Paying for Transit

I recently presented at the Transport Card Forum 2017 in Birmingham. The subject I was asked to speak about was “How will we pay for transit in the future”. Knowing how slowly things move in the transport industry, the easy answer would have been, exactly as we pay now.

However, I thought it would be more helpful to assume that the answer is not cash, and to survey the categories of payments available and emerging today and put them into the context of paying for transit.

The direction of travel of the transit ticketing industry is to use Account Based Ticketing (ABT) and so I further assumed that ABT lies at the heart of any solution. Next, the travelling customer has a choice of media used to identify them to their payment mechanism. This is ring 1.

These customer media can be categorised as either open- or closed-loop. Open loop means that they can be used to make payments generally, whereas closed loop means they can only be used within the transit ticketing scheme.

Next comes the ‘authority to travel’ and ‘time of payment’ rings. Either the customer pays for authority in advance (e.g. season ticket) or they pay for it at the time of travel (e.g. pay on a bus or train) or they pay later. ‘Authority to travel’ might take the form of a ticket, but increasingly there will be no tickets issued. These are rings 2 and 3.

Finally, the outer rings (4 and 5) were added to show what kind of account might be used and how these relate to existing models such as those from the UKCA for the use of contactless bank cards in transit.

The UKCA models on the left-hand side have been discussed in previous blogs. Models 1 and 2 are what are being used in the UK building on what was achieved in London on TfL between 2008 and 2014. UK buses are now implementing Model 1 (and some are implementing parts of Model 2). Transport for the North (TfN) is implementing Model 2 for the whole of the North of England. Model 3 seems to have been abandoned as too hard to run in parallel with the other models. Perhaps other technologies will continue to dominate, such as bar code and ITSO smartcard ticketing for Pre-purchased authority to travel on national rail. Perhaps there is no need for a third way?

But what about those unable to use, or who do not wish to use, their own contactless bank cards? The right-hand side shows the equivalent models needed for them. As the figure below shows, there are two options for them, Either:

  • They fund a pre-paid transit account (a bit like loading value to an Oyster card, but value is loaded to the account instead for ABT. Or …
  • They allow payment to be taken directly from their payment account outside of the transit scheme. Payment is claimed from an open-loop account such as a payment card, bank account, online wallet (PayPal, Google Wallet, etc.).

The challenge for the latter option is that the transit scheme will struggle to manage the risk since the cannot tell whether the payment account has funds in it to pay for travel. Therefore, the preference at this stage is likely to be for for pre-paid transit accounts. And, therefore, this is what is likely to be chosen by TfN and other places as their solution for those not using bank cards with ABT schemes.

Thanks are due to my colleague, Alex Lithgow Smith, for developing my original idea of the rings showing aspects of payment in transit.

#Cardmageddon in Woking

Well. How about that. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Blimey. And so on and so forth. Check this out…

 Woking! Contactless!

Yes. It’s true. The Southwest Train ticket machines have finally gone contactless, and only a decade after I first used an NFC phone to pay for something I was able to use an NFC phone to buy a ticket in the machine at Woking station.

Woking! ApplePay!

Now, let’s be clear. Woking is no stranger to contactless. Within the town boundaries, a wallet is an unnecessary accoutrement. I suppose some people might want to use cash, cheques or cards for cultural reasons, much as hipsters insist on using vinyl records, but they no longer need to. Indeed, only yesterday when my good lady wife asked me to pop to the shop to pick up a few baking essentials, I jumped on my bike and set off, never giving a thought to wallets or wads. I had my phone set to Planet Money and that was all I needed.

On the few and far-between days when I am working at our office in Guildford I don’t need a wallet. When I’m working at home I don’t need a wallet. But when I am working in London I do. Or at least, I did. The two hurdles to handset happiness were Arriva buses and Southwest Trains. But a couple of years ago, Arriva launched their mobile app so I don’t need cash for the buses any more. The only remaining barrier was Southwest Trains. But it’s all different now. I bought my train ticket with Apple Pay for the first time today. In Woking station, if nowhere else, it was #cardmageddon.

