Contactless card payments now accepted on London buses

By Emma Lunn

Until recently, to pay for bus fare in London, you had to have an Oyster card with enough money loaded onto it -- or dig in your pockets for cash.

Now, there's another option.

Londoners can now pay for bus travel using contactless credit, debit or charge cards. Here's what you need to know before using this new wave-and-pay feature, which became available on London's 8,500 buses on 13 December.

What kind of card do I need?
To take advantage of the new payment method, you need to have a credit, debit or charge card that has been issued in the UK and displays the contactless payment ("wave") symbol. Simply touch your card flat on the yellow card reader as you board a bus, exactly as you would when using an Oyster card.

You do not need to register for the program -- simply start using your contactless bank cards to make payments. contactless-payment

Why contactless?
The main advantage is speed. If your Oyster card is out of credit, you can simply wave your bank card instead of fumbling for cash.

"Contactless cards offer customers a fast and easy-to-use alternative to cash when making low-value payments," said Melanie Johnson, chair of The UK Cards Association, in a statement.  "It's good news for the cardholders that they can now use this convenient and secure payment method on London's buses."

Preparations are being made for rolling out contactless payments across the rest of the London transport system, Johnson added. The plan is to have contactless card readers available on London Underground, DLR, London Overground and trams.

Calculating the pros and cons
In general, using a contactless card to pay bus fares will save you money compared with using cash. For example, you'll only be charged a single fare of £1.35 (the Oyster rate) instead of £2.30 (the cash rate).

However, it's suitable only for single journeys at the moment, as daily price caps will not be applied. In other words, if you take many bus journeys in a single day, the system will continue to charge you at £1.35 each time with no upper limit -- something Oyster doesn't allow. You will also not be able to register a daily, weekly or monthly Travelcard to enjoy unlimited travel for the period the card is purchased for, as you would with an Oyster card.

Another downside is that this system will not offer you your transfer discount if you normally get on to a bus from any of the trams or Bus Feeder routes (such as the T31, T32, T33, 130 and 314).

A final precaution -- be careful when tapping your wallet on the card reader. If you keep your contactless payment card and Oyster card together in your wallet and touch them on the yellow card reader together, the reader will likely reject them both. This is because it won't know which card you want to use, according to Transport for London. So make sure you choose which card you want to use before you board the bus.

Overall, using your debit or credit card can provide a handy alternative to an Oyster card if you've forgotten to top it up or are just visiting London and don't have one.

 "Lots of us have had the frustrating experience of dashing to board a bus only to discover that our Oyster card has run out of credit," said Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in a statement. "So the arrival of this latest technology is welcome news, meaning that with a simple touch of a contactless payment card, people can avoid having to scrabble for change and also still benefit from the Oyster fare discount.

Contactless context
Contactless cards rely on wireless technology that allows a specialized payment terminal to communicate with the card's contactless chip when it gets close enough. The cards have a £20 payment limit for PIN-less transactions and are designed to give customers a quick alternative to cash when making low-value transactions. The chip on the card also limits the number of consecutive contactless transactions that are allowed before the customer is required to use a PIN number

Transportation systems aren't the only place that contactless payments are getting rolled out. Banks have been introducing contactless debit and credit cards over the past year, and there are now more than 30 million in circulation in the UK and about 50 million across Europe, according to Visa.

See related: Contactless payments doubled during Olympic Games, Pay by handshake: The way of the future?

Published: 18 December 2012