London is to be the first city in the world to convert its entire public transport network to accepting contactless payment cards, Transport for London has announced.
"By the end of 2012 card readers across the whole of the Transport for London (TfL) network will have been upgraded so that a touch of a contactless bank or credit card will allow passengers to touch in and out for pay-as-you-go travel on the bus, Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Tram and London Overground network," says the public transport operator.
As first revealed in October last year, the new system will be up and running on all of London's 8,000 buses in time for the 2012 Olympic Games and will be rolled out onto the Tube, DLR, Tramlink and London Overground network before the end of 2012.
The announcement makes no mention of mobile phones but the TfL system is expected to be compatible with NFC handsets and is likely to provide a major boost to the take-up of the NFC phones due to be introduced in the UK by Barclaycard/Everything Everywhere during the second quarter of this year and by O2 UK from the second half of 2011.
'It is tip top news that from next year a simple tap of a contactless bank card will be enough to whizz you from A to B in this great city," says the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. "London leads the way in so many different fields and we will be the first in the world to allow the millions using our Tube, trams, buses and trains to benefit from the ease of using this technology."
Discussions are now also under way with the train operating companies that serve London about whether contactless payment cards could be used on National Rail services where the Oyster contactless transport card currently issued by Transport for London is accepted.
For the launch of the new service, TfL is upgrading software in the Oyster smartcard system to recognise contactless credit and debit cards issued by Visa, MasterCard and American Express as well as Oyster cards.
"The software upgrade being delivered on the Oyster system will be fully approved by the payment schemes and will make full use of the payments industry's security systems," says TfL. "Certain features of contactless payments will be adapted to suit the public transport environment — for example, customers will never be asked to enter a PIN at a busy station gate-line."
"The new system will make London's public transport far more accessible for domestic and international visitors," it adds. "Most visitors currently arrive in London without any kind of public transport ticket in their possession, and have to spend their valuable time buying one."
"But this enhancement to the Oyster system will mean visitors with a contactless credit or debit card are able to enter the transport network as soon as they arrive simply by touching in with their bank card at the Oyster reader. When fully rolled out, the technology will work even if their card was issued by an overseas bank."
"Contactless payment will also reduce commissions and processing costs for TfL, as well as enabling a reduction in the number of Oyster cards produced and issued," TfL adds.