On this day in 2012, a revolution began when London’s buses started accepting contactless payment for fares. A decade later, contactless payments make up over two-thirds of pay as you go fares on London’s buses, and over 2.5 billion journeys have been paid for this way.

On its first day, just 2,061 customers used this new fangled contactless payment option, but a year later, TfL was seeing around 33,000 bus journeys a day being made using a contactless payment card and five years later, around 900,000 bus journeys a day were being made using contactless payments.

Apart from providing an alternative payment method, the introduction of contactless payments was driven by problems faced by bus drivers. At the time, they still handled a lot of cash, with around 85,000 journeys each day paid with cash, and around 500 a day using a banknote the bus driver couldn’t give change for. They also had issues with a lot of people who tried to use an Oyster card but didn’t have enough credit on the card to pay for the bus fare. Switching to contactless meant people no longer had to lock cash away in their Oyster card and could keep it in their bank accounts.

TfL had experimented with contactless payments before the bus launch, with a Barclaycard trial that ran between 2007-10 tied to an existing Oyster card account. It was the ability developed on the back of that trial to link the contactless card directly to the bank account that enabled the launch of pure contactless card payments in 2012.

TfL designed and coded the contactless payment system in-house, at a cost of £11 million, after finding that the existing commercial solutions were inflexible or too focused on retail use rather than transport. TfL later licensed its technology to other cities, earning £15 million in fees.

The initial uptake of contactless was slower than expected though, with 6 million journeys by the end of 2013 being made using contactless payments, against an initial prediction of 25 million journeys. However, it took off in 2014 as it was expanded to trains and the introduction of daily and weekly caps reduced the need for Oyster cards.

Now, a decade after its introduction, around 70 per cent of all pay as you go journeys on buses are made using contactless payment cards or mobile devices – with the most popular bus route for contactless use being on Route 149 from London Bridge to Edmonton with around 100,000 contactless taps a week.

TfL’s development of contactless payments is also seen by many as the catalyst for contactless being adopted more generally by consumers across the world, as well as in the UK. The success of pay as you go with contactless in London has led to other cities across the world such as New York, Chicago and Sydney having now introduced contactless payment options for public transport based on London’s system.

Over the past decade, London has seen pay as you go journeys made using contactless cards or mobile devices from more than 180 countries across the world. The reason for the wide geographic use is that for visitors to London, they’re avoiding the need to queue up at ticket offices and buy a ticket or an Oyster Card, they just arrive and get on the bus or train.

This has meant that ticket offices reduced in use over time to the point that they effectively became redundant and were able to be closed with the staff moved to the ticket barrier area instead.

This is a lesson that’s been noted at other public transport organisations – put the simplified ticketing system in place and then you can close ticket offices. Until there’s a simple payment method though, you can’t close the ticket offices. TfL managed it the right way around.

Joanna Davidson, CEO of London TravelWatch, said: “We can barely remember a time when you couldn’t touch in with your bank card on a London bus. That shows just how transformational contactless has been for millions of Londoners – we think that anything that makes life easier for people to get around the capital is a real positive.”


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  1. NG says:

    UNTIL … you want:
    “Boundary Zone 6 to $_Destination”
    When, as far as I can see, the system falls down completely.
    { Please correct if now wrong? }

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      Just find the name of the station in Zone 6 and buy an e-ticket the ticket from there.

      Looking at my Tube Map, that:

      – Purley/East Croydon (Southern/Thameslink trips south)
      – Sutton (Southern)
      – West Drayton (Liz Line westwards)
      – West Ruislip (Chiltern)
      – Harrow-on-the-Hill (Chiltern)
      – Harrow & Wealdstone (Overground DC line)
      – Elstree & Borehamwood (Thameslink trips north)
      – New Barnet (Thameslink trips north)
      – Edmonton Green (Overground outside London)
      – Harold Wood (Liz Line eastwards)
      – Upminster (c2c)
      – Slade Green (Southeastern)
      – Orpington (Southeastern)
      – Beckenham Junction (Southeastern, Southern)

      You’ve ALWAYS need to be on train that stops at a boundary to use the “Boundary Zone 6” option.

      Give that if you don’t tap out at these station, you’re already charged the start station to Zone 6 boundary fare anyway, this is true of Oyster and Contactless.

      But the usual way to use this is having a pre-paid Travelcard, so that won’t do the minimum fare thing. Tap in at your start station and use the e-ticket to cover the Zone station to destination.

