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The London Transport Revolution

By Nick Mackie, Head of Chip and Contactless for Europe • Visa

July 06, 2017

London was the first city of its size and scale to take the one thing its residents and visitors did millions of times a day – travel on public transport – and entirely overhaul the way people pay their fares.

This fundamentally changed 150 years of the way the transport industry has worked, providing TfL customers with the choice of touching their contactless cards on the iconic yellow readers to travel (with the same fares as pay-as-you-go with Oyster).

It was a huge step forward, led by a bold vision: London’s transport network is complex. While buses carry around half of the travelling public, there are rail, tram and tube services, not to mention river boats and cable cars. Fare policies are equally complex, calculated based on the combinations of modes used, distance travelled and even the time of day. And then there are daily and weekly fare capping policies which ensure TfL’s customers get the best fare for the transport they use.

Despite these complexities, TfL was uncompromising in its aim to deliver a simple and intuitive customer experience for contactless users. And it seems to have worked.

Just recently, TfL commemorated the passing of an incredible milestone: announcing that 1-billion contactless journeys had been made since the network-wide launch of contactless in September 2014.

CITY AM: London Transport Network reaches 1BN Contactless journeys

Perhaps most amazing is the continued rate of growth. When contactless was launched on London's buses in December 2012, it took around 7 months for passengers to complete 2 million journeys using their Visa cards. When contactless was launched on the rail, tram and tube network in September 2014, it took just two weeks to reach the same milestone. And today, around 2 million Visa contactless journeys are made every day, on average.

But why does uptake continue to grow? Well, anyone who has ever tried to take the tube at rush hour knows that speed is king. Many people feel inconvenienced by having get or top-up an Oyster card, or purchase a paper ticket, when trying to get from A to B in London. Using contactless can remove this friction, allowing people to use their contactless card or mobile NFC device to travel in London, just as they do to pay for goods or services elsewhere, in-store. Even more incredibly, the system can be used by most contactless cards from around the world, meaning you can simply step of the plane and jump on a train without needing to queue or think about what ticket you need.

For TfL, contactless has further improved the customer experience and has led to increases in passenger numbers (which in turn reduces private vehicle usage in the capital) and notable reductions in ticketing overheads.

So what now? The fact that 1 billion journeys have been made on TfL using contactless payments is just the beginning. Visa has already helped a number of other contactless transit projects to successfully launch in recent months, and there are nearly 100 other projects in-progress around the world.

Transforming the way we pay for transport in London was a bold move – but as the 1-billionth journey is completed, and the rest of the world looks on, we see evidence that bold visions are often worth pursuing. Well done TfL!

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