Later this month marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the Oyster card on London’s transport network, and Transport for London (TfL) has released a limited edition Oyster card to mark the occasion. The cards are now available from ticket machines in all London Underground stations in Zone 1, as well as at all Visitor Centres and selected Oyster Ticket Stops in central London.
It was on the 30th June 2003, that TfL introduced the notion of tapping in and tapping out – the Oyster Card had arrived.
Originally people would use paper tickets which were handed to an inspector as you leave a station, but the District line in the 1960s introduced the first magnetic-stripe tickets, and these were rolled out to the rest of the network in the 1970s, and ever since, travellers have become used to sliding a card ticket into a slot, hearing the whir of motors, and with a bit of luck, out popped the ticket and the barriers opened.
Now, we tap.
Although it was launched to the public in June 2003, TfL staff had been using it since the autumn 2002 to familiarise themselves with the card before the public started to use them. The Oyster card — at the time called Oystercard, all one word — was introduced for buses, tube and DLR on 30th June 2003, for monthly or annual travelcard users only who also had to go to www.www.oystercard.com to register their card.
Pay as you go fares were added in 2004.
It nearly wasn’t called the Oyster card though, as the original shortlist was Gem, Pulse or Oyster. We got Oyster.
There was a sense that people were being pushed to ditch the paper tickets though, with fares frozen for people using Oyster cards in the 2004 fares rise, but with fares rising for people buying paper tickets. That’s a pattern that remains today, with contactless and oyster fares being considerably cheaper than cash fares.
In 2005, daily fare capping was introduced, enabling customers to make as many journeys as they like without being charged more that the equivalent Day Travelcard. 2008 saw the Zip oyster card brand for concessionary travel for under 18s launched, and in 2010, pay as you go with Oyster was expanded to include all commuter rail services within Greater London. In 2021, weekly capping on Oyster for adult pay as you go customers was introduced, meaning that anyone travelling on Tube and rail services across London benefit from never needing to buy a weekly Travelcard again.
Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer at TfL, said: “We’re excited to be celebrating 20 years of the Oyster card as a world leading innovative way to travel. Customers have loved the convenience of pay as you go travel, and we are immensely proud to celebrate two decades of the Oyster card making travelling in London easier. It has cemented TfL’s reputation for being at the forefront of innovation and paved the way for the use of contactless payments on public transport – not only in London, but across the world.”
However, the Oyster card’s days are numbered. The technology is old and not going to be rolled out elsewhere, while contactless payments (developed largely by TfL) are now a viable replacement for most people.
So happy 20th birthday to the Oyster card — will you still be around for your 25th birthday?
The Oyster card timeline
|30 June 2003||Oyster pay as you go introduced onto TfL services (buses, London Underground and DLR)|
|27 February 2005||Daily capping on Oyster introduced|
|11 November 2007||London Overground launched, bringing Oyster pay as you go to TfL rail services|
|7 January 2008||Zip card brand launched for under 18s concessionary travel on TfL services|
|2 January 2010||Oyster Pay as you go extended to cover National Rail services in London and to certain stations outside London (i.e. Chafford Hundred, Grays, Ockendon, Purfleet )|
|18 May 2012||Oyster online accounts introduced|
|28 June 2012||London’s Cable Car opens, offering pay as you go with Oyster|
|13 December 2012||Contactless payments introduced onto London buses|
|2 January 2013||Pay as you go introduced on Greater Anglia services to Broxbourne and Shenfield|
|6 July 2014||Cash payments removed from London buses|
|16 September 2014||Contactless payments extended to cover Tube, London Overground and National Rail services. (Monday to Sunday) Weekly capping also introduced on Contactless|
|31 July 2015||Pay as you go with contactless and Oyster introduced onto high speed services between St Pancras and Stratford International|
|22 September 2015||Oyster Pay as you go extended to cover Thames Clipper River services|
|19 Oct 2015||Pay as you go and introduced on services to Hertford East|
|11 January 2016||Pay as you go introduced onto rail services to Gatwick Airport|
|12 September 2016||Hopper fare introduced onto buses and trams in London allowing two journeys for the price of one within an hour using contactless and Oyster|
|31 January 2018||Hopper fare extended to allow unlimited bus and tram journeys within an hour|
|20 May 2018||Pay as you go with contactless and Oyster extended to Heathrow airport on TfL Rail services (now the Elizabeth line)|
|10 December 2018||Weekly capping for bus and tram customers only launched on Oyster card|
|02 September 2021||Weekly capping on Tube and rail services extended from contactless only to include Oyster cards|