Last week, TfL announced it’s bringing mobile payments to the Tube, and sooner rather than later.
This technology is yet to really take off, but if it becomes standard on the Tube, it’s sure to trickle down to other areas soon too.
So how does it work? And what does it mean for your journey? Here are five things you need to know.
1 It’s happening this year
TfL has started a trial, with 5,000 lucky punters being the first to pay for their journeys using their contactless payment-enabled debit cards. But it’s also announced that we’ll be able to pay using our phones before the end of the year.
“We are continuing to modernise all our transport services to make it easier for customers to do business with us,” said Shashi Verma, TfL’s director of customer experience.
“The upgrade to our readers to accept contactless payment cards also makes them capable of accepting suitable payment applications on mobile phones.”
O2 first trialled mobile payments on the Tube with its Wallet Phone in 2007, so the idea isn’t entirely new. Still, better late than never.
2 It’ll use NFC
So how will it work? Near Field Communications (NFC) tech is the order of the day.
This is already found in your Oyster card, and is the same technology that lets you pair your smartphone with a speaker just by tapping the two together.
It’ll mean your mobile works just like your Oyster card – tap it on the card reader, and it’ll take the money out of your account.
Obviously for it to work, you’ll need a phone with NFC on board. This will be a bit of a stumbling block. NFC isn’t found in older and cheaper phones, and the iPhone doesn’t have it either.
Of course we could see Apple include NFC or a proprietary equivalent in the iPhone 6. Unless it wants to alienate 8 million Londonders, that is.
3 It’ll mean no more topping up
Because the money is taken straight from your bank account – much like with contactless payments – you won’t have to top up at the ticket machines. Which means no more queueing.
Of course TfL does auto top-up at the moment, but you still need an Oyster card for it to work. Paying with your phone is much more convenient, as you don’t need a separate card.
Just make sure your battery doesn’t die halfway through your journey…
4 It’s likely to expand beyond London
The current trial for contactless debit cards includes the rail network as well as the Tube, so it’s a safe bet that mobile payments will extend to overground trains.
Network Rail started accepting payments using Oyster cards too, so why not mobile payments?
5 It won’t replace Oyster cards completely
Like any new technology, it will take a while to take off. As we’ve noted, plenty of mobiles don’t have NFC, and it’s likely to have some teething problems.
Don’t throw your Oyster card out yet – it’ll act as a back-up in case your battery goes flat, or you lose your phone.
But it shouldn’t be long before we’re reaching for our mobiles instead of our wallets when we reach the ticket gate.