Transport for London (TfL) has been forced to delay renewing the contract for its payment systems because the war in Ukraine is affecting a planned upgrade.

At the moment, the supply of Oyster and contactless payment systems is handled by a supply contract with Cubic. That contract was signed in 2014, and extended in 2017 to expire in 2025. As would be expected, TfL is currently in a process of inviting companies to bid to run the Revenue Collection Contract (RCC) when the current agreement expires. Ahead of that, TfL is also engaged in a project to replace older contactless payment readers that are installed on buses, as they’re reaching the end of their life, and that’s caused a problem.

Today, 75 per cent of TfL’s public transport revenue is collected from customers using pay as you go on either contactless or Oyster, and this figure is growing over time. This means that the card reader used by customers to record their journeys is a critical element. The card readers installed on buses need to be replaced because if the older readers break they can’t charge customers for their journey, which affects TfL’s revenues. So, a project to replace them, known as Proteus is underway and was expected to be completed by July 2025 in buses, with options for rail to follow.

The timing is the important part, as the plan was to upgrade all the buses with new contactless readers before the existing supply contract with Cubic expires, in case Cubic doesn’t win the replacement contract. Cubic supplied the original Oyster technology, but it’s bespoke and owned by Cubic, so any replacement payments supplier would likely prefer to move to contactless payments using bank cards or a proposed national rail card.

That possible switch over is why all TfL buses need to have modern contactless card readers installed, so that contract bidders can write their bid documents on the assumption that they can take over managing the payments and move away from Oyster as quickly as possible.

However, TfL says that over recent months, due to various factors — including component supply difficulties arising from the war in Ukraine — it has become apparent that the July 2025 date for upgrading all the buses is no longer achievable.

Therefore, TfL is extending its contract with Cubic by another year, to expire in July 2026, and delaying the start of the tender for a new Revenue Collection Contract, known within the industry as ‘Proteus’, until later in the autumn as well. TfL argues that the extension gives them more time to complete the bus card reader upgrade project, and also to work with potential bidders to increase the competitiveness of the bids for whoever takes over the contract in 2026.

Updated 16th June to amend a detail about Proteus.

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Article last updated: 16 June 2022 06:47

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13 comments
  1. JP says:

    I hereby risk both repeating myself and sounding like a broken record / old fart. Sobeit.

    Is there to be no option for those of us who appreciate the anonymity of your actual Oyster card come the day of TfL’s “exciting new upgrade to bank cards” or whatever adspeak they whitewash it with?

    Having failed to find out anything solid about this, I’m concerned for the international visitors as well as the spies/the off-gridders/the great unwashed like me.

    • Jon says:

      There is currently no plan to remove Oyster cards.

    • Simon says:

      @John That isn’t true. A while ago TfL told councillors in Epping Forest, during a transport Q&A, that the plan for contactless on the tube is to retire Oyster. Even Ian’s article suggests that.

  2. Herned says:

    JP

    Prepaid Visa/Mastercards are easy to obtain and can be about as anonymous as an Oyster card. The enormous majority of people who travel internationally will have a bank card

  3. Bob says:

    “The enormous majority of people who travel internationally will have a bank card” . . . possibly, but I believe there are places where contactless isn’t widespread. My partner still has a UK issued card that isn’t contactless.

    As for Oyster, I have a national railcard loaded onto mine, providing me with discounts on TFL fares. This doesn’t seem to be possible with contactless bank cards.

  4. DanK says:

    Until contactless cards can also have a season ticket which Oyster can do now I will have to keep my Oyster card. For sure Covid-19 has changed everything with working from home so TFL need to look at 2 or 3 days per week season tickets and possibly more options.

    • MilesT says:

      I suspect that season tickets will eventually be withdrawn, partly to increase revenue, partly to deal with the significant shift to work from home. As part of that, I would expect weekly capping will be extended to monthly capping, but not longer.

  5. JP says:

    Many thanks for your information chaps. Some scrap to hold onto if and when.
    I think that the mooted removal of the Oyster would be a retrograde step as successful commerce relies on as many ways to access and use a company’s products as possible.

  6. DC says:

    I don’t like travelling with my credit card or phone in hand. I prefer Oyster. I also want to put travel cards onto my Oyster. Also, when friends and family visit me, I simply give them my spare Oyster to get around.

    So if Oyster goes, I pray that something equivalent (to run alongside contactless) replaces it.

    Occasionally, I do use contactless in the form Samsung Pay. But Samsung Pay changes the 16-digit card number for transactions. I have a number that I think it uses, but for the life of me, I just can’t see and manage the transactions in my TfL account!

    • Herned says:

      Apple and Google pay both create new card numbers for every transaction. I would assume Samsung do the same thing. You put your real card number onto the TfL account and it will all link up

  7. Senior Citizen Bus Pass User says:

    Hope the new readers will read ITSO ENTC’s ( out of London Senior Citizens bus passes), as London Buses must be losing a fortune on these as I’ve never seen a Driver do anything manually on the machine!!

  8. Chris Rogers says:

    Agreed. Oyster is dead tech and a season ticket is just calculated by number of taps in etc

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