TfL have been cutting down their overheads on fare collection for years. Fifteen years ago we all travelled round London by buying bits of paper from actual people. What an expensive delivery system that was. Today over 90% of journeys on public transport are paid for with Oyster or some form of contactless payment.
Oyster first arrived on the scene in 2003, with Pay As you Go in operation from 2004. Daily capping was introduced in 2005, which was also when weekly travelcards stopped being physically available. Cash fares were made more expensive than Oyster fares in 2006, to encourage behavioural shift, then in 2010 PAYG was extended across the National Rail network. In 2012 contactless payments arrived on the buses, whose operation went entirely cash-free in 2014. Also in 2014 contactless reached the tube, which helped TfL to close all of its ticket offices the following year.
Many of these ticketing changes have made travel more convenient for passengers, others rather less so, but the driving force behind each has been to save TfL money. And there are a lot more changes on the way.
This month, for example, TfL are making it easier to buy PAYG credit or a season ticket online. Previously you had to nominate a station to collect these from, and wait up to a day before it was ready, but now you'll be able to collect it at any station, 30 minutes after you've ordered it, as part of making a normal journey. In October collection will also extend to the yellow reader on any bus, which it's hoped will nudge a lot more bus passengers to embrace online sales over Ticket Stops.
It's also now possible for customers with non-Zone 1 Travelcards and discounted National Rail through tickets to buy boundary extension tickets from all station ticket machines... which might excite a few of you.
Next month, security approval permitting, Tfl's fares app arrives. They've been piloting it with 900 volunteers for a few months, but in August anyone'll be able to download it for free from the App Store or Google Play. Those of you who like to wave your smartphone around in busy public places will no doubt leap at the opportunity. The app's not over-blessed with functionality, but will allow you to top up your PAYG or buy a season ticket, as well as display your journey and charging history. It'll also provide notifications if your balance is running low, your season ticket is about to expire or a Maximum Fare has been applied. Initially it'll only work for those customers who own an Oyster card (issued since 2010), but next year the app will work for contactless customers too.
Early next year the refund system gets an update, with automated refunds delivered in 24 hours rather than 48, and from any station. Next Spring the Hopper fare opens up to multiple buses - as many as you can ride in one hour - the implementation of which has proved a programming headache. Then next summer comes the real biggie, the introduction of weekly capping on Oyster. Currently only contactless users can use take advantage of the Monday-Sunday cap because their fares are totted up overnight, not throughout their journey. Updating software systems which were never meant to cope with this level of complexity has been tricky, but the aim is to bring Oyster into line with contactless and make the the charging of fares more consistent. Ultimately TfL hope we'll all stop buying weekly travelcards and simply trust the system to get it right.
There's no suggestion in any of TfL's documentation that monthly or annual Travelcards will be replaced. Totting up journeys at the end of a month or year would be ridiculously complicated, plus purchases are infrequent, and only wealthier London residents tend to use them. All the big savings are to be found by weaning everyone else onto using a card they already own, rather than one TfL has to provide, and encouraging everyone to self-serve as much as possible. It all adds up to millions more which can be spent on investment rather than backroom operations... and that's how you raise revenue without raising fares.