17 March 2015 – It’s now six months to the day since Transport for London (TfL) enabled us to simply ‘touch in and out’ with our debit and credit cards to pay for travel across London. During that time some 50 million journeys have taken place using contactless payments.
TfL has long innovated with its ticketing. It was the first in the world to use magnetic stripes for ticketing back in the 1950s and of course launched the ‘Oyster’ travel card in 2003. Despite Oyster’s incredible success, TfL was keen to improve the traveller experience further by removing the need to ‘top up’ whenever they ran out of credit. In the words of Shashi Verma, Director of Customer Experience, Transport for London: “most people carry a contactless debit or credit card in their back pocket, and so they can just ‘touch in and out’ to pay, then focus on getting to their destination rather than engaging in unproductive activity, which is what buying a ticket actually is.”
The Contactless payment system for travellers runs separately from Oyster and is called Contact Assistant. With Oyster most of the billing information is held on the card itself, which have limited capacity. However Contact Assistant data is held centrally on a Microsoft SQL Server system, which runs a new billing engine. One immediate advantage for passengers from this is it makes weekly fare capping possible. Capping is a feature of pay as you go. It allows you to travel as much as you like in a single day or a week (from Monday to Sunday) and limits the amount you pay for all your travel.
Large technology projects can be challenging to keep on track, not so with contactless according to TfL. Shashi Verma says: “the experience has been that every last bit of Contact Assistant has been absolutely flawless. Our experience of working with Microsoft has been very positive, and it’s a strength that we can build upon for the future. People don’t necessarily think of public sector as being capable of innovation. What we’ve done with contactless is something we feel very proud of. People seem to love it.”
Furthermore the system has been built for the future. Verma adds: “we process 500,000 journeys every day via contactless payment and our usage is growing week by week. Support for mobile phone payments is live and Contact Assistant will take payments from mobile phones as and when they come onstream.”
For further information please read the TfL announcement today.