This mayoral election has brought great focus on Transport for London (TfL), the local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London, with both top candidates for the job looking at ways to improve the service. Zac Goldsmith has pledged to invest £1.5 billion to increase Tube capacity, while Sadiq Khan intends to freeze London transport fares for four years and introduce a one-hour bus “Hopper” ticket.

This is good news to people who feel that they are spending too much on fares. However, some people know that they are spending too much on fares – twice as much – when “card clash” is causing charges both on the Oyster card as on the debit card. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Never put all your cards in one wallet. Is this always the case when there’s just too much good technology around?

The Oyster card and reader have come a long way since their introduction to London transport in July 2003, first as a monthly and annual ticket for London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink and Buses.  In January 2004, pay-as-you-go – or “prepay” as it was initially labelled – launched on London Underground, DLR and parts of National Rail. Over the next few years, the service became more refined with more options added into it such as auto top-up, daily price caps, journey history, and rollouts to incorporate London Overground. By 2012, 43 million cards had been issued and Oyster accounted for more than 80 per cent of all public transport journeys in London. [source] For just under 10 years, Oyster was the only payment method the Oyster reader could process.

And then came contactless payment. The first contactless cards in the UK were issued by Barclaycard in 2008. This proved a great success with customers; within a year, Barclays had issued over one million contactless payment cards. As of February 2016, there are a total of 84.2m contactless cards in issue in the UK. This is an increase of 3.3% on the previous month and 36.5% over the year. 332,607 bank-owned terminals are available in the UK where contactless cardholders can make a contactless transaction. This is an increase of 4.4% on the previous month and 50.7% over the year. On average, each contactless transaction is for £8.28 – almost exactly the cost of the Oyster off-peak cap for Zones 1-4 (£8.60) which might explain why people felt immediately comfortable using their contactless card for buying their fares. [source]

By the end of 2012, contactless payments were introduced on London buses and in September 2014 on London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground and National Rail services including weekly capping. In July 2015, Apple Pay got accepted on the TfL network.
Within six months of launching the service, TfL became the fastest growing contactless Visa merchant in Europe. In March 2015, the number of contactless taps made on a single day reached one million. Over 14 per cent of all pay as you go journeys across TfL services were made using contactless, with over 60 million journeys in the first six months. [source] One of the biggest benefits of contactless payment is that the card doesn’t need to be topped up avoiding delays to the journey and embarrassment when “reader says no”.

However, the Oyster card reader can’t always differentiate between an Oyster card, contactless payment card or Apple Pay device.  All of these cards and devices use radio-frequency identification (RFID) via electromagnetic fields or near field communication (NFC) for making secure payments. [more about NFC]

And this is when card clash is happening – when the Oyster reader recognises both Oyster card and contactless payment card when they both come into its operational field and it puts the same charges on both. Already in the first few months after the introduction of the service, almost 1,800 commuters have been given refunds totalling £11,000 after Oyster readers charged the wrong card. If you had a whole day of card clash without realising this could be £11.80 per card if capped as an adult peak time one day travel card! [source]

In preventative measures, posters appeared across the TfL network, warning travellers of card clash errors, and today people are more mindful to only hold their chosen card against the reader. In ironic consequence to proactive card clash avoidance, the ticket reader pressure to ‘touch in’ quickly combined with the looming ‘card clash’ potential, leads to a flurry of panic; people frantically pull their cards out of the wallets to avoid a clash, dropping them and losing them in the pressure of the moment. Every month since contactless payment was introduced, TfL have had over 2,000 debit or credit cards handed into them. [source]

With over 24,000 lost debit cards handed in to TfL each year, there are many questions raised around safety and security of contactless payment methods. As with all card payment methods, cardholder data is stored outside the card and transmitted via public networks. This process can be open to security risks.  In 2004, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) was founded to create an additional level of protection for card issuers by ensuring that merchants meet minimum levels of security when they store, process and transmit cardholder data. The control objectives are to build and maintain a secure network, protect cardholder data, maintain a vulnerability programme, implement strong access control measures, regularly monitor and test networks and maintain an information of security policy. The programme is frequently updated to incorporate new technologies such as payment via wireless LAN. In December 2014, just after general rollout of contactless payment for most means of transport, the TfL Assurance and Audit Committee published a paper which outlined how it implemented the PCI DSS rules in the transit environment. [source]

This certainly can be seen as a great achievement. Let’s hope that whoever is going to take on the big job as Mayor of London will be able to bridge the gap between keeping the costs down and continuing to transport Londoners with the help of cutting-edge technology through the city.