Pennies and Oysters

Anyone who has visited (or lives in) London recently will probably be aware of the Oyster card. This simple electronic card, similar to a debit\credit card is primarily used for access to public transport, but I’m more interested in the possibility to use them for micro payments (small value transactions).

Using an Oyster card makes access to the tube simpler, faster and cheaper and means you don’t need to worry about having cash or having to purchase a ticket. More interestingly these cards is that they can be purchased with initial credit, can be topped up at machines all over London and can be linked to a bank account to automatically top up when they run out, providing secure but flexible access to transport without needing to directly use a credit\debit card.

If, as some places in London have started to do, these cards could also be used for transactions of small value e.g. a newspaper then the need for small denomination coins is drastically reduced. Anyone remember Mondex? Using an Oyster card is very quick, as it doesn’t require a pin or signature and removes any need for the customer to search for change, cashier to count money or assess change, this could drastically speed up service in shops such as newsagents or coffee shops and would also help with the current copper shortage. This is currently not possible with credit\debit cards due to the costs imposed for these transactions being uneconomical for small payments.

For this to be successful it would require national support from both retailers and for the Oyster card but this would help massively with the cards uptake and the use of public transport would surely improve if it were this easy and flexible on buses, tubes, trams and possibly even trains.

The provision of Oyster cards and the required infrastructure could be centralised and public controlled, being paid for by tax income or minor charges on the cards, surely this is a small price to pay for the potential improvements and environmental impact.

I’m sure there are issues with this idea, I would love to hear other peoples thoughts?

One thought on “Pennies and Oysters

  1. Jag

    The Octopus card in Hong Kong serves a similar role to Oyster, but it covers the whole gamut of the regional transport network, from the metro through the famous Star Ferry and public light minibuses that go out to the farthest reaches of Kowloon. And you can use it in the vast network of 7-11 stores for any purchases (not just small ones).

    Something London Transport can learn a thing or two from.


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