The Tube, as London’s underground train network is affectionately known, offers travellers a variety of ways to pay their fares. You can, of course, purchase tickets by cash individually or as a travel card, but this involves waiting in long (really long) queues at a ticket kiosk, or puzzling over the automated machines that even locals have trouble understanding.
Far easier (and cheaper) is to use a contactless card to pay your dues.
There are two ways of doing this. The first is to use an Oyster Card, the second is to use a contactless debit or credit card. Let’s look at the Oyster Card first.
What is an Oyster Card?
An Oyster Card is simply a pre-payment card that you use to swipe in and out of every Tube station you travel through. There is a big yellow button on the automated gates that you have to pass through to enter and exit – all you need to do is touch your card to this reader.
Oyster Cards cost £5.00 to purchase, and can be bought at any Tube station or online.
You can register your card via the Internet, and top up credit to the card at any time. You can also set up a direct debit from your bank account to top up your card whenever the amount held on it falls below a certain value. In addition, you an also top up the card at automated pay booths that can be found at every Tube station in London.
An Oyster Card needs to have credit on it in order for you to use it. When you swipe in and out at various Tube stations, the card totals up your travels for the day. It then caps your daily charge at the rate of an All Day Travel Card (currently £12.00 as of November 2015).
This is the maximum amount that will be deducted from the credit on the card. If your travel costs are less than this, only the relevant amount will be subtracted.
In addition, Oyster Cards can also be used in the same fashion on the network of London Buses.
Contactless credit or debit card payment
In the UK, and indeed in many countries of the world (although only quite recently in the USA), all credit and debit cards have a microchip. This enables them to be read by a card reader, and the owner has a PIN (a four digit number), in order to use them to make payments. Over recent years this has been taken one step further – and contactless cards are now common.
These cards work by being held to a reader, and the amount to be paid is automatically deducted from the bank account to which the card is attached. Or, in the case of a credit card, the account is being billed for the relevant amount.
So, in the same way as the Oyster Card is swiped in and out on the reader at a Tube station, the same can be done with a contactless debit card. The cost to you is exactly the same whether you use either payment method.
To know if your card has this contactless ability, simply look for the Wi-Fi symbol (three graduating arcs) on the card. If it has one, then the card is a contactless one.
When you get a new contactless card, it might be necessary to first validate it before it can be used in such a way. This is usually done in a shop at a contactless terminal by making a payment. Contactless payments cannot be made for amounts over 30 pounds.
This sounds a bit worrying, and you’ll see signs in the Tube stations warning about card clash. In simple terms, this is when two different contactless cards (such as an Oyster Card and a contactless debit card) are presented to the reader at the same time.
On rare occasions this can result in payment being taken from both cards, or payment might be taken from the wrong card. But it’s easy to prevent it happening. Just ensure that you don’t keep two cards next to each other in your wallet or purse. If by chance you do get charged twice, you simply need to contact Transport For London for a refund to one of them.
It all sounds a bit risky. Exactly how safe are these contactless payments?
Contactless payments with debit and credit cards is still quite a new option on The Tube – so it’s understandable that you might feel dubious about using them. But Oyster Cards, which use exactly the same technology and, to all intents and purposes, are still a card that represents cash, have been in use for years. No one bats an eyelid about using an Oyster Card.
When it comes to using your debit card to make contactless payments, rest assured that the banks have put rigid security methods in place to ensure your financial safety.
In addition, they have teams of software and computer experts (Geeks! Did we say that?) who do a fantastic job of continuing to update the security of these cards on a daily basis. And lucky for us that there is this army of cyber-professionals working hard to keep our hard earned pennies safe – most of us wouldn’t even have a clue where to begin.
What about Apple Pay?
Apple Pay is still a very new concept in the UK. At present there is no option to use this as a contactless payment method on The Tube. However, we’d like to bet our bottom dollar that at some point in the future this would definitely become an option. And when that happens, it’s likely that a similar concept for Android users will be hot on their heels.
Contactless payment, whether you like it or not, is here to stay – not only on The Tube, but virtually every retail outlet you visit. And whilst many people do have concerns that it’s all a bit risky, when you think about it logically, it’s no more of a risk than carrying cash.
At least if something did happen with a contactless payment card you’d stand a good chance of getting it refunded by your banks. Lose a pocketful of cash, and it’s gone forever…