/ Money, Motoring, Technology

Are you ready for a cashless bus service?

London bendy bus

You’re already running late for work when the bus finally turns up later than it was due. The route is chock-a-block and then the person getting on in front of you fishes out the coppers to pay for their journey.

Sound familiar? Ok, so it’s a minor problem in the grand scheme of things, but this will soon be a complaint of the past in the capital.

From 6 July, all London buses will go completely cashless and passengers will only be able to ride using an Oyster, contactless payment card or certain prepaid tickets.

Transport for London says that removing cash fares will speed up boarding times and lead to faster journeys saying:

‘Customers will not only benefit from a quicker, cheaper and more convenient method of paying their bus fare; it will also enable us to save millions of pounds each year – which will be reinvested in further improvements to the capital’s transport network.’

London is your Oyster

It’s hard to imagine that the change will have a significant negative impact on the day-to-day life of commuters – Oyster cards are ubiquitous among the wallets and purses of the capital’s residents and, as the use of cash generally continues to dwindle, visitors and tourists will also be able to pay easily for their journeys with contactless cards.

Now it’s going to take a bit of adjusting – not everyone has a contactless payment card yet and visitors might not be as familiar with the Oyster scheme, and could face difficulties getting around the city.

Personally, the idea of a slicker, speedier bus network makes perfect sense and registering for auto Oyster top-up would ease those situations when you’re out of credit. Londoners, do you also welcome cash free buses?

And for those of you outside the capital, would you like to see the end of pounds and pence on transport in your region? Or do you find buses a convenient way to use up your loose change?


The principle is good – quick entry to the bus, drivers don’t have to keep cash or mess with change. However, if you don’t have a contactless card or an oyster – say a very occasional bus user or visitor – what do you do? if you plan ahead you can get a visitors card, or apply online for an oyster. But you preload it – so a way of getting money in advance (and substantial amounts) – and you have to apply for a refund when you’ve finished using it. Bit like gift vouchers – how many never get used?
I go on a seaside holiday and want to use a bus – cashless, no card? I’m a child – how do I deal with buses?
Is this another case where a system benefits the majority – and the operator – but a significant minority without internet, bank accounts, left card at home, minors….. are at a real disadvantage? Why can’t you, for example, buy pre-paid bus tickets from shops where you can use cash and get change as an alternative?
Perhaps you can???

Lisa says:
4 July 2014

This is absolutely incredible – a ‘world city’ – so many people and visitors who don’t speak English, so many emergencies, children, fleeing sex slaves, say, people with dementia attacks, women without their stolen purse, say, prisoners on day-release, now we are even unable to appeal to a stranger for a bus fare, say etc etc drunk girls who can’t get home, just any emergency —-

Richard P Beauchamp says:
5 July 2014

The scenarios described above are all delivered as well as all everyday use of public transport by redirecting resources from the tax payer to the bus companies directly rather than in subsidies, concessions and ticket purchase.

Just as the National Health Service is delivered.

No-one should have to carry a card, a ticket nor money to hop on and off local public transport. The first to protest at such an idea might be tax payers but they are usually also car drivers and have the most to gain from a bus service so improved that they will run a car for so much less time during their life that they will save hand over fist.
More buses, more frequently, on more routes over longer hours, shorter connection times, less noise, less pollution, less congestion and no need to build more car parks. The losers? Motor car manufacturers, but then there would be more buses to build!

Private Car use and ownership would become discretionary, just as private health care is already discretionary.

Within the last few years, San Francisco Bat Area (the land of five tram systems and buses everywhere) copied the Oyster. Previously, you either used a magnetic strip charge-up card (a different one was required on the whole-area BART underground) or bought a single-price paper ticket on board which was valid for any public transport except BART and the Tourist cable trams, and lasted 2 hours, for any and all journeys. Now – well, you know how Oyster works! No cash was a bit of a shock to me the first time I tried to board, but the cards are available in plenty of shops and at the deep underground station kiosks. It took me 10 minutes to get going. The difference at busy times compared with the old system was marked: the queue getting onto each bus or tram moved a whole lot faster.

