Over 230 mainline rail stations around London are to be brought into Transport for London’s contactless payments system over the next couple of years, under an agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT).

Following an initial consultation back in 2019, a year ago, the DfT decided that around 233 stations would be upgraded to accept contactless payments to allow customers to travel to/from London using a single tap in/tap out with their bank card, and put out a tender to suppliers. The upgrade is part of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail that aims to make it simpler to catch a train without the hassles of selecting which sort of ticket a person should buy in advance in order to avoid paying more than they should.

The map below was the suggested coverage expansion in the 2019 consultation, although the consultation also includes options to expand further to Brighton, Oxford and Milton Keynes. As it’s the consultation map, it may not match the final rollout plans.

Proposed PAYG expansion in 2019

As TfL already runs a large contactless payments system that offers what the DfT is looking for, it’s understandable that TfL won the contract. Although TfL is carrying out the work, the project’s roughly £68 million cost is being fully covered by the DfT at no cost to TfL, who will be subcontracting the provision of in-station validation equipment to Cubic Transportation Systems, who already provide the same kit to TfL.

The list of stations being included in the southeast of England rollout will be announced by the DfT in the next few months, but due to the scale of the work, the expansion of contactless payments has already been decided to be split into two phases:

  • Phase 1 – Contactless payments in 53 stations  – majority due by the end of 2022.
  • Phase 2 – Contactless payments in 180 stations – majority due by May 2024.

The decision about which stations are in phase one or phase two will be mainly down to which are easier to deliver to, such as stations that already have validation equipment in them and the existing fares structure, and discussions with the train companies involved.

There are also two phases to the payment options being rolled out:

  • Phase 1 – Full-fare, Adult PAYG travel using contactless payment cards and mobile devices across the South East, fully integrated with TfL’s existing scheme.
  • Phase 2 – Enable discounted PAYG travel for National Rail concessionary customers.

Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer at TfL said: “Our pay as you go with contactless system has helped revolutionise the ability to pay for travel, and is now used in a number of cities across the world. We have recently been selected as the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) preferred partner to deliver an initiative to expand pay as you go on rail services across the South East. This will both help rail customers outside London travel more flexibly and conveniently, and support the wider economic recovery of the South East through easier access to rail travel. We are now working closely with the DfT on an implementation plan and hope to provide further details in due course.”

The expansion work with the DfT follows on from the recent expansion of pay as you go with contactless to GWR branch line services to Henley on Thames, Windsor and Eton Central and, from later this month, to Bourne End and Marlow.

Due to the older technology used, the expansion will not include Oyster cards, just the newer bank card-based contactless payments. That mirrors the way the Elizabeth line was extended to Reading, with Oyster only working as far as the edge of Zone 6, after which only bank card contactless will work.

The original consultation also suggested that in some cases, contactless payments could also extend to local transport services such as buses, although this is not a major focus of the programme at the moment.

Similar schemes are also being rolled on South Western Railway and Transport for the North.

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40 comments
  1. Daniel says:

    Any plans for Oyster to be upgraded so it can be used outside it’s currently limited area?

    • Jon says:

      I would doubt they will extend Oyster. Contactless bank cards have basically replaced it now.

    • Colin Newman says:

      Oyster is basically an obsolescent, proprietary system. Contactless is seen as the way forward. I’m wondering how 60+ and Freedom passes can migrate from Oyster – it must surely be an objective.

    • James says:

      I wouldn’t mind moving onto contactless, but as far as I’m aware, it’s still not possible to link a Network Railcard to contactless the same way you can with an Oystercard, which makes a sizeable difference to cost for me.

    • MilesT says:

      Technically not possible to extend current Oyster without replacing all the cards. Cards limited to 15 zonal validities in the chip on each card, already at limit with current zones including the odd branch extensions which are outside zone but need to be mapped to a hidden zone for oyster to work.

      The replacement for oyster will need to be a locked down contactless payment card (a bit like the citymapper card). This would be more expensive to operate than current oyster at least initially, and card would need to be operated via a card scheme (e.g. MasterCard, like citymapper), or a new compatible scheme set up. A sort of relevant card scheme that could be used is UATP, which is a rarer air travel dedicated payment card scheme but is compatible with payment software.