What? Don’t Southwest Trains have a smartcard you say? Well yes, they do. But you can’t use it to buy tickets online. You have to go to the station and tap it on the ticket machine and then put in your payment card and then tap it again so it’s hardly worth bothering, especially since I need to press the receipt button and wait for a paper receipt anyway.

May 2017 will be as famous as a September 1958 (the Fresno Drop) in the history of the inexorable march to cashlessness. For this is when I went down to Woking station, after a couple of weeks’ globe trotting, to discover that everything had changed. I am living in a new world. The ticket machines at Woking station now have contactless! I can now leave my wallet at home for good!

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum

The Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum, that is. I arrived in good time (it’s always best to add on a few minutes to give yourself time to buy a ticket) for the 7.39 Flying Glacier to Waterloo via Misery and Degradation. 


Of course, Woking station has changed a lot since this picture was taken. There’s a Flying Coffee Bean on Platform 2 now.

Hurrah! When I got into the ticket hall I discovered that they have installed machines to allow you to pick up a ticket that you have purchased online. Great. I have the excellent The Trainline app on my iPhone and it is integrated beautifully with Apple Pay. So you look up the tickets you want, hit “Pay with Apple Pay”, thumb it and away you go. When you get to the station you just thumb it again and tap your iPhone on the machine, it shows you the list of tickets you have purchased, you choose the ones you want and hey presto your tickets pop out.


Except it isn’t. The machines don’t work this way. You have to take a payment card with you and insert it into a slot and then type in a confirmation number that you were sent by e-mail. It’s actually quicker just to go to one of the other machines and buy your ticket in the usual way.

Joined Up Thinking (Not)

The new machine on the block.

I don’t get it. Surely the Apple Pay token used to buy the ticket can be matched to the Apple Pay token presented at the machine? You should only need to put the card in if you’re forgotten your phone or it is out of battery (and even then they should do it by implementing PARs properly).

Surely South West Trains, when they were planning these machines a few years ago, had at least heard about mobile phones even if they hadn’t actually seen any. And surely they had noticed that something was going with contactless technology? Perhaps one of the South West Train’s Executive Board had overhead their servants talking about “tapping” cards to ride the bus in London and never asked what they meant? Or did they just take it be a some new lingo below stairs, a slang term for writing out a cheque?

They must just have thought that contactless was something happening to other people.

This left me wondering if other train-like options are adopting contactless. I thought I’d give it a try at Heathrow, so I downloaded the Heathrow Express and tried a couple of times to buy a ticket to see if I could use Apple Pay, but the app asked me to scan in my credit card (presumably for some hello-1996 card-not-present transaction) then crashed, so I never to got to see it in action.

So much for joined-up thinking. The whole world is moving to contactless and mobile and the most up-to-date technology on the newest machines installed (I see they got rid of the machine for connecting by video link to customer service) is the decade-old chip and PIN reader. Come on.

Queue at Woking

OK, so sometimes there’s a bit of queue.

Why can’t we buy our tickets on our phones while riding the bus on the way and then just tap and collect when we get to the station?

The only improvement in the ticket purchasing experience at Woking station since it opened on 21st May 1838 — you still stand in line, they still take cash, they still give paper tickets — is that you no longer have to fill out a “reason to travel” form, and I wouldn’t put it past Theresa May to have these re-introduced in time for the next election.

No need for Oyster in London any more

Dgwb blog white border

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.

London buses show us the way

[Dave Birch] The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been talking about the next major revolution to come in London transit ticketing.

Public transport travellers will be able to swipe credit or debit cards in the same way as Oyster cards by 2012, Boris Johnson revealed. The Mayor said the phased scheme will start on buses in the run-up to the Olympics and then move on to the Tube. Prices will be the same as with Oyster. Mr Johnson has also pledged that a “next generation” Oyster card will be released by 2014.

[From Commuters will soon be able to use credit cards like Oyster by 2012 | News]

What this all means is that visitors to London — and, indeed, Londoners — will no longer need to get prepaid Oyster cards. They will be able to use their bank cards (such as, for example, the one of the ten million cards that Barclays has already issued with contactless interfaces) to tap-and-go their way around town.