A big story to finish the week. You can now travel around London on the buses, tubes, trams and docklands light railway without having to queue for tickets or reload your Oyster. You can now use your contactless payment cards, stickers, wristbands and goodness knows what else instead.
For the last few years, colleagues at Consult Hyperion have been working for Transport for London (TfL) on a really big, fun, interesting and challenging project to allow customers to use mass transit in London without having to have a transit card, using instead the contactless payment cards issued by banks. You might remember that back in 2011 we recorded a podcast with Shashi Verma and Will Judge at TfL when they talked about the ambition to move to “open loop” on one of the world’s biggest transit networks. Well, open loop ticketing went live on the buses a couple of years ago and I wrote at the time that:
To make the simple tap-and-go work for millions of consumers taking millions of bus rides, reliably and securely, is very complicated. To hide all of the complexity from consumers and make the tap work in a few hundred milliseconds was a tall order. But they’ve done it, so well done TfL.
This week, this tap-and-go convenience was extended across the whole TfL network. Wow. And I genuinely mean it. Wow.
Passengers on the tube and most of London transport can now travel using a contactless card… Passengers will not need tickets or Oyster smartcards on the tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and rail services that currently accept Oyster cards.
So, in honour of this fantastic achievement, and to stand in testament to my colleagues’ efforts going back to the days when it was just scribble on a whiteboard, I thought I would take you on a little video diary tour of the new Jerusalem and provide a step-by-step guide.
OK. First and most basic lesson. Use a contactless card.
Second lesson. Don’t use a card that has just been used to go through a gate because the system won’t let it through again right away.
Remember, there are computers involved. So sometimes a card that we thought should work, doesn’t because of complex issues relating to cryptography and personalisation that should not affect the general public. Also remember that some things won’t work because they are not supposed to. My splendid contactless watch, sadly, is (correctly) not accepted.
Our dream, of course, is to sail on and off public transit with no more than a flick of the wrist and a super-dooper Apple-style iPhone thingamajig…
Ta Da! On and off the Tube with an iPhone. Sadly though, this is a piece of David Blaine-style trickery designed only to fool credulous observers and not eagle-eyed blog readers. Since I don’t have an iPhone 6, and even if I did I don’t have a US credit card from one of the launch issuers, I couldn’t possibly have used an iPhone. It’s a trick! In fact I made my own people’s NFC device by glueing a plastic pocket to the back of my phone and then putting a contactless credit card inside it!
By now you are probably wondering what cards do work! Well, actually pretty much all contactless credit and debit cards will work. Here’s one you might like: my BA Amex card is contactless and I can now collect BA Avios by travelling in London.
And so to the prosaic. The mass market use of open loop on London’s various modes of transport will be contactless debit cards. So here, rather boringly, since it all worked perfectly, is the mainstream money shot. Getting on the Tube without a ticket or an Oyster card, just using my regular, run-of-the-mill Barclays Visa debit card…
Don’t forget to tap out, by the way, or you’ll be charged the full fare. So long as you tap in and tap out, daily and weekly fare capping applies just as it does with Oyster so you have no need to worry about the cost of travelling across, around, over or under our fair capital.
And finally, as they say, it means a symbolic goodbye to my beloved Barclaycard Visa OnePulse, the best credit card the chaps in Northampton ever issued, and it’s triple-interface goodness. So long old friend.
It’s taken a lot of hard work to make something work this simply, this well and at this scale. A hearty well done to all.