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Ditching Oyster will save you money - London's new contactless payments explained

James Temperton
25 Jul 2014
London Underground
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After launching contactless on buses in 2012 the entire of London's transport network will soon get new high-tech system

Contactless payments are coming to the Tube, Overground, DLR and Trams, allowing people to pay for journeys by tapping in and out with their bank card or phone. The new contactless system will launch on 16 September with new daily and Monday to Sunday fare capping set to save Londoners big money. National Rail journeys will be included in the system but an agreement may not be ready for launch.

The introduction of the new system heralds the beginning of the end for the aging Oyster technology. The new contactless technology uses a 'back office' system as supposed to Oyster, where data is stored on the card. This new technology allows Transport for London (TfL) to launch new, cheaper fare deals and ensure that people never pay more than they should for journeys.

TfL has been using contactless payments on buses since 2012 and has been trialling its roll-out on all London transport since April 2014. Fares are charged directly to a bank account, with a new transit transaction system ensuring that payments are only taken once a day.

As well as using the daily price cap available on Oyster the new contactless system will include a new Monday to Sunday fare cap. This will ensure that people using pay as you go fares never spend more than the cost of a weekly travelcard no matter how many journeys they make. People who spend less than the cost of a weekly travelcard will be charged the lower amount.

In an example someone who uses contactless throughout the week to travel around Zone 1 and 2 and spends more than the value of a weekly travelcard will only pay the travelcard fare for that week. If during that week one journey is made to Zone 4 then the system will be able to realise that a Zone 1 and 2 travelcard is still cheaper and only add the Zone 4 journey as a one-off extension fare. All fares are calculated throughout the week, allowing the contactless system to constantly adapt and work out the cheapest fare for all journeys.

National Rail journeys might not be included when the system launches, with TfL unable to confirm that talks would be concluded in time. A spokesperson said that it was likely that National Rail journeys would be included at launch, but was unable to say for sure. National Rail journeys within Oyster fare zones will also be included in the new Monday to Sunday fare cap. Use of Oyster pay as you go on National Rail has proven hugely popular with around 650 million journeys made since it was introduced in 2010.

The new contactless system will work with all contactless debit and credit cards and also mobile phones. EE has announced that its Cash on Tap app can be used, allowing people with compatible phones to tap in and out using their handsets. Cash on Tap requires an app to be installed and works on popular phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (m7) and Sony Xperia Z2.

The launch of contactless payments across London's transport network is the beginning of the end for the old Oyster system. TfL is currently on phase two of its long-term plan to revamp payments on London transport with a new Oyster card due to launch sometime after 2016. TfL said that phase 3 of the plan will see monthly travelcards being added to the contactless system with a new high-tech Oyster card launching after, although no set date is available yet.

When it eventually launches the new Oyster card will use the same back-office technology being used by the contactless payment system, with no data being stored on the card itself. The new contactless payment system launches on 16 September. More details can be found on the TfL website.

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