If you’ve noticed people are increasingly tapping in on the London Underground with their phone or watch, you won’t be surprised to learn that than a third of contactless pay as you go journeys on the tube are now being paid for with a smartphone or smartwatch, according to new figures from Transport for London (TfL).

(c) TfL

Using contactless payment cards to automatically debit bank accounts for fares was launched in 2012, initially with a simple model on buses, but really took off with the formal launch in 2014 for the tube and trains. Part of the appeal, apart from not having to queue to buy a ticket is the daily and weekly capping, so people don’t accidentally spend a lot more than they expected, as there’s always an upper limit on how much journeys can cost.

Across London, contactless journeys now make up around 71% of all pay as you go journeys on buses, Tube and rail services in and around London, up from around 31% in 2016.

Along with people using bank cards to tap-in/out on the London Underground, the use of mobile devices to pay for tube tickets by adults has also surged in recent years, now reaching 35% of contactless payments, compared to 26% of ticket sales in 2019.

TfL’s latest figures show that in a four-week period from the end of July to late August 2022, around 485,000 journeys a day were being made on the Tube using a mobile device. This equates to around 35% of all contactless journeys or around 25% of Tube adult pay as you go journeys made. Prior to the pandemic (around the end of January 2020), there were around 400,000 contactless journeys a day being made using a mobile phone or smart watch – which was just 16% of all Adult pay as you go Tube journeys.

Pay as you go with mobile on the London Underground is now more popular than before the pandemic.

Despite the growth in contactless on the tube, thousands of paper tickets are still being sold every day in tube stations – for example, at King’s Cross station, around 1,000 paper ‘Day Travelcards’ are still being sold every day.

And that is despite contactless card payments being cheaper than using a paper ticket.

To encourage customers to switch away from paper tickets, Google Pay has recently begun a six month advertising campaign across five of London’s most high profile tube stations. Within these stations, customers will see signage prompting them to add a debit or credit card to Google Wallet. Once a card is added to the app, customers can skip the queue for ticket machines and simply pay contactless with Google Pay. Signage on ticket readers at Tube stations across the network has also been refreshed to better emphasise contactless options alongside the traditional Oyster card.

Google has also made improvements to its suite of apps to help provide better access to public transport information within London and let customers know that they could use Google Pay to travel on London’s public transport network, rather than queuing to buy a paper ticket.

(c) TfL

Andrew Anderson, Head of Customer Payments at TfL, said: “We are committed to making travel in London as easy as possible. Millions of journeys in and around London are now made using contactless every day – with close to half a million now made using mobile devices rather than a bank card. Working with Google Pay, we are helping promote the benefits of smart ticketing over queuing to purchase traditional paper tickets, making travel more convenient and accessible for all.”

The contactless system covers all tube, bus and tram services, as well as rail services as far as Gatwick Airport in the south, Luton Airport, Welwyn Garden City in the north and Reading, Marlow and Henley-on-Thames in the west.

Contactless payments will also be expanded outside London to the wider southeast of England under a scheme being funded by the Department for Transport. The first 53 stations should go live by the end of this year, with another 180 stations added by May 2024.


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  1. Keith says:

    The biggest problem with contactless on the underground at present is that it doesn’t take into account railcard discounts, especially Two Together. As a result it’s sometimes still cheaper to get a paper ticket rather than use contactless, especially if traveling as a couple/group.

    • Eam says:

      I agree Keith,I have a senior railcard and until they can incorporate that on my Debit card I will have to buy paper tickets.

  2. Gressy says:

    Tapping is not really the word Ian. You mean people standing in the gate waiting for their phone to wake up and their virtual cards to get charged, while the queue grows behind them. At which point they realise they need to press something on their phone to make it work, and the whole process starts again.

    I wonder why a virtual card on a phone is significantly slower to react at the gates than a plastic card.

    • ianVisits says:

      I use the tube a heck of a lot, and I have never noticed that problem when following someone tapping in with their smartphone. I am sure it happens occasionally, but if it was a routine problem, then they would have killed the service a long time ago.

      I wonder how many delays are caused by people fumbling for their wallet, for example?

    • Drew says:

      Not entirely true, Gressy. If you have Apple Pay (no idea about Android), you have the ‘Express Travel’ setting where you don’t need to authenticate or do anything other than hold your phone to the reader. It takes no time whatsoever, so there’s no notable difference.

  3. Mike Oxlong says:

    My watch with google pay sometimes takes 3 attempts to get to to work, I quite enjoy the so English “tut tutting” not the the “Hurry up grandad”. My bank card is instantaneous. I might go back to an Oyster card, as there are some TFL services that STILL only accept oyster for payment and I quite like the financial control that if lost it can’t be used for anything other than travel.

    • Nick says:

      My android phone is the same. Either it takes 3 goes, or it works automatically without even needing to be unlocked.

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    I do see people ‘tapping’ their phones but I don’t know if they need to unlock the phone, find the app, etc etc…. But as with paper tickets 35 years ago, I can get my card out and ready, ‘tap’ and go thru quicker than the gate can open so I’ll be sticking with the plastic I think.

  5. John Greg says:

    I am an adhoc leisure traveller into London. I still use a paper based day travelcard each time with a railcard. I live outside the TFL zones and am in SouthWestern train areas.

    I have previously considered Oyster/contactless/Smartcard options, but the above is still the easiest (1 ticket, on the day with discount, no need for another card once in tfl zones) from what i can see. I have briefly reviewed the Southwestern Smart card offering, but as it is not fully intergrated (yet?) with all TFL services, will be sticking with it for now.

    Unless I am missing anything obvious?

  6. Fred says:

    Simply asking, can one use the smartphone, for use on TFL, without having a contract with a telecommunications provider? I do not have a smartphone. I balk at paying £30 a month for a mobile contract just to tap-in.

    • ianVisits says:

      In that case, just use your contactless debit card.

    • Chiel says:

      To answer your question, yes, you can use at least Apple Pay without any communications to the outside world necessary. I don’t know about how Google’s system works, but with Apple iPhones it will work offline.

  7. Kai Chung says:

    The Achilles Heel of the contactless & smartphone method is that it fails to support Railcard Discount feature yet, which can mean a huge savings on daily tube fares. That is the last thing they need to fix before phasing out Oyster cards.

  8. Eam says:

    Agree 100% Kai.

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