April 21, 2014 9:47 pm

London transport poised for payments by smartphone

Transport for London is gradually replacing Oyster card with a more open approach to contactless payments©Bloomberg

Transport for London is gradually replacing Oyster card with a more open approach to contactless payments

Smartphone users will soon be able to pay for travel in London with a swipe of their devices under plans being negotiated by mobile companies and the capital’s transport authority.

Operators such as EE and Vodafone have held talks with Transport for London about the ability to pay for tickets using phones as part of a wider shift towards contactless payment schemes. Many modern smartphones now include the same “near field communication (NFC)” capabilities as an Oyster card, as well as the means to link the payments with various bank or operator apps.

The initial trial is expected to be a “pay as you go” scheme using apps owned by the mobile operators that can be preloaded with money. Operators could also consider payment for tickets on a weekly or monthly basis, according to a person familiar with the plans.

EE, for example, offers a means to load money and contactless pay on a phone through its “Cash on Tap” app, which can be adapted to make payments on London transport.

Vodafone is also expected to extend its “mobile wallet” contactless payment service this summer after launching it in other European countries. It could also be used to pay for the TfL scheme. EE and Vodafone declined to comment.

O2 offers a train app that lets users check timetables and book tickets online from any UK mainland rail company, although this has not been extended to a contactless payment service.

TfL’s barriers can work with NFC phones although the terminals need to be switched on to work with the systems being created by the mobile operators, according to one person with knowledge of the talks.

Shashi Verma, TfL’s director of customer experience, said: “The upgrade we have made to our readers to accept contactless payment cards also makes them capable of accepting suitable payment applications on mobile phones.

“We are doing some testing to see how the devices perform on the system and welcome any new payment technologies that meet the relevant industry standards and enable sufficiently fast transactions speeds.”

TfL is gradually replacing the Oyster system used by most passengers with a more open approach to contactless payments for the underground and buses.

Oyster is one of the most successful contactless ticketing methods in the world but is costly for TfL to run.

The transport authority is looking to extend the payments platform to other means of contactless payment. Contactless debit, credit or charge cards can already be used on buses to pay for single journeys at the same rate as a single Oyster fare, with similar plans being developed for the underground.

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