Contactless On Public Transport: Some More Answers

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 49 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