Concerns raised over Oyster card payments

By UK CreditCards.com

Changes need to be made to the Oyster card system to ensure passengers understand how the fares work and do not pay more than necessary, a watchdog group has said. Research by London TravelWatch suggests that many Pay As You Go passengers do not fully understand the system and that transport companies are making millions of pounds extra as a result.

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Campaigners for London TravelWatch are concerned that public trust in the Oyster card could be eroded unless efforts are made to increase transparency and make it easier for passengers to claim refunds.

Research uncovers Oyster concerns
Figures show that London's transport companies received more than £60m as a result of passengers making so-called 'incomplete' journeys on their Oyster cards in 2010. People who use Oyster Pay As You Go cards are charged the maximum amount for a single journey if they fail to touch in at the start and touch out at the end. This means that an incomplete journey during peak hours costs £6.50, while a similar off-peak journey costs £4.40. Up to 40% of the £60m paid for these incomplete journeys last year is thought to have been an overcharge.

To shed light on the problem, London TravelWatch asked Outlook Research to organise focus groups involving Oyster users on the London Underground, National Rail services, Docklands Light Railway and London Tramlink. These revealed that many passengers do not understand the fare structure, or how to claim refunds if they believe they have been wrongly charged. Most welcomed the value for money offered by their Oyster card, but claimed that this could be undermined by the financial loss incurred by incomplete journeys and problems experienced when trying to claim their money back. The research also found that many Pay As You Go users did not know about on or off-peak fares, or how to work out the cheapest routes.

"The Oyster smartcard is immensely popular, but it is clear that passengers have big knowledge and information gaps about how to get value for money, and how to claim refunds," said London TravelWatch chair Sharon Grant in a press release. "Not only does this result in overpayment, but it threatens to undermine Oyster's success as passengers start to lose trust in the system."

Ms Grant called for an education and information campaign to improve awareness, as well as efforts to resolve the problems surrounding incomplete journeys. "Oyster is a good product, offering convenience to passengers, and we would hate to see passengers' faith in it undermined and damaged," noted Ms Grant.

Industry admits more could be done
A representative of the Association of Train Operating Companies responded to the research, insisting that the "vast majority" of passengers touch in and out correctly. They also said that stations make regular announcements emphasising the importance of doing so. "The roll-out of Oyster Pay As You Go on National Rail has made public transport around the capital easier and cheaper for many thousands of passengers every day," the spokesperson argued in a release. 

However, a spokesman for Transport for London conceded that while the number of incomplete journeys is falling, "more could be done" to help passengers. He told the Evening Standard: "Any customer who believes they have been incorrectly charged a maximum fare should contact us."

See related: Wristbands enable contactless payments at festival; Survey: Brits reluctant to adopt contactless credit cards

Published: 27 June 2011