Back in May Boris Johnson suggested that Oyster’s days were numbered, telling London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon:
“in the end, we will be moving away from Oyster Cards to a Wave and Pay system and in the long run, we do not want to be running a payment system.”
He added: “We want to be running buses and there are many people who run payment systems with bank cards and there is no reason why we should be in that particular business.”
But Transport for London doesn’t share the Mayor’s belief that it’s about to get out of the payment system game.
Responding to an FOI request asking for a copy of the long-term plan the Mayor was referring to, the organisation told me:
“TfL does not currently plan to decommission Oyster as we envisage this to always be the brand for our ticketing system and the token that customers use to travel on our system if they do not wish to use a contactless payment card.”
That makes a lot of sense – not everyone has a debit or credit card and not everyone will want to use one to pay their bus or Tube fares so it’s essential that TfL has another option available unless it wants to lock millions of passengers out of its network.
But for some reason TfL doesn’t seem to have explained this to the boss who is busy sounding the death-knell for the one public sector IT project that works and has actually made things easier for service users.
Instead it sent over this handy guide on how the upgrade of the ticketing system – known as the Future Ticketing Programme – will be rolled-out:
Phase 1 – Acceptance of contactless payment cards to pay a single fare on all TfL buses was launched in December 2012.
Phase 2 – Launching in 2014, customers will be able to use a contactless payment card on all TfL modes – Tube, London Overground, Emirates Air Line, tram and DLR – with daily and weekly capping. We are continuing to investigate introducing contactless payment cards on our river services.
Phase 3 – Currently going through funding and detailed design will enable customers to purchase their season ticket online and associate it with their contactless payment card.
Phase 4 – Customers who do not wish to use (or do not have) a contactless payment card will have access to an improved smartcard system utilising all of the back office technology developed for Phases 1, 2 and 3 of FTP for travel on the TfL network. This phase will have significantly enhanced functionality especially around mobile and internet purchases. As of yet no decision on this new card has been made and potentially it could still be the existing Oyster card. This card will simply be used as a token with all of the balance held, and complex fares calculation taking place, in the back office.
Phase 5 – This phase is where the migration for customers on the current card centric technology to the back office based technology takes place. This relies on completion of earlier phases and specifically is dependent on the type of card that is chosen in phase 4. Work on feasibility will take place in the coming years.
Given that phase 2 was originally meant to be completed “by the end of 2013” and is apparently running even later than a peak hour ATOC train, we should take any dates in the above answer with a pinch of salt.
But clearly an Oyster-branded card will continue to play a big part in the fares system for many years to come, despite what Boris is telling Assembly Members.