I was having coffee this week with a self-described luddite and, after we ordered our coffees, he surprised me by pulling out his iPhone and initiating ApplePay. Knowing him and his general views on technology, I said, “I’m surprised that you of all people are now using ApplePay.” To which he responded, “I can’t believe it took me this long to start using it. It’s so convenient! I now barely ever pull out my wallet.” Yup, it is very convenient.
It also just so happens that this month marks the 10 year anniversary of contactless payments on London’s public transport network. This meaning payment via a bank or credit card, and not via an Oyster card. In fact, part of the reason why London did this was because bus drivers were struggling with both having to give change and having to deal with people who didn’t have enough funds on their Oyster cards.
So Transport for London (TfL) decided to spend £11 million, design and code the entire thing in-house, and then roll it out across the network starting in 2012. Apparently, adoption started off relatively slowly. At the end of 2013, only about 6 million journeys were made using contactless payments — this is against an initial projection of 25 million. But fast forward to today, and around 70% of all bus journeys are now contactless.
What is also interesting about this is that TfL now licenses their contactless technology to other cities around the world. Here is a £15 million deal that was announced in 2016, which suggests that they could be generating a fairly respectable return on their initial investment. But aside from this, contactless payments are an obviously good way to onboard people onto public transport. There’s no special card. No lining up at a ticket kiosk. And yes, you can even use your phone.