London beginning to accept contactless debit cards is, I think, another good step forward. It opens up the options for visitors and only disadvantages the mentally challenged and the destitute – who would always have problems. Lisa’s people “who don’t speak English, so many emergencies, children, fleeing sex slaves, say, people with dementia attacks, women without their stolen purse, say, prisoners on day-release” are all catered for; I don’t need to go into the details. Just let it suffice to say that going cashless does not affect their problems.

Richard P Beauchamp says:
6 July 2014

Going “free” at tha point of use does address emergency scenarios!

Living in Cambridge and occasionally going up to London, we could see the benefit of having Oyster Cards – the fares were so much cheaper. Ditto the DART tag account for the Dartford crossing which is free to set up and only needs you to put £10 on the account. Topping up either Oyster or DART tag on-line is easy, and is a better investment that your savings account!
For first time buyers, it would be good for visitors to be able to buy locally an Oyster Card outside London.
Also for the DART Tag account (soon to be by ANPR rather than the tag in the vehicle) to be able to be used for all toll roads/ ferries/ congestion charge. Perhaps Which? will campaign?

Another reason NOT to go to London for a day out.

I currently drive from Surrey to Norfolk once a year thus using the crossing only two times a year. Cash is simple. Will I now have to load another plastic card with cash and link it to my car registration. What happens to the credit on the card? What if we take the wife’s car or a hire car if mine is off the road…

No problem, Astrolat! Ask your bank for a contactless debit card. I have had three come to me in the last two years with card renewal, and they’re handy in shops for small purchases.

Hi Astolat,

This morning we got a leaflet from the Highways Agency in with our Road Tax Renewal about the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing.

Here is the link:

A few bits from the leaflet:

There will be several ways to pay the charge, including online, by text, at selected retail outlets or by phone.

You can pay in advance of your journey or by midnight the following day.

You can save up to one-third on every crossing by setting up an account and keeping it topped up.

It will still be free to use the Crossing between 10pm and 6am.

Unlike at home in Norfolk where we cannot use our National Travel Concession cards before 09:30 [and where the bus timetables are based on the calendar rather than the clock], we are pleased that when we visit London we are able to use the cards on the buses without time restrictions, so cashless ticketing is not an issue for us. I expect nearly all London residents who use public transport have an Oyster card, but I can see that this could be a problem for occasional vistors who do not have any sort of bus card. There have been moves towards a cashless payment system for many years in London in order to speed up boarding and improve security. I had assumed that ticket machines I have seen in central London were still being provided at bus stops enabling people to buy a ticket in advance of boarding – perhaps this is limited to a few of the busier routes. We also have Oyster cards for use on our visits as they give easy access to the Underground, Overground and many National Rail services as well as the buses and trams. The auto-top-up facility on Oyster is very handy as well. Not so well-known is that it is possible to have the National Travel Concession card ‘loaded’ onto an Oyster card so that tube and rail journeys also attract the one-third discount.

Several metropolitan areas outside London are also progressing gradually towards cashless ticketing systems but I should be surprised if rural and coastal areas [except big towns] introduce cashless ticketingin the foreseeable future, although they seem to be developing various forms of multiple journey tickets and family tickets [with time and/or date restrictions] to make life easier for visitors and tourists. The biggest problem in such areas is the paucity of bus services and the lack of information without having to find it on-line [through Traveline or operator websites].

emgee says:
4 July 2014

Where is the facility to load national cards to Oyster advertised – or is it secreted away somewhere in the small print?

You can take your oyster card to any London Underground ticket office to register

A great idea; thanks, John, for the tip.

Correction: As pointed out further below by Mike D (Little Egret), it is the Senior Railcard, not the National Travel Concession [senior bus pass], that can be loaded onto the Oyster card. Sorry for the confusioncaused by my muddling up bus and train travel.

