On the 16th September 2014, Transport for London (TfL), the London authority in charge of the city’s public transport formally ushered in a new way of paying fares for its customers. This new paying method, which TfL has branded ‘contactless travel’ enables commuters with special credit or debit cards to use these cards to pay for their daily travel without having to buy tickets or top up an Oystercard, making it ideal for occasional users or tourists…or anyone unfortunately unable to access their usual means of fare payment (lost Oystercard/photocard, for example). Many banks and building societies in the UK now offer credit and debit cards with a distinctive ‘sound wave’ logo. Using radio waves, a scanner can pick up the signal from a card with this logo and deduct money from the customer’s account without the need to enter a PIN and with minimum hassle. The technology works on a similar principle to the longer-established Oystercard, a plastic card with an inbuilt chip that the customer can load up with credit or season tickets and simply place on the reader when passing through platform gates or boarding a bus. TfL have already enabled the technology for a while on their bus routes, but the 16th of September marked the day when contactless travel became widely available across London’s buses, tube, Overground, DLR trains, trams and National Rail trains.
Contactless payment cards are special cards that enable purchases up to a maximum of £20 per transaction without the customer needing to sign a receipt or enter a PIN code. Using a patented wireless technology, they enable seamless payment without fuss. The technology can be applied to all kinds of payment cards: debit, credit, charge or pre-paid.
For Londoners and tourists, contactless travel is very useful, provided their bank has issued them with a compatible card. Most banks are already offering the new cards as standard for recent customers and card renewals, so they will soon become widespread. The benefits of contactless travel include it being much cheaper than paying by cash. While you can still pay for many tickets on the London transport network with coins and notes, the city’s buses have stopped accepting cash fares since June 2014. Commuters do not have to carry around and top up an Oystercard, which is convenient for when in a hurry and they do not want to miss the next train or bus. This also saves on queuing time at ticket halls, which are soon to be earmarked for closure anyway as TfL makes rapid changes to its services in the near future. If a commuter uses the same contactless payment card for every journey they make, they can benefit from daily and weekly fare capping at the stated adult rate, making travel more flexible and convenient. Commuters who sign up for an online account with TfL have the added and secure advantage of being able to register their card and view up to a year’s worth of journey and payment history linked to that card on the TfL website whenever they feel like it. The technology is secure, meets the strict security standards demanded of TfL by the card payments industry and no TfL employee will have access to commuters’ purchasing history.
TfL customers who are unsure whether their card is a contactless one or not (UK bank customers only) should look at the front of their card, where their name, card number and account details can be found. If a symbol that resembles a Wi-Fi signal or sound waves is visible, then the card offers contactless payment. More information on contactless cards can be found by visiting the website of the UK Cards Association at theukcardsassociation.org.uk . Commuters who have only just received a contactless payment card in the post and have yet to start using it should first make a ‘Chip and PIN‘ payment elsewhere so the card can be activated for the transport network. Customers from outside the UK who want to take advantage of the TfL contactless travel programme are advised to visit this website instead before using their card to make sure it is compatible for using for payment whilst travelling. The website is by TfL and can be found at tfl.gov.uk/contactless-payment-card . Visitors and tourists should note that international transaction fees or other charges from their bank may apply when using their contactless card on the London transport network. Commuters concerned about the security of TfL’s new payment scheme can learn more about this at the following link – tfl.gov.uk/contactless .
When using your contactless payment card, you should treat it the same as an Oystercard and always remember to ‘touch in and touch out’. This means placing your card briefly on the provided reader at the station gates where you begin your journey and you must then repeat this with the same card at the gates of the station you exit from. For buses, you will only need to touch the card against the reader once. Be sure to keep different contactless cards and Oystercards separately as keeping them all in one wallet, purse or handbag could result in the payment reader deducting the fare from the wrong card, a situation referred to by TfL as ‘card clash’. Card clash can also occur if the reader detects several contactless cards and does not know which one to read. This can result in the ticket gates refusing to open, or a red light flashing on the side of the reader’s face. The presence of a flashing red light means that the card was not read and can result in the maximum fare being charged. More seriously, this could result in a Penalty Fare (or even two maximum fares from two different cards) being charged or, in the worst case scenario, prosecution, which will place the onus on the commuter to prove they had intended to pay the fare. Special plastic holders for Oystercards can easily be obtained from station and newsagents, and many companies across London give Oystercard holders out as free gifts.
Touching in and out applies even if you find the gate is wide open and you are able to walk unimpeded through it. Failing to touch the card readers at both ends of a journey could result in your card being charged the maximum fare, as TfL will not be able to determine when or where you started or ended your commute. In addition to the normal yellow-fronted readers, contactless commuters need to also be aware of the presence of pink coloured ones that they may need to use when changing trains. If you forget to touch in and out, not only will you be charged more than you should have been, but the extra charge will not count towards your daily or weekly fare cap.
If you touch in and out at the same station but without making a journey, for example if you change your mind and take an alternative route or form of transport, your card will still be charged but the fare will be refunded if it is the only time you do this within the last seven days. Any charges and repayments from TfL can be seen on the online account your card is registered with, if you have chosen to do so. If you forget to touch out at the end of your journey and are charged the maximum fare, you can apply for a refund online once a month.
Unlike Oystercards with PAYG credit, the fare for the journey will not show up on the reader’s LCD as you pass through. TfL do not allow this for contactless cards as they need to calculate the total cost of your travels for the day overnight and then be displayed on your online account on the following day. So if you travel on a Monday, you will not get the total breakdown of your journey times and fare until Tuesday. Commuters are encouraged to register their cards online because it means they can not only view their payment and travelling history, but also can request refunds and also receive email alerts if an issue develops with the card that could prevent the commuter from travelling.
As with Oystercards, the card will need to be presented if asked for by a revenue protection officer during ticket inspections. They will be carrying a handheld reader which will read your card as with TfL’s own travel cards.
If you have any questions or queries, you can get help from TfL’s customer service team via the following contacts:
- Online at tfl.gov.uk/contactless
- Tweet your query at @tflwaystopay
- Call Customer Services on 0343 222 1234
“Contactless travel” – Transport for London (leaflet hand distributed at Euston Square tube station in Euston, London)
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