  2. Ariel says:

    I think it is a great idea. Even better would be if they made one card that would be for all public transportation in the UK.

    • Colin Newman says:

      ITSO smart cards surely go some way to achieving that, but contactless is pay as you go – replacing walk up fares.

      Being able to replace (cheaper) fares paid well in advance with a one card for everything equivalent is trickier. The options already available for such tickets (not everywhere) include:

      Put it on your ITSO smart card, store it in your phone (by means of an app) or be e-mailed a ticket with a QR code (which can be printed at home).

  3. Keith says:

    Would be nice if they found a way to integrate Two Together Railcard discounts into contactless payments. At present it’s the main reason I often end up buying paper tickets when travelling. Maybe it could be achieved by linking multiple contactless cards in TFL’s Oyster/Contactless site, and detecting when two are used for the same stations.

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      I guess it would be possible to link a specific bank card to a specific rail discount card so you travel at the right fare without having to do anything other than tap in when you travel.

      There’s no real reason why this wouldn’t work for anyone who can legally carry a contactless card.

      I would think you would need to log into the online system and link a card in there. Perhaps it might be best to allow you to do it anytime afterwards (for up to a year) so you can get the right discount.

    • Ben says:

      This is essentially what EMV Model 3 was designed to do. You link a card to an online account and then can pre-purchase season tickets, receive discounts, free travel etc.

      We seem to have got to Model 2 (which is what TfL have), but not made any further progress. If you Google for “Contactless Transit EMV Framework” then there is a paper from UK Finance and various transport operators that outlines the models.

    • MilesT says:

      I wonder if that is what they mean by concessionary discounts as Phase 2. (and I have the same need, also for Network railcard. Unclear whether operator specific cards like Greater Anglia Club 50 would be in scope–that discount has better T&C for some journeys than Network card, also for longer journeys on GA)

    • MilesT says:

      Does EMV Model 3 work with Apple Pay NFC contactless (which obfuscates the processing token, making linking challenging unless the discount can be registered in Apple Pay)

  4. Rob says:

    How this will work with Oyster travelcards? Can you avoid tapping out/in at the last stop in zone 6 or pay for part of a journey you already paid for?

  5. Clang hunt says:

    It will get tricky with the outside of London tickets e.g how will the system know to apply a 1 day London travel card rather than a return ticket and multiple singles on the tube. Hope they have the technology sorted but for now I’ll stick to paper, less to go wrong.
    Tbh its only people who have a low IQ that struggle with a ticket machine or booking in advance.

    However saying that with off peak travel, they should do away with advance fare discounts and just lower the overall price. You shouldn’t be penalised for needing to change plans and catch a train you didn’t think about on the day, it’s the reason so many people still drive.

    • Rob Simpson says:

      Southeastern have a smart card which doesnt work on their own interchange at Stratford International when buying a station to station season ticket. The advice I got from the station staff was “buy a paper ticket ” it’s easier to see. I’m not holding my breath on this one .

    • Si says:

      What you are talking about is capping, which Oyster has done for years, and contactless has a more advanced version of.

      It will charge you the cheapest arrangement it can for your day’s journeys after you’ve made them.

    • SteveP says:

      You are aware almost half the population has below-average IQ?

  6. JP says:

    Yes, of course, but can I raise the spector of all these lovely bank details being in one place tempting your average hacker on the street to have a go at beating TfL’s eventually fallible data protection?
    I know that I’m probably fighting a losing battle, but at least with the apparently doomed Oyster card system, there’s only the balance on the card at risk.

    • Paul says:

      TfL will be fully PCI DSS compliant. There’s no reason to think that TfL is any more at risk of hacking than anywhere else.
      I’d be more worried about a card skimmer at your local petrol station.

  7. Nick says:

    Why is no one talking about cost ? How will it affect that ?

    • Paul says:

      Cost of what? Running the system? Buying a ticket?

      I think there’s reason to believe that PAYG will be attractive and competitive for shorter journeys, but advance purchase tickets will always be cheaper for longer journeys, even where PAYG is an option.

