm it's you. It then beeps you through the gate as normal, charging you the regular contactless amount.

With an Apple Watch you'll have to press the button on the side twice to enable ‘pay mode’. You can then touch it to the Oyster pad; the reading speed is the same as a regular contactless card. Regular commuters might have already noticed this takes a split-second longer than using an Oyster card.

Remember, you still have to touch out at the end to complete the contactless journey just as you would with a regular contactless card. And this threw up our first question — what if the device you tapped in with runs out of juice mid-journey? (Because everyone spends their travel time glued to their phones now, right?)

The people at @TFLWaystoPay advised us that yes, "You will not be able to touch out at the end of the journey and will be charged the maximum fare." But providing this doesn't happen more than once a month you'll be able to manually fix any journey you forgot to touch out via the contactless page on the TfL website. This page is really well designed, by the way — much better than the one for conventional Oyster.

"Surely you could just use the card instead," might be an obvious thought when faced with this problem. Well, not if you've come out without your card or, as in our case, your card is not contactless. Some have suggested there would be enough residual power in your phone for the NFC chip to work even if the battery appears to be dead.

For Apple Watch users, here’s another thought — the majority of people are right handed and therefore tend to wear their watch on their left wrist. But at station barriers, Oyster pads are on the right meaning there’ll be an awkward lean-over moment.

You should also be aware that if you have both a phone and a watch capable of making payments, the system treats each device separately, meaning if you tap in with one and out with another you'll be charged TWO maximum fares — the same as the dreaded card clash. Perhaps we should dub that potential problem 'Apple Clash'.

Oh and if an inspector comes along checking, you'll have to present your phone or watch in the same way that you present it at the barrier gate, so that they can check it. Expect to see more people touching watches and phones to Oyster pads on your travels.

And if you just don't have the right phone to join in, there's still a way you can pretend you have. If your smartphone has a case, simply tuck your Oyster card into the back of it then touch your phone to the Oyster pad, and it'll be read as normal. Then you'll be as cool as the rest of the kids.

Last Updated 18 December 2015


It would be interested doing a "speed test" of Oyster card in wallet vs iPhone vs Apple Watch. I don't have a newer iPhone or Apple Watch so am not sure how long it takes to activate the payment.

I used to use Oyster by just holding my wallet against the reader now with multiple contactless cards I need to flip the wallet open and use one side which has just one card in it. I've also noticed that contactless is a fraction of a second slower than Oyster.


... also Oystercard readers on buses are usually on the left so easier than the tube for a person wearing an Apple Watch on their left hand.


So normal people with oyster cards or "ordinary" contactless cards will be delayed by all the twats with expensive Apple gadgets?

christian senly

Great early feedback! Thanks really. I am truly excited to see how this experiment goes. NFC mobile phones have been discarded by transit agencies as too much of an issue for marginal benefits to the user, for the past 10 years. Apple adds extra precessing steps and time that are totally irrelevant to the transport risk model. The Apple embeded secure element add a new financial risk to the user (missed check out due to failed battery). The trans port agency (TfL) drops the 500ms constraint it had imposed on all other contactless solution... All of that non sense for what?! So that we can use our iphone6 instead of a plastic card when riding in London? That must create value I cannot see because there are many down sides to this...


Google Wallet has provided the functionality for this in the US for about three years - sadly it lacked the push that Apple had - and never launched in the UK. Was fun paying in stores with my phone though!


That "awkward lean-over moment" is something left-handed people contend with all the time! Right-handed people don't seem to realise the world is set up for them.

Continuing on the theme of Apple, there was that problem with the signal of the iPhone 4 if held in the left hand. It seems that designers forget that ~10% of the population are left-handed. At tube barriers, most left-handed people will pull their card out with their left-hand and therefore cross through the barriers with their arms... crossed.

So I'm pleased that for once, us lefties, most of whom wear our watches on the right, will find things have been made easier for us. Even if by accident.