  2. Martin says:

    “However, it took off in 2014 as it was expanded to buses”. What does this mean? I thought it was introduced on buses in 2012.

  3. ben says:

    Now for TfL to just figure out a way to finally link railcards to contactless. If that’s at all even possible…

    • Eam says:

      It is about time TFL looked at linking railcards to contactless.

    • ianVisits says:

      Why do you think they haven’t looked at doing that?

    • GEFF says:

      I think that needs the Dept for transport lead (as mentioned in the other article about Tfl payment system re-tendering scope)

    • ChrisC says:

      It’s quite complex.

      I have a contactless bank card and also a network rail card that I paid £30 for.

      All well and good as long as I don’t lend my contactless to someone else for the weekend.

      That person would be gaining a cheaper fare that they are not entitled to.

      The contra case is someone with a young persons card allowing their older sister to use their contactless but the sister is older doesn’t qualify for a railcard.

      Add in the complications of a 2-4-1 card or a familiy & friends card and it’s even harder to code into the system.

      The reason why contatless works so well is that it is basically a simple system. And you mess with simple systems that work ar your peril.

  4. Rich says:

    I was delighted, and a little surprised, to be able to use contactless payment on public transport in Brno (CZ). Knowing you can do this as a tourist and not worry about getting the wrong ticket/ being fined/ overpaying is gold dust.

    Not so down the road in Bratislava (SK), feeding coins into a complicated machine, hoping I hadn’t accidentally bought a child ticket.

  5. GEFF says:

    The ticketing/payment arrangements in London have certainly been leading edge – perhaps because of the overarching Tfl management?. The international licencing has perhaps been easier because of the partnership with Cubic (which is about to be renegotiated as per your other recent article).

  6. MilesT says:


    Regarding your boundary Zone 6 approach; I don’t quite understand it the way you have written it.

    Lets take the scenario that you are not using a all zones or 1-6 zones travelcard, but perhaps have capped out for the day/week on an oyster or contactless. So you might want to a boundary fare as it should be better value per your advice (or maybe trying to split your payments to contribute towards a weekly cap)

    But I would have thought that you would be charged a maximum fare an uncompleted underground trip and that would cost more than a trip out to Zone 6 (there are a few cases where it is charged a lot more). I’m not sure if a maximum fare would still be charged even if you have capped, and I’m also not sure if a maximum fare counts towards caps.

    I had a quick look a the oysterfares.com site to see if it had an article on boundary fares to get another view on what you described (to validate your approach) but seems not.

  7. MilesT says:

    @Chris C What you describe is already a problem with the few railcards that can be linked to Oyster (Senior, Disabled, Vererans, Gold, Young persons, but not Network, Family, Two together). Ability to link railcards to contactless wouldn’t be different, although expands the population that could abuse.

    If you get an inspection, then the inspector could ask you to prove the contactless/oyster card (with an attached railcard) was yours by checking name, asking for ID. Not especially likely to be checked, and inspector would need to be extra vigilant, but could be caught (and banks take a dim view of using someone else’s payment card)

    Some options which might help progress towards railcard discounts in a contactless context
    1/ for Family railcard/two together: Allow TfL barrier staff to issue a paper day travelcards on demand to anyone who has these railcards and is travelling as the a qualifying group. (Have these beep the barriers the same way a child ticket does). Needs a solution for unstaffed stations (video camera in ticket machine to remotely trigger paper ticket issue, maybe).
    2/ For all the rest: I wonder if making railcards into contactless debit cards linkable to a “real” payment card would allow for safer discount triggering. Bit like the citymapper card or the curve card. The start of the card number (“bin range”) would allow TfL back end engine to correctly discount the zonal fare travel. Railcards that were debit cards would then also work on many provincial buses that take contactless, so railcard could set up a discount like PlusBus that works dynamically as well.

  8. Martin says:

    10 years later, in Paris RATP and SNCF still haven’t figured out how to make this work. The Pay-as-you-go option requires that one gets a specific type of card made that is linked to bank account (not credit card), a pay-as-you-go oyster card but with a photo (no explaining why the photo but whatever). In short they’ve tried to make this system but then applied all the old rules and now it’s just another layer of complexity.
    London’s implementation (10 years ago!) is a lesson in great design – stripping it down to the simplicity and making it “just work”.

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