/ Money, Technology

The Oyster card has a rival, but do we really want it?

Person using an Oyster card

The London Assembly is currently consulting on a new contactless payment system for public transport to rival the Oyster card system. The big question is: why? Is there something wrong with the current option?

The new system will be rolled out to buses initially. However, the plan is to have contactless payment terminals available on all of London’s public transport by the end of 2012.

While Oyster can only be used for transport, contactless cards are becoming more widespread and payment terminals have popped up across the country in a number of chain stores and fast food outlets.

So, instead of having to use two different cards, now all you need is your contactless-enabled credit or debit card and whenever you go through the ticket barrier your account will be debited. Plus, under these new plans, the cost of issuing cards and maintaining the contactless payment system is shifted towards the banks.

Contactless payment cards – taking us for a ride?

Previous conversations have shown that you have many concerns about contactless cards which only require a PIN after several transactions of up to £15 have been made. Alongside concerns about fraudsters spending at least some of your money without hindrance, some of you have also voiced practical concerns:

‘It stops you getting through the gates on the Underground if it’s in your wallet with your Oyster card. Now that doesn’t sound practical!’ Kire pointed out.

I’m one of those who isn’t too convinced of it, too. I’m quite happy using a separate card for transport. It gives me the ability to see what I spend and I don’t have to be concerned about accidentally slipping into my overdraft as Oyster isn’t linked to my bank account.

Plus, using contactless cards makes it harder to notice when you’ve been overcharged as this will only be visible on your statement. Imagine the nightmare of trying to get a refund possibly days or weeks later!

What choice do we have?

Our main concern here at Which? is that, in the long-term, Oyster could be replaced by this system altogether since the main argument seems to be that Oyster has become too expensive to operate.

This means that people who currently do not have a contactless card might be forced to get one. This doesn’t only reduce consumer choice but puts those who don’t have bank accounts or only a basic account at risk of having to buy expensive paper tickets.

We have been asked to provide evidence to the London Assembly regarding these plans. We want to know what you think of this so we can take as many comments as possible from you to be considered in the consultation – so, would you favour a system like this over Oyster cards?

Murk says:
24 August 2011

I don’t want contactless payment for most things, I really don’t. Transport is fine as you want to get through a barrier quick, but Starbucks? Newsagents? No.

I certainly don’t want more than one contactless card in the same wallet when either could be used for a given payment.

What I *really* want to see is oyster extending out onto the national train network, i.e. if getting a train to London, I should be able to use oyster all the way. Yes, South West trains, I’m looking at you.

Having just bought an Oyster for a trip to London, I was amazed how user friendly they were ,easy to use credit doesnt run out, a full refund anytime I want, daily costs capped to equivalent day pass and I can give my card to anyone I want to use.

I’ll be more worried about having to take my credit card out of a safe zipped pocket everytime I went through a barrier or on a crowded bus than my Oyster card.

I agree would like to see their use extended to all transport providers in the UK

Lola B. says:
26 August 2011

I am certainly concerned by these proposed / planned changes.
The oyster system is good insofar as it allows commuters to easily check in to tube / bus / rail /… services.
However there are a few major headaches already now:

*) It has been shown to be prone to overcharging ever since TfL introduced maximum journey fares for trips that were started or ended without checking in / out (cf. here: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23962797-eight-million-passengers-overcharged-on-oyster.do).
NB since Boris Johnson will raise penalty fares, this could also lead to more innocent victims of erroneous touch-in pads being fined higher amounts.

*) No alternative as paper tickets are so much more expensive. This is already a big problem for the less tech-savvy among us.

So if now Oyster card gets linked to your bank account, the above headaches will remain, but the following will be added (assuming Oyster card is abolished and no other same-price alternative is available):

*) direct link between card and bank account. Bank account security needs to be safeguarded by appropriate encryption software etc. As this is conceived by humans, other humans (hackers) will find ways to intercept the signal between card and bank account and hack into your account. VERY WORRYING!

*) TfL will then finally have forced all commuters to share their journey data with TfL. To have a private company know i) who you are, ii) at what times you usually travel from where to where is very worrying. Such data would be a huge advantage to an organised crime gang, so imagine if it gets into the wrong hands! So both security and privacy concerns here!


Chris Hansson says:
28 August 2011

Everyone here seems to be afraid of new approaches…

I would love to leave out my Oyster and just rely on _one_ card when traveling.

isiah says:
9 September 2011

why make such a big deal over this? japan has been doing it for over 6 years, and it works great there! saves so much time when buying simple groceries