diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I shan't be using a contactless card on the tube today.

Reason 1: I have an annual travelcard

One thing TfL haven't gone out of their way to remind us recently is that contactless travel isn't for everybody. It's not for you if you're over 60 and have a concessionary Oyster - you should carry on using that. It's not for you if you get discounted travel, for example if you're a London Apprentice or on Income Support. And it's not for you if you have a monthly or an annual travelcard. Weekly travelcards are different, as Monday to Sunday capping comes into force, which could mean savings via contactless if you can synchronise your week with TfL's Monday start. But contactless can't yet cope with monthly travelcards, so anyone using one of these should definitely stick with Oyster for the time being. And contactless definitely can't cope with annual travelcards, ditto, and there's no indication as yet regarding when they might ever come on board.

I have an annual travelcard, which I always thought was by far the most sensible fare option, economically speaking. I only have to travel into work and back daily for 45 weeks out of 52 to recoup my expense, and every week beyond that is money saved. And obviously I travel around London rather more frequently than that, within my allocated zones and without, so my travelcard saving is even greater. Yes, I realise that I'm in a ridiculously small minority in having a regular office-based job and the ability to stump up over a thousand pounds in one go once a year. Instead most Londoners sail through ticket barriers on Pay As You Go, as you'll see if you watch the displays on the gates as people pass through. Only a few of us have the financial footing to be able to save money on fares, either monthly or annually, and contactless travel isn't enabled for the likes of us.

Reason 2: I always keep my Oyster card and bank cards separate.

I'll not be succumbing to the perils of card clash because I keep my bits of plastic apart. I always have. Not for me a single receptacle with every card I own stuffed inside. Instead I've always kept my Oyster card in a little plastic wallet well away from all my other cards. I think that's because TfL provided me with one when they first came out, back in the days when the wallets had useful extra pockets and didn't have a sponsor's name slapped all over the outside. My original wallet fell apart eventually and I had to source a new one - one of those freebies people give away rather than the IKEA-wrapped advert TfL later provided. But it lives entirely separately in my pocket, and when I reach a ticket barrier only the little plastic wallet comes out, not an entire portmanteau of digital currency.

I have an advantage, being male, in that I actually have pockets. Even in the height of summer there's somewhere I can stash my Oyster that isn't tucked inside a purse or at the bottom of a bag. I'm not hunting manically when the ticket gates approach, increasingly desperate to find my small rectangle of plastic, I can put my hand in the right pocket straight away. And that means I'm never tempted to whack my bag down on the card reader and wiggle it around to operate the barrier, even in a hurry. Because