Labour Says Oyster PAYG Users Pay More Than Contactless

By BethPH Last edited 42 months ago
Labour Says Oyster PAYG Users Pay More Than Contactless

touch inOyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) customers are charged up to £107 more per week than people using Contactless payment for travel in London, according to research from London Assembly Labour.

Labour say passengers using Oyster PAYG and Contactless are making the same journeys but where Contactless fares are capped weekly, Oysters are capped daily which means they're paying more. London Assembly Labour transport spokesperson Val Shawcross said:

“Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that Oyster would always be the cheapest way to travel but that simply isn’t true. There is now a worrying gap between the prices paid by Contactless passengers and those using Oyster.

“What we now know is that many people in London who regularly hit the Oyster daily fare cap are potentially paying far more than those using Contactless despite being told it was the cheapest way to travel."

Labour press release states:

A peak-time commuter who hits the daily cap travelling between zones 4 and 7 for example would pay £19.60 a day using Oyster. On Contactless this would only cost £29.40 for a whole week meaning savings of £107.80 over Oyster if they were to hit the daily cap for a whole week. For those only commuting Monday to Friday, the saving on Contactless would still be £68.60.

A zone 1-6 commuter who hits the peak-time daily cap would save £53.40 per week by switching from Oyster to Contactless.

Londonist's own tube travel expert Geoff Marshall gave BBC London an overview of the sums this morning and we think Labour's maths might be a bit flawed.

TfL's guide to fares says the daily peak Oyster fare is capped at £19.60, but if you're unlucky enough to work seven days a week you'd pay £11.60 at the weekend, so the weekly cost would actually be £121.20 (£19.60 x 5 and £11.60 x 2) rather than £137.20 (£19.60 x 7).

The weekly Contactless fare is £29.40 so this would mean the saving would be £91.80 rather than Labour's figure of £107.80. But we reckon you'd have to be making an awful lot of journeys in zone 4-7 for this to become a problem, so is this a good example?

Perhaps a slightly better one would be if every day from Monday to Thursday, you made several Contactless journeys within zone 1-3 which were capped at £10.60. The weekly cost would be £42.40, but a weekly zone 1-3 travelcard is £36.80. The same thing on Oyster PAYG would cost £42.40.

So by our calculations, if you're doing nothing more than a return journey to work, then you won't pay more to use Oyster PAYG. If you're doing a large number of journeys as part of your working day, we'd recommend checking TfL's fares to see if it's cheaper for you to use Contactless or PAYG.

See also:

Video: How To Avoid Swearing At The Phrase 'Card Clash'

Contactless Payment Hits Tube And Rail System

Contactless Payment: An Update From TfL

Contactless Payment on Public Transport: Some More Answers

Photo by Chris Ballard in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 06 November 2014


They left the country 1 trillion in debt and rising, yet are faffing over £100. And they then even got that wrong.

Are we surprised?


By extension of this argument, Oyster PAYG customers have been ripped off for years by those buying paper travelcard season tickets...

Agreed that in an ideal world OPAYG would also cap on a weekly basis - but then is it 'unfair' that it's not capping on a monthly basis? Annual? Season tickets have always been cheaper than OPAYG... Surely there are bigger issues to worry about?

If you're impacted by this - you could (gasp) buy a weekly ticket - or if your travel plans are too unpredictable, get a contactless card. Most people can get a contactless bank card free of charge - and if you can't get one (e.g. poor credit), then you can get a pre-paid one, e.g. from Orange (£5 to buy, with no load fees)


Oyster PAYG was always getting it wrong and eating more money than it should. Not worth any savings I made by travelling less.


Why does your new example of somebody travelling to work only include Monday to Thursday? If you included Friday as well then it would be £11 more expensive on Oyster PAYG than on Contactless - which is pretty significant.


Why on earth would you propose "Monday to Thursday"? That's a bit oddly specific isn't it? Most people work monday to friday or variations of 5 day weeks at the least.

Geoff Marshall

The Zone 4-7 example from Val Shawcross would also mean a LOT of travel back and forth in these zones to 'hit the cap'. Which is unlikely. It's more likely that someone (as part of their working day) may be running around the centre of town (Zones 1,2 & 3) going to various places, which is why I used the more realistic £10.60/day cap example.

Unless someone knows of someone who has a job that requires going back and forth between Wembley and Rickmansworth several times a day ...

Geoff Marshall

More thoughts!

To hit the Zone 4-7 cap in the example from the Labour press release, you'd have to make EIGHT journeys during Peak hours to hit the cap, another reason why I gave the Zone 1-3 / £10.60 example, because yesterday (and this is a real example of what I did yesterday!) I made one peak-hour tube journey [£3.20], one bus journey [£1.45], two off-peak tube journeys [£2.20 and £2.70], and then another bus journey at which point I hit the cap, and it only charged me £1.05

And that was all before 11am. I carried on making other journeys throughout the day ...

Michael Jennings

There is no big conspiracy here. The present Oyster system works using data stored on the card, both about your current balance and journey history. The cost of a journey is calculated immediately (and shown on the display of the reader when you touch in for a bus journey and when you touch out for a train or tube journey) and deducted from your balance. When you have reached your daily balance, the card reader looks at the data stored on the card in order to see your journey history for the day, and if your total journey history indicates that you have reached a cap, it doesn’t charge you any more. For this to work for a weekly cap, the whole week’s journey history would have to be stored on the card. For a monthly cap, the whole month’s would have to be stored on the card. The Oyster card is not designed to store this much data. (Yes, the data is uploaded from the card to TfL later, records are stored and adjustments can be made, but the basic principle of the system is that everything works with data stored on the card). This has always meant that using Oyster PAYG could be more expensive than adding a weekly, monthly, or yearly Travelcard or Bus Pass to your Oyster Card. It wasn’t a conspiracy though. It was just that the software wasn’t up to it.

This system could not be used for contactless, as there is no facility for TfL to store data on your credit card. Therefore, information about when and where you touch in and out is sent directly from the reader from TfL’s computers, and your journey history and the appropriate charges (including capping) are calculated from the data at the end of the day before you are charged. When this is done, your weekly (and monthly, and yearly) journey history is also on hand for the calculation, so these caps can be considered too. Therefore TfL have had to introduce entirely new back-end software in order to allow contactless to work.

The good news is that this new back-end software that has been written for contactless will also be rolled out for people using Oyster PAYG at some time in the near future. At that point weekly and longer capping will also apply for people using Oyster PAYG.


It's obvious that TfL wants CPC to replace oyster, just like oyster replaced cash fares on the bus.

Kenneth MacArthur

Don't understand this: "So by our calculations, if you’re doing nothing more than a return journey to work, then you won’t pay more to use Oyster PAYG."

In the immediately prior (zones 1-3) example, you would pay £42.80 on Oyster PAYG and £36.80 with contactless. That clearly means paying more with Oyster PAYG.