  8. Steven says:

    Railway operator provide staff 70% concessions on rail travel alongside a tfl staff pass , I’m tfl staff with no rail concessions. Will there be any proposals put forward for this to be an option.

  9. Infidellic says:

    Long overdue getting it out to Stansted and Luton airports for those visiting our corner of the world. You only need to briefly read the travel forums to see the confusion the current separation of systems causes tourists who land at one of these. So long as price capping is implemented (I don’t see why not) and it’s made clear at these clear stations that group tickets might save them money then let’s get on it.

    • Richardr says:

      It works to Luton Airport today – contactless via this system works at all Thameslink stations between there and I believe Gatwick, and is fully linked in to the system around London.

  10. Mike Oxlong says:

    Clang Hunt said
    >Tbh its only people who have a low IQ that struggle with a ticket machine

    So are all people with disabilities of low IQ?
    Contactless has been a great life changer for many.

    I quite like e-tickets that are just a QR-code on my phone although it does seem a bit open to fraud.

  11. John Watkins says:

    Child Oyster (and I presume other concessions) can store value, which is extremely useful for rail journeys as most children do not have bank contactless cards. These solutions really ought to either consider rolling Oyster beyond TfL (unlikely) or replacing Oyster with a national equivalent (ITSO?).

    I assume the cards introduced by Southern, SouthEastern etc are only usable on their own services?

    • Mike Isaacs says:

      Southeastern Smart card is ITSO.
      Southwestern Touch card is ITSO.
      All rail company contactless are ITSO.

      The theory is they are a replacement for the orange magnetic stripe paper ticket.

      You can load “any” ticket to them.
      They can be read with NFC, even on a phone.

      I load an Anytime Return ticket with a Railcard discount onto it at home via NFC that I purchase from southeastern app, and use it to open the ticket gates in Kent, London Terminal and Surrey.

    • John Watkins says:

      Unless I’m missing something, ITSO cards (as implemented by individual companies?) don’t offer stored value to allow PAYG. This is what Oyster (and bank contactless cards) offers.

  12. Alex says:

    My concern is how does contactless avoid pulling up a random requirement of pin-entry on these barriers, where there is no chip and pin reader?

    Going outside the oyster area, what back-ups would there be, aside from more expensive paper tickets?

    • ianVisits says:

      That hasn’t been a problem so far with contactless payment working in London since 2014, so why do you think it would be a problem now?

    • Dominic says:

      There is likely a special mode that enables transport readers to not require the extra authentication.

      Same with device payment, many offer a transport card feature which allows you to use without your pin or biometrics.

  13. Alex says:

    That’s fair, when contactless was being rolled out on the buses in Leeds, I had too many instances of my card declining when it had more than enough balance.

    Granted, the system might be much smarter than I’m giving it credit for, but would rather Oyster be kept as a dedicated option.

    • Paul says:

      I’d say @Alex that there are issues with the implementation of contactless payments in Leeds; this is simply not a problem in London.

      One of the key differences with most provincial transport contactless implementations I have experienced is that in these cases the Bus driver has a regular card payment machine and is simply selling you a one-off ticket using a card payment.

      This is not how TfL’s contactless implementation works; when you touch in with a card or device for a TfL service, that validated method of payment becomes your ticket, and all journeys you make using it are accrued until early the next morning when your card is charged for the day’s travel. If at that point your card is declined, TfL will block it from making further journeys until they’ve recovered what you owe. At no point is a PIN required.

  14. rj brown says:

    what id like to see is any contact less card be able to multi pay at least up to 4 people at a time

    • Paul says:

      If 3 of the 4 people have mobile devices capable of Apple/Google Pay then the same card can be loaded onto all the devices and used 4 times for 4 people in the way you suggest.
      Ultimately though, requiring 1 card or device (or another type of ticket) per traveller is a fairly fundamental constraint to making all this work.

  15. EJ says:

    I hope they can incorporate my senior railcard onto my contact less as I live in Slough and Oyster is not an option I have to buy paper cards for my discount.

