Linux opens London's Oyster

Summary:Open-source software helped London's Oyster-card system move past a proprietary roadblock, instantly cutting the regular charges for licensing and hosting by 80 percent

Open-source software helped London's Oyster card system move past a proprietary roadblock, an open-source conference in London was told last week.

The Oyster contactless card system, which handles payments for travel on London's buses and Tube system, suffered from lock-in to proprietary systems, which hindered developments to the online payment systems, said Michael Robinson, a senior consultant with Deloitte, at the Open Source Forum event in London. "The hosting was on a proprietary system, centred on one application," he said. "It demanded certain hardware, and was locked into one design of infrastructure."

Ninety percent of all bus and underground travel in London is paid for by the Oyster RFID (radio frequency identification) cards, which began trials in 2002, and were launched by Transport for London (Tfl) in 2003. With Oyster fares generally cheaper the comparable cash fare, it's no surprise there are now 12 million cards in circulation.

Despite this success, Tfl wants more people to move to online payments and automatic top-ups, which would reduce the demands on staff and machines at stations in ticket offices. Currently, 1.4 million Oyster cards are held by registered online customers, but Tfl wants to increase this, Robinson said. "Smartcards have even more benefits when topped up online — there is no queue, and it is self service."

But expanding the online system has been a problem. Early in its life there were ambitious plans to add cashless payments to the Oyster card, making it an electronic wallet, but the idea was shelved in 2005.

Three-and-a-half years into the Oyster system's life, it became clear to Tfl there was an upgrade that could not be put off, said Robinson. Simply put, the online system wasn't up to the job. It was too expensive, did not give good enough quality of service, and was not responsive enough to support the kind of promotions Tfl wanted to use, he said: "It couldn't respond to business changes, and it didn't scale."

Oyster also faced another problem: the site had to be upgraded to meet the payment card industry's PCI DSS requirements for security, which had emerged since the scheme began.

The Oyster system, including the scanners in buses and underground stations and the back-end database, is run for Tfl by services company EDS, but Tfl turned...

Topics: Tech Industry

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