London buses prepare to go cash free, despite opposition

cashless oyster bus

CASH payments will be banned on London buses from July 6th.

The move, which is projected to save Transport for London (TfL) £130 million over the next nine years, goes ahead despite the fact that 60% of respondents to a consultation on the idea earlier this year opposed it.

Most of those against the plan argue that it risks leaving vulnerable bus users stranded and unable to travel as well as potentially disadvantaging low income households.

cash free banner TfL


The cash free disadvantage

The move to cash free payments will be familiar to anyone who regularly uses London buses: TfL are making announcements during journeys, putting up posters at bus stops and sending out emails to publicise the switch.

email TfL oyster

SOURCE: TfL email.

But it won't greatly change most bus users' behaviour, at least day to day.

Buses already strongly encourage passengers to pay in cash, as anyone who has ever attempted to pay with anything other than exact change can attest. TfL say that just 1% of bus journeys are paid for in cash.

But who's in that 1%? Critics suggest that it's made up of some of the most vulnerable people: older people; those on low incomes; those without a bank account and those travelling in various difficult circumstances.

TfL payment type

SOURCE: TfL consultation.

There seems to be little truth to the idea that older people are disproportionately affected. TfL say that the vast majority of cash users are 16 to 34.

But other criticisms have some bite.

TfL say that about half of cash users are paying because they have insufficient credit on their Oyster card. Some of those people could well end up stranded as a result of the new rules.

In addition, the ability to pay with a contactless card is obviously no use to those without bank accounts and, for those on a low income, keeping money on Oyster cards could make it more difficult to budget.

Making cash free work

TfL say they aren't pushing aside these concerns, which came from organisations like London Travel Watch as well as the boroughs and councils surrounding London.

Bus drivers will have to undertake more training to, in the words of TfL, "ensure [they] can recognise a vulnerable person, that they don't have stereotypes, and they avoid conflict".

Financial exclusion

From June 8th, Oyster cardholders have been able to take 'one more journey' when they have a positive balance on their card but not quite enough money to tap in.

TfL also point out that 40% of bus passengers already receive free or discounted travel and have a card for that.

We still love cash

All in all, the concern around going cash free shows just how far we still rely on coins and notes.

52% of all payments made in the UK are made in cash, the Payments Council said this week.

"Despite speculation on declining cash use the reality is that the majority of our everyday purchases are still made in cash, particularly for low value items. Clearly customers need and want cash as much as ever," David Hensley, Head of Cash Services for the Council said.

One of the big advantages of cash, the Payments Council, suggest is how much easier it makes budgeting.

Contactless payments

About 40% of the Oyster cards sold since 2003 haven't been used for more than 12 months, TfL data released last month reveals.

Many of those cards will have been bought by tourists or people who only visit London sporadically but some will be lost at home, a more modern equivalent of losing money down the back of the sofa.

Money on Oyster cards doesn't expire. Lost cards can be exchanged for cash, plus the card deposit.

The average card has a balance of just £2.25, but over 300 cards have a balance of £90, the Oyster card maximum.

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