Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Cash fares on London buses

Bakerloo Line at London Waterloo Station

Time for another one of my occasional public transport blog posts. Today I’m looking at Transport for London’s plans to get rid of cash fares on buses, currently in consultation. You’re best reading the analysis from the excellent London Reconnections blog first.

There are some good reasons for getting rid of cash fares on the buses. Firstly, bus drivers won’t need to carry any money around, so there’s no money for the more nefarious members of society to steal. This is particularly important in London where there is an extensive network of night buses.

Secondly, nowadays cash fares now only account for a tiny fraction of journeys. The huge success of the Oyster card has meant that only 1% of all journeys on London’s buses are paid for with cash. Scrapping cash fares across London will save £24 million per year by 2019.

Of course, on the flip-side, there are arguments against removing cash fares. Cash is anonymous, whereas most of the alternatives – Oyster, or contactless payment cards – can be tracked in some way. So there is an argument surrounding privacy.

One argument against that I would have suggested would have been that getting rid of cash would be confusing for old people. Recent plans to phase out cheques were put on hold after groups representing the elderly argued that alternatives to cheques are hard for old people to access. But actually this isn’t the case with buses, as older people all have bus passes (the English National Concessionary Pass, or ENCP, to give its proper name). These are smart cards, and allow free travel for these people outside peak hours. So it’s maybe surprising to find that the biggest users of cash on buses in London is, in fact, people in the 16-34 age group.

And, as many as half of those people pay in cash simply because their Oyster card has run out of credit. Plans are therefore afoot to allow Oyster users one ‘grace’ journey once their credit has run out, provided that the card is topped up and the journey paid for later.

Even in central London, very few people use cash- 2% at most. It’s estimated that 76% of overseas visitors to London pick up an Oyster card upon arrival. And there are millions of Oyster cards belonging to non-Londoners, such as myself and Christine, as it’s still worth having one even for the one or two London trips we make each year. For those without an Oyster card, you will be able to use any debit or credit card that has been enabled for contactless transactions. At present around 38% of Londoners have one of these cards (I don’t yet, but should get one by the end of November), and I imagine this number will only go up.

If cash fares do go away, then Oyster, an ENCP, a travelcard or a contactless payment card will be the accepted methods of paying for travel on London’s buses. It would be a massive achievement on the part of TfL to have migrated away from cash – especially in one of the world’s biggest and most populous cities. I reckon it’s possible.

As an aside, I used a picture of a Tube platform in this post as it seems that I’ve never taken a photo of a London bus before. I don’t think TfL have any plans to stop cash fares on the London Underground, however.

One Comment

  1. I would be opposed if money on an Oyster Card expires but, from what I understand, it doesn’t (unlike the metro cards on some cities). Now it’s just a matter of me remembering to BRING my Oyster Card when I’m next in London!