Senior bus pass holders can use London buses free of charge at any time of day and merely need to show the card to the driver on boarding. I am not sure whether the microchip in the new senior bus pass cards can yet be read by the Oyster card touch-in device but no doubt the driver will tell you if that is the way to do it. The senior bus pass is contactless on many buses in my area and merely has to be presented to the card reader [although many users assume you have to assault the machine with your fist in order to be allowed on the bus].

PGS says:
4 July 2014

I have a Freedom Pass, so on the face of it am not directly affected. But what happens if I’m unfortunate enough to lose it while I’m out, and there’s nowhere near where I can buy an Oyster Card? Presumably I’m stranded, and can’t get home. I put this point to Transport for London, and got an unsatisfactory reply. I posted it on their Facebook page, and got a reassuring number of “Likes” from people who felt the same way.

You’ll be able to use your contactless debit card, PGS.

john donaghy says:
7 July 2014

Do you work for TFL,Mr.Sinnotts?
You sure beat their drum,better then themselves!
Thought about being a drummer on July 12th?

Thanks for the vote of confidence, John. Like most union leaders and officials, I believe that public bodies are there, in essence, to serve the public – whether they do this well or not. Starting from the cynical position the such a body is a money-making venture aiming to cheat the customers of their rights and money is not really helpful and makes proper bargaining impossible. No throwbacks to the 60s situation of incompetent managers and aggressive, cheating workers, please! Yes, my union will be out on the 10th.

And just to be clear, I believe that London Transport (or TfL if you like) IS trying to do its best for passengers and staff. And the political leaders want that, too – it gets them votes.

Richard P Beauchamp says:
4 July 2014

We have a mixture of ideas about how to deal with traffic, congestion, parking and safe environment for shoppers. How much longer does the ultimate answer have to elude us?

The manner in which to address all these problems throughout the developed world is by redirecting resources from the tax payer to the bus companies directly rather than in subsidies, concessions and ticket purchase.
No-one should have to carry a card, a ticket nor money to hop on and off local public transport. The first to protest at such an idea might be tax payers but they are usually also car drivers and have the most to gain from a bus service so improved that they will run a car for so much less time during their life that they will save hand over fist.
More buses, more frequently, on more routes over longer hours, shorter connection times, less noise, less pollution, less congestion and no need to build more car parks. The losers? Motor car manufacturers, but then there would be more buses to build!

Private Car use and ownership would become discretionary, just as private health care is already discretionary.

Hygiene is a major advantage of cashless/contactless transactions.

Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” recounts how traders refused to handle cash and required customers to put coins into and take change from bowls of vinegar.

Next time you pick up a coin’ imagine the number of pockets it has nestled in alongside handkerchiefs. And speculate as to who might have touched the keypad you are using.

We should expect the next epidemic to prompt legislation requiring retail outlets (particularly those where food is handled) to offer all customers the contactless alternative.

Piranha Pete says:
4 July 2014

About time too. We just need to train up those who spend three minutes searching pockets and/or handbags for their Oyster card when they get to the front of the queue. As for losing your card, bus drivers do have promise to pay cards and as we are all honest citizens…………….

Ian Savell says:
4 July 2014

When Oyster first started I could leave the card in my wallet, but now my wallet also contains contactless credit cards I have to keep it separate, and so may forget which pocket it is in (or even leave it at home heaven forbid). If Oyster and the credit card issuers could agree on a contactless anti-collision protocol (Marconi developed one over 10 years ago), or my credit card issuer would give me a contact only card I could put Oyster back in my wallet and avoid those embarrassing moments at the gate.

pqb says:
6 July 2014

True, but in the meantime get a slim cardholder and keep the Oyster card in that. It can fit into a pocket, perhaps next to your wallet, where you can find it easily.

Your idea of a protocol for different types of card, so that you could hold all of them next to the reader and only the Oyster would register, is interesting. The problem might be very difficult to solve if you applied this to bank cash machines or retail payment terminals, as many people have more than one Visa or Debit card that might be used there.

