Transport for London (TfL) has become the fastest growing contactless Visa merchant in Europe, and the fastest growing Mastercard and American Express merchant in the UK, a mere six months after it first launched contactless payments in September 2014.
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TfL claimed 60 million contactless journeys had now been made on its system since September 2014, 20 million of those since mid-February 2015, and 14% of all journeys made on the system were now contactless.
It also named the top five London Underground stations where customers have made contactless payments as Oxford Circus, Kings Cross, London Bridge, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf.
The system uses near-field communications (NFC) technology to enable users with compatible cards to pay for journeys in London in the same way that they would use their cards in a retail store.
TfL believes NFC has a number of advantages over its parallel Oyster radio-frequency identification (RFID) payment system, which has been up and running successfully for more than a decade.
Among other things, says the transport operator, it saves customers time spent topping up, and is supposedly more secure as card users receive the same protections they would get in a retail environment.
TfL’s contactless payment system, Contact Assistant, is run separately from the Oyster scheme, and differs in a number of ways. For example, whereas with Oyster cards billing information is held on the card itself, contactless data is held centrally on a Microsoft SQL Server system, which runs a separate billing engine enabling weekly capping for pay-as-you-go users.
TfL director of customer experience Shashi Verma said: “Most people carry a contactless debit or credit card in their back pocket, and so they can just touch in and out to pay, then focus on getting to their destination rather than engaging in unproductive activity, which is what buying a ticket actually is.”
A million taps a day
TfL announced the latest milestone for contactless technology after the number of journeys made using contactless hit one million in one 24-hour period last week, accounting for around one in seven of all contactless transactions in the UK, according to The UK Cards Association policy head Richard Koch.
Read more about contactless technology
“Total contactless spending reached a record £2.32bn in 2014 – more than double that of all the previous six years combined,” he said.
Visa UK and Ireland managing director, Kevin Jenkins, added: “We've seen the use of contactless terminals more than triple over the past year and believe that TfL's adoption of the technology is a leading reason why consumers have embraced it as fast as they have.”
MasterCard UK and Ireland group head of acceptance and emerging payments, Scott Abrahams, said the take-up of contactless among Londoners was having a halo effect on other merchants, both in London and elsewhere in the UK, which were noting a marked shift in how customers paid for goods and services.
Barclaycard, which built the technology at the heart of the TfL contactless system, said that extrapolating from its data showed usage was set to climb steadily month-over-month for the foreseeable future.
Verma at TfL said the operator was already considering future options for NFC communications. Support for mobile payments is already live, he said, and Contact Assistant will be able to begin to take payments from smartphones "as and when" such devices come on-stream.