Transport for London’s Oyster card system uses radio frequency identification tags (RFID) to enable a contactless ticketing system.
The smartcard network, launched in 2003, is run by the TranSys consortium of suppliers. EDS and Cubic Corporation are responsible for the day to day to management of the system, while Fujitsu and WS Atkins are shareholders with no active involvement in the system’s day-to-day management.
The cards store passengers’ season ticket or pay-as-you-go information. Passengers swipe them against readers each time they use public transport in London – the cards act as an aerial and the reader acts as a receiver.
Around 2.2 million people use the system every day, and there are around 6 million cards in total.
In 2006 Barclaycard signed a three-year deal with TranSys to enable its credit cards to be used as Oyster cards. The cards handle payment for low-value transactions at retail outlets, as well as performing the function of an Oyster card.
The system has experienced few problems. The biggest so far was the four-hour failure of Oyster software early on a Saturday morning in July 2008. Around 65,000 cards had to be replaced after being corrupted by the fault.
A routine data download disabled the system in 2005, enabling thousands to travel for free. Faulty data in a daily download which is sent out across the system to update smartcard readers caused the units to fail on March 10.
Transport for London introduced Oyster in London in 2003 and it has been growing ever since. It now eligible for use on all underground train journeys, all bus journeys and some national rail journeys.
Despite some technical problems - the Oyster card system was down on Saturday 12 July - the system has been a big success for both passengers and the transport system administrators Transport for London.
Oyster card woes - stories of Oyster card system failure
Oyster card - new developments
Before Oyster - how the new card came into use
Oyster - useful weblinks
This was first published in July 2008