An equitable way of solving the issue of occasional users is to have kiosks and newsagents sell temporary passes, which could be rechargeable, made of reinforced paper rather than plastic. Underground stations are equipped with machines to do this, and perhaps some bus stops too. Tourists need to find out a range of information, including how to use public transport. As long as there are many points of sale the problem is not too great, especially if information is clearly given at airports and mainline stations, for example. At the same time bus passengers could pay cash for an individual journey, but pay about twice as much as if they used the electronic card. Then very few people would choose the cash option, but no one need to stranded merely for lack of the card.

This system is in place in Porto, Portugal, and works quite efficiently. Residents can purchase the equivalent of an Oyster card, which acts as a monthly pass for the necessary zones.

Either we need to employ bus conductors again, or implement a system where this electronic approach can work efficiently.

Ian, there’s an interesting idea here: preventing radio-activated cards from being read! This came up when the contactless bank cards were first introduced: you need a Faraday Screen for each card, or maybe for all. To give you a bigger picture, think of the Faraday Screens used at home by people who are super-sensitive to EMR, especially microwave radiation. Like your microwave oven door (and at similar frequencies, so the same sizes) the screen is simply a steel plate or steel mesh with holes of just that size – go and look at your door! These people have the part of the house they want screened lined with such a mesh. For a bedroom, for example, it would be all six sides of the cuboid, with arrangements at the door and window for overlapping to allow opening. Rather costly to install, but simple in conception.

Now consider a wallet or credit card purse with such a screen as part of each appropriate panel, depending on the design. It’s arranged so that the wallet can fold out to allow one face of one card to be outside the screen, whichever you choose at the time. The others, safely in the mesh, will be unavailable to the reader. So to use the wallet, you flip out the correct card (maybe from a concertina or corner pivot arrangement) to be used, while the others remain secure. I’ve been waiting for a few years to see something like this come onto the market (there are already purse-style screens).

The same result of quicker boarding could be achieved by surcharging the passenger for payment in cash plus rounding the cost up to make change easy.
This would keep the cash option available for emergencies but reduce the num,ber using it dramatically.
Buying prepaid tickets in shops would be another option.

Although my visits to London are infrequent I find the Oyster card superb and wish they would role it out across all transport system.
The last thing I want though is another card system for elsewhere, the Oyster card works just expand it.

I share your views on extending the Oyster card to the rest of the country. The whole Oyster system is absolutely brilliant and its management and administration are excellent. Even overcharges or excess deductions are spotted by the system and refunds made at a station, and on a date, of your choice. The superb functionality of the system is a tribute to its designers and software developers, plus – presumably – the result of a massive investment in computing power. Unfortunately, few other transport smartcard systems come close. Currently, Oyster is not technically compatible with the national specification for smartcard travel systems [its probably far too superior] which inhibits its extension to other places. However, since Transport for London has funded the provision of Oyster card readers at all London rail stations in Zones 1-6 it has forced various moves towards compatibility with the national specification; so there is hope of a national scheme, in due course.

The problem with rolling Oyster out any further is that it works by deducting a maximum fare (typically £7.50 in the peak) when you enter the system and refunding the difference when you leave: the system doesn’t know where you are going when you enter it. To extend the system you’d either have to require people to keep a larger amount of credit on their cards, or allow them to run up an overdraft. I doubt either would be acceptable.

In reality the days of smartcard schemes like Oyster are numbered; contactless bank cards can already be used on the buses and will be extended to the trains and tubes in due course. The need to hold a deposit while you are in the system is largely removed and you can then build a national system.

Agree that contactless bank cards will have a big impact but they are not designed to track a journey or series of journey and work out the fares with discounts and caps which the Oyster card does.
No reason why the Oyster card cannot be used as a contactless charge card outside London where the journey cost is predetermined.

