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NFC is just the ticket for London buses as payments go contactless

Contactless payment technology comes to buses in the UK capital - but be careful when you swipe if you have more than one card in your wallet...
Written by Sam Shead, Contributor

Commuters travelling on London buses will be able to pay for their journey using their bank card from Thursday, after Transport for London (TfL) introduced near-field communication (NFC) technology onto buses across the network.

The 159 to Streatham could soon offer NFC payment. Image: Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com

The buses' Oyster card readers, which rely on radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, have been upgraded so they are also compatible with NFC technology. The move means that people travelling on TfL buses in London no longer need to use cash or top up their Oyster card to pay for their journeys.

However, the upgrade has been a while coming: TfL said in February 2011 that all of London's 8,000 buses would accept contactless card payments in time for the summer Olympics. It also said that tube, tram and train services would be compatible with contactless cards by the end of 2012. 

Commuters can use the new payment method providing they have a contactless credit or debit card, which is indicated by a symbol printed on the card. Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group (Halifax), MBNA, Newcastle Building Society, The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (NatWest or RBS), have rolled out contactless cards in the UK.

Commuters paying for their bus fare with the contactless payment technology, which is supported by Visa payWave and Mastercard PayPass, will be charged the same amount as commuters travelling with an Oyster card, rather than the more expensive cash fare. Single bus journeys paid for on a bank card or an Oyster card cost £1.35, but will go up to £1.40 in 2013. Meanwhile, cash singles cost £2.40. 

TfL warned Oyster card users in an email that they should take care when swiping their wallet against readers if they own more than one NFC-enabled card. "If you present two cards together, the reader will normally reject them both," said TfL. "But there is a small possibility of payment being taken from a card which you did not intend to use."

While several mobile phones on the market already contain NFC technology, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Nokia Lumia 920, it is currently not possible to pay a bus fare from a mobile phone.

"The system is set up to accept contactless payments through mobile phones but we haven't seen phones on the market that have that yet," said a TfL spokeswoman. "The phone has the capability but it hasn't quite linked up with the payments industry. That's where the gap is and that's not for TfL to lead. It's got to be led by the mobile phone industry."

TfL has issued 55 million Oyster cards to date but only eight million of these are regularly used in any given month. Figures from TfL also indicate that almost £30m was left unspent on Oyster cards that had been lost or stolen from April 2009-10. 

For more information on the new service visit TfL's webpage on using contactless cards. 

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