Do you ever come up with a great idea — some sort of world-changing invention you've thought up, out of the blue — then you search it online and... dammit, someone else got there first. They're making plenty of money off this game-changer, while you're... well, not. It seems that someone at genuinely useful transport app Citymapper had one such idea, except no-one told them that they were beaten to the punch.
Meet the Citymapper Pass... which is in no way at all like a bog standard TfL travelcard. OK that's a bit unfair. It's a subscription service for which you pay either £30 or £40 a week. For £30, users get unlimited use on London buses and the tube in zone 1 and 2. For £40, you get that, plus unlimited rides on Santander Cycles, and two journeys on Citymapper's cab-sharing scheme.
The £30 a week option sounds identical to a classic zone 1-2 travelcard, except it's more economical — the Citymapper Pass costs £5.10 less a week than TfL's zone 1-2 travelcard. If you buy it monthly, it's a less substantial saving of £4.80 a month (at £30 a week, the monthly cost averages out at £130 over a year, compared to TfL's £134.80 monthly travelcard). Regardless of how much it saves, it's unlikely that Londoners will be queuing up to ditch the ubiquitous Oyster card and replace it with some great unknown.
Considering the Citymapper Pass needs TfL's permission to work on the tube and bus, does that mean that TfL will take a loss on users? No way. It's Citymapper which is footing the bill here. Ticketing machines will view the Pass as a standard pay-as-you-go contactless payment method. So how does Citymapper expect to make a profit?
We suspect it might be hoping that people don't use the new Pass daily and therefore make less than £30 worth of journeys each week. Or Citymapper is hoping that the low price will lure plenty of users in and will then up the pricing later down the road. Both are risky.
Like many popular tech start-ups, Citymapper was born as a free model funded by venture capitalists and is now looking for ways to monetise. Who remembers the Citymapper nightbus? This is just the latest such iteration.
Then there's the £40 version of the Pass. The addition of Santander Cycles is possibly the best thing this card has going for it. That integration could genuinely be useful and cost-effective for certain people. Citymapper hints at wanting to add some of London's dockless bikes to the Pass later, but that might be a bit of a pipe-dream, as these haven't been particularly successful in the UK.
Finally there's the two trips in Citymapper's cab sharing service. This isn't the most popular of London's many cab-sharing options by a long shot, so we doubt anyone will subscribe to the Pass specifically for this benefit.
Are we being harsh when we belittle this as a copycat? Take this section of the press release which was sent out to announce the service:
Buying tickets for public transit fills everyone with anxiety. Every city has different schemes and complex options. Paper tickets, barcodes, topups and other cumbersome technologies are not consumer friendly. Ticketing machines are stressful. Queues for human vendors are inefficient. Pricing is complex. Even people that live in a city aren't sure how things work or how much they cost.*
The above lists the problems that Citymapper Pass aims to solve. And while those issues are very true of other cities, they're not of London. Thanks to contactless and Oyster, London's travel network is already quite integrated, and therein lies the inherent problem with Citymapper Pass. It wants to make transport payments more integrated but can only launch in a city which already has a high level of payment integration — hence it's launching in London.
A while back we asked just how long the Oyster card has left. We still believe that ultimately the card's days are numbered. We just don't think that the Citymapper Pass is going to be the thing that kills it off.
*That's them doing the emboldening by the way, not us.
Let us know what you make of the Citymapper Pass in the comments below.