  16. Paul says:

    This is welcome, and long overdue news.
    Clearly, as many are pointing out, there are issues with:
    – Railcard discounts
    – Child fares (& zip cards)
    – Freedom and 60+ passes
    – People without access to bank cards

    The short-term answer is obviously going to be: “these use cases will continue to require paper or e-tickets to be issued”

    Longer term, one would expect an Oyster/ITSO convergence that allows expansion of dedicated stored-value cards beyond the technical constraints of the current Oyster platform.

    When it comes to a discussion of “how far does this go” geographically, GBR will maybe finally be forced to recognise that long distance (aka “inter city”) journeys are not the same as short/medium distance journeys.

    Whilst PAYG is a sensible approach to the latter, demand/yield management on long distance services indicates that travellers should be required to make an origin-to-destination commitment (ie buy a ticket!) prior to boarding a train. PAYG isn’t a viable approach for long distance journeys.

  17. Anthony Tull says:

    With ITSO Cards being used widely what about having a Joint Smart Travel Card instead. That way the system would also be available to Railcard Holders too. I have an Oyster Card with a Disabled Rail card linked to it. I also have an ENCT Bus Pass which now is recognised and is included in the passenger numbers on London’s buses.

    Here is a proposal for Oyster, as I believe that it is now outdated, given that there are 15 places that you can travel to with Contactless but not with Oyster. I wouldn’t link a Debit or Credit card to a Railcard.

    I now think that there should be one card that covers the whole of the UK including Bus Travel. Then you just add privileges to that card. Should I wish to, I could add a National Express Coach card to it. Load it up with Credit and then go on a trip by every mode.

    Example Trip:

    Day 1: MK Amazon to London Victoria on 99 and 757 (ENCT), London Victoria to New Addington (Credit Loaded Railcard (CLRC)). Then a Break, New Addington – East Croydon – Farringdon – Slough (CLRC) Stay Overnight.

    Day 2: Slough to Oxford (CLRC), Oxford to Stansted (NX), Overnight break.

    Day 3: Stansted to Dartford (CLRC) then break. Dartford – Woolwich Arsenal – Bond Street – Finchley Road (CLRC) then back to MK Amazon on 757 & 99 (ENCT).

    I spoke to a gentleman who lives in Chelmsford, he has a Gold Card, he told me when it expires, he’s not going to renew as he’s got no intention of working in London, largely due to the strikes. What if with this Gold Card, he could add credit and travel on National Express, Buses outside London, or even by train to say Peterborough via Ipswich? I would say that would be it would be great.

    A slight problem would be when there are 2 or more Train Operators charging different fares, operating from the same platforms or passengers pass through the same set of barrier at each station, e.g. Milton Keynes to Birmingham. A solution could be a Touchpad on each train close to the door, luggage racks, or even both.

    I also think that it’s wrong that Chesham is 25 miles from Baker Street and in Zone 9 where as Watford Junction is about 16.75 miles from Euston by longest round and it’s out of Zones. Zones should stretch to Watford Junction, St Albans City, Shenfield, Redhill, Slough and equivalent Stations on other routes leaving the only stations to be beyond Zones on the London Transport Rail map west of Slough or south of Redhill.

    The Netherlands has had the equivalent for a shorter time than London and it has already been extended outside the capital and has increased ridership on public transport significantly.

    Lastly I notice that on the Ticket Machines have a ITSO Card Reader on them, given that ENCT Bus Passes are ITSO Cards, I think that it’s about time that we should be able to load credit on to them and start taking the train with that credit, and those whom hold a Railcard, should travel at discounted rate.

    Yours faithfully

    • Paul says:

      Lots of wishful thinking there Anthony – all great ideas but the devil as ever is in the implementation. A single card that can hold PAYG stored value, railcard discounts, and longer distance advanced ticket purchases sounds ideal. Maybe we’ll get there eventually.

      Just to pick up on one thing – you say Oyster is an outdated platform – which in some ways is true – but at the same time Oyster isn’t the same Oyster that was launched 20 years ago. I don’t think the original cards are even compatible any more; Oyster is just a brand, and there’s good reason to believe that TfL can retain the brand and replace the more limited parts of the current system with newer versions, without most of the travelling public needing to be aware of that. Indeed, I suspect this process is already underway.

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