diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 02, 2016

I live in fear of card clash.

Sorry, I'm a bit late on this one. Bear with me.

It's now two years since TfL began scaring the bejesus out of us over card clash. Watch out for card clash, they screamed, beware of card clash, it could wreck your life!

This elevated level of alarm was somewhat unexpected, because it'd be six months before mere mortals could use their contactless cards to pay for travel on the Underground. Sure, they'd already been operational on the buses for over a year, where warnings of card clash had been made abundantly clear. But the relentless campaign on the tube in February 2014 was something new - you couldn't go five minutes in a ticket hall or on a platform without hearing recorded messages about the perils of double swiping.

Keep your Oyster card separate from your other contactless cards, they warned, else card clash might be the result. In those early days this might result in nothing worse than the gates not opening, and some mild tutting from the stream of commuters coming up behind. But as the trialling phase ended and general rollout ensued, it became increasingly vital "to only touch the card you intend to pay with on the reader to avoid paying with a card you did not intend to use". TfL's volley of card clash hype made journeys feel genuinely dangerous, so terrible might the consequences be.

But where is card clash now? Indeed can you even remember the last time you heard a recorded message specifically mentioning it? The danger should be greater now than ever, what with an increasing number of contactless cards in wallets and purses, and various other electronic means by which you might accidentally end up paying twice. Is TfL's silence because we've all learned to avoid the card clash demon? Was it possibly never a big issue in the first place? Or are they now going out of their way to promote the positives rather than the negatives?

TfL's message has most definitely changed, specifically to "contactless is great!" It's great for customers because they need never top up again, and because they'll never pay more than they would have done with Oyster. And it's great for TfL because it offloads all the effort of collecting fares to your bank, and saves TfL millions they can then invest elsewhere. Indeed if you look at any recent fare-related publicity you'll see that contactless is now always given maximum prominence, with Oyster as an also ran, because contactless is the future.

I don't have a contactless card.

Or rather I didn't, until the very end of last year when my bank finally sent me a new card with a contactless chip. It even arrived on the very day TfL snuffed out their last ticket office, which I thought was somewhat ironic.

I haven't rushed to use it, indeed I hung onto my old card until the very last day. I'm in no hurry to embrace new capability, not because I'm a Luddite but because I'm perfectly happy with what I know. Some of my friends are the complete opposite. They leapt on contactless as soon as it appeared, indeed they've embraced the technology to such an extent that they've been known to tweet their frustration when they discover a vendor who doesn't take Apple Pay, as if this inconvenience were some kind of financial crime. But I'm not someone who goes round town buying coffees, beers or pastries, nor a bag of groceries on the way home, so small plastic payments aren't a big thing for me.

And anyway, I have zero need for contactless payment on the tube. Contactless currently only works for Pay As You Go, whereas I have a Travelcard which works in a completely different way. Contactless can cope with weekly capping, but not yet monthly, and is of no use whatsoever for my annual one-off payment. It's known that TfL will be updating their technology before too long, perhaps replacing Oyster functionality with something that tots up travel and deducts a single payment at the end of the day. But for the time being those of us with Travelcards can simply ignore the lure of contactless, because we've already paid, and it'd likely charge us more.

Indeed it's pretty important that we Travelcard users don't use contactless. When I make a journey within my zones, it's not supposed to cost. When I venture outside my designated area, I pay a lesser extension fee. And even if I travel entirely outside the area I've paid for, my special Gold Card discount kicks in and I get one third off. I absolutely definitely do not want to pay for my tube or bus fare using contactless, which up until yesterday was fine, because I didn't have a card with the designated ability.

But at the end of 01/16 my old Chip and Pin expired, and suddenly I was kicked screaming into the modern world. My new card has a clever security feature whereby no contactless payment can be taken until it's been used at least once in a cash machine. But I needed fresh cash yesterday, and suddenly my contactless functionality is unlocked... imagine my fear and terror.

I now get to approach the ticket barrier carrying an additional card for payment. Suddenly I'm introducing financial risk into my daily travel where previously there was none. I don't usually swipe my wallet across the reader, I wave my Oyster card instead, but what if I suddenly get it wrong? What if the two cards suddenly ended up together in some freak mis-filing accident, and the wrong one beeped? Or what if I was getting onto a bus and the radio field picked up the contactless card I might have in a top pocket and accidentally charged that? And if it did, how would I know? I'm not scouring my bank balance for potential fare outlay, so who knows how out of control the drain on my spending could become.

I worry that a fear of card clash has been hardwired into me by TfL's lengthy awareness campaigns, hence I've become inordinately concerned that the dreaded double charging issue will happen to me. I know the rest of you are months ahead - you got all your Early Adopter Terror out of the way several months ago. Indeed you've probably long recognised that 'card clash' in fact never happens, and was merely a headline-grabbing scare story designed to tip us over into leaving our Oysters at home, shunting us over to the new way of doing things more quickly. I'll reach that state of mind eventually, I really will, but it may take a while.

So if you do spot a petrified geezer frozen with fear by the ticket gates, please have pity. I do have a contactless card, all of a sudden, I'm just not yet ready to use it.

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