Kess says:
5 July 2014

That won’t work for those on some concessions. My concession is pre loaded onto my oyster. If I use the one contactless card I do (Barclays) have I won’t get the concession at all. TFL will have to change this, but the point is, everyone is assuming everyone will have a contactless card or will want one.
As it happens My Co-OP bank account doesn’t come with one.
TFL are also assuming people will have money in the bank. Many of us use small change to top up. I don’t always have the money in the bank to cover a non concession bus fare but I do in change.
Where I live, there are also only a few places that do oyster top ups. I do not live near a tube station (Though I can take a bus there)

Right, Kess: the contactless card is ‘full rate’ only; but then, so is cash! My Co-op contactless card is good for shops and the Post Office too, but they don’t give concessions either.

Everyone has to learn the best way for them to manage their Oyster to their own convenience and advantage, so I can’t see why detractors of the Oyster complain at every inconvenience. This is also true of cash and bank accounts. Got too little cash for a bus ride? Why didn’t you put more in your pocket before coming out, then!

Maybe we should all forget this electronic stuff and go back to the ‘proper ways’. We could revert to half-ounce copper groats and keep a hundred or so in a leather waist pouch. Then that grand old London institution, the cut-purse could find fresh work again. Much better policing work for the Peelers, then, than pounding laptop keyboards!

Ref David Innots blurb about copper groats, in Edward l’s time, a groat was silver and worth 4 pennies. Apparently you could buy a cow for that, so we go back to bargaining and see if the driver/conductor would be happy with a couple of ounces of steak?

I’m corrected! I wrote from memory, and was thinking of those huge early-19th century copper four penny coins (equal to a silver groat in value). People of the time complained about the weight of copper in the pocket, which is why the later bronze pennies were introduced. I don’t know for sure, but if pennies then weighed about an ounce (they did) then the copper ‘groat’ ought to be a quarter pound, and the biggest British coin ever! Maybe it would be easier to carry the cow!

Don Forder says:
5 July 2014

As an occasional traveller, I always try to check out how to use public transport wherever I go. However, in most places it is confusing. Where do you buy tickets? Can you pay on the bus? How far can you get for one prepaid ticket? etc.
The best system I have seen by far is that on the buses in Beijing. You just chuck a 1 Mao note into a large perspex box as you get on. Everyone can see you’ve paid. What is wrong with that?

On many occasions in Leeds, I have been told that the driver has no change. This is a laugh as you have to consult a mortgage advisor before getting a bus ticket here. You have to take an IOU to a kiosk in the City Centre for a refund of 20 or 30 p which is all there is left of a tenner after two people have got on a bus together.

So, if I go to London for a day, I have to buy an Oyster Card. Where does one find these? How much do they cost, and does the unused value reside for ever, or are they like the prepaid telephone cards where the value evaporates after some arbitrary time?

Give me the simple life with cash.

Some of the great features of the Oyster card are:
They can be bought online.
The credit never expires
They will refund any credit and the orig admin fee on request.
They can be topped up easily.
They are normally transferable i.e. can be lent to anyone to use.
As a visitor making a few trips during 1 day , your charges are capped at the cost of a “day ticket”.

Even this is behind the times.
I went to Sweden, arrived late and used 3 buses before going to an ATM for some Swedish Kroner. Each bus accepted a UK bank debit card. About time we had that in the UK as well.

Mike D (Little Egret) says:
5 July 2014

“Not so well-known is that it is possible to have the National Travel Concession card ‘loaded’ onto an Oyster card so that tube and rail journeys also attract the one-third discount.”

This may confuse, as the one-third indicates, it’s Senior etc Railcards that can be loaded on to an Oyster card. not the “National Travel Concession” Bus Pass.

And TfL is busy planning the close-down of all but 6 Underground ticket offices so finding somewhere to add the discount is going to be very hard.

Thanks Mike for pointing that out. My error; I have posted a corrective Reply under the offending comment.

Paul Lewis says:
5 July 2014

When you get an Oyster card, do you have to fill out a form giving your personal details, such as your name and address? If so, why?

No, you don’t for a basic pay as you go card. If you have auto top-up or a season ticket/travel card on it then you obviously have to register it, and you can in any case register it so it can be stopped if you lose it.

