This is the first of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport.

I heard on the radio that, despite ministers encouraging people in England back to work in their offices, most are staying at home. Commuter trains are about one-third full and buses are about 40% full. During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for public transport fell off a cliff as governments told their people to stay at home.  A major part of encouraging travellers to use public transport is the provision of systems that allow social distancing of passengers from staff, ideally eliminating the need to exchange physical tickets, cash and paper receipts.

The use-case I am interested in is one that allows passengers to travel without paying upfront and be charged afterward based on the journey that they took. Somehow, which journeys the passenger has taken need to be tracked in order that either they can be allowed to travel because they have already paid, or more likely these days with the demise of season tickets, and assuming carnets do not suddenly take off (which seems to be the case), charged after the travel in a modern Pay As You Go (PAYG) manner. What technologies are going to help?

Contactless bank cards

Our work with Transport for London on the use of contactless bank cards for convenient public transport payments is well known. Even before the pandemic, the contactless uptake facts and figures published by TfL in January 2020 at Transport Ticketing Global were better than anyone expected when we started the work back in 2008:

  • Customers surveyed:
    • 44% had used contactless payments for public transport.
    • 28% were using contactless payments for all or most of their public transport payments.
    • 2/3 of customers convert to contactless payments after first use. It is clearly popular and this could mean that the pandemic accelerates the shift to contactless.
  • TfL journey payments market overall:
    • 2/3 of journeys are PAYG:
      • 57% of PAYG is contactless payments and rising. Launch was 2014, and by 2015 20% of PAYG was contactless payments. The contactless proportion of PAYG continues to rise.
      • 21% of the PAYG contactless payments is mobile payments.
    • 50% fewer season tickets are sold since the acceptance of contactless payments (NB this was before COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more people working from home).

TfL recently released graphs of their actual PAYG journeys using Oyster and contactless bank cards across the recent months (see below). The apparent period of zero bus journeys was when TfL temporarily stopped taking payments so that the journeys were not recorded. The split between Oyster and contactless bank cards is not available. In the future, it will be interesting to see whether the pandemic speeds up the switch to PAYG and also whether Oyster users migrate to bank cards.

This is the first of three blogs about technologies to support contact-free use of public transport. There are many technological options and even more considerations, but we thrive on the challenge of finding smart, innovative solutions to clients’ requirements. If you would like to discuss what this means for you, give us a call.

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