Yes as soon as possible

Please don’t complain about London Buses, where we live the last bus is at 5.30 pm. and there are no taxi companies. I would do anything not to turn out at 10pm to pick workers up 13 miles away.

Kess says:
5 July 2014

This is true. Londoners do have it rather good (I have lived outside or London many times) but then again being the Capital it’s a given. However just because transport is bad outside London shouldn’t mean Londoners have to put up with a dangerous or stupid system.

Tony says:
5 July 2014

What happens about using a concession card that is issued outside of the London area. ie pensioners travel card?

You show it to the driver, same as any other paper pass.

Why not have free travel for all on the London buses. This would result in a fatter population thus lowering life expectancies so that people wouldn’t develop life related diseases and also lowering pension costs. Having free travel would result in less low polluting cars making way for more diesel buses chucking out more filthy fumes, no more Chelsea Tractors clogging up the streets on school runs, less lawyers and accountants working out dodgy tax avoidance schemes so that mobile phone companies would have to put up their phone charges which would result in less one sided disjointed conservations. At one time we all knew who the nutters were, they were the ones waving their arms and shouting at nothing in particular, not any more! The list goes on, and on….
BLX to this, I’m off to the Admiral Benbow for a pint of Old Black Spot, aaargh.

Kess says:
5 July 2014

Auto top up doesn’t work with overground or bus when the amount is below £10 (ie you cannot have the top up waiting for you at those places if under a certain amount) I don’t live near a tube, I have to either get the overground or a bus to the next nearest tube station. A station I don’t use.
So you can’t use that to justify this terrible idea.

I’m not clear what you are saying here. My auto top-up threshold is £10, like I suspect most people’s. Once my balance has fallen below £10 another £20 is credited from my bank account. This works quite happily on bus or train as well as tube/overground.

All the objections revolve around contriving a situation where you can only use cash: your Oyster has no credit, you had the ‘one more ride’, you’ve no money in the bank and your credit card is maxed out and the shops are shut; but you fortunately find you have £2.40 in cash about you to get yourself out of whatever fix you find yourself in. But wicked TfL won’t take that
any more and it’s all their fault. The idea that people should take some responsibility for themselves no longer seems to cut much ice.

Many continental cities have had cashless buses for decades and everyone seems to cope admirably except, you begin to wonder, British tourists.

Max Wild says:
28 July 2014

This hits the nail on the head. A brilliantly concise response.
It is staggering that Greater Manchester is years behind in the development of an Oyster type card. Last year they promised a “Get me there” (http://www.getmethere.com/?utm_source=Pre-registered+database&utm_campaign=458f7a0863-E_news_to_pre_registered_list_21_nov_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_06c86a0c29-458f7a0863-82983021) that would be in use from the Spring 2014. The promise is now simply 2014.
If we were pioneers in this technology a delay could be excused but as that is not the case it is obvious that somebody has bungled the introduction – I wonder at what cost?

The only way this can work, without unfairly discriminating against non-residents including tourists, is to allow a payment method that is widely carried by non-residents, such as a contactless debit or credit card. Given that this is supported, I think it’s a good idea to get rid of cash which is costly and slow to process.

It seems to me that whilst the upsides feature prominently in the topic the downsides are given short shrift.

I am in favour of efficiency but I also want to know what contingency plans exist to cover any eventualities before I go ape on a suggestion. For instance I am about to top-up my Oyster card and my Bank’s network goes down. Lets call it Barclays as that is the most recent but not particularly large. What am I to do?

What are the knock-on effects of:
” Oyster online will be unavailable from 20:15 on Wednesday 9th July until 06:00 the following day due to essential maintenance work. We apologise for any……”

or at the time I am posting:
” Logging into your Oyster online account
We are aware that some customers are currently unable to access their Oyster online account. We are working to restore service as soon as possible. ”

I want to know what the parameters of the system are to deal with variables not just the upside. SO please give the whole information that I am sure Which? must be privy too in representing our interests. The quality of the discussion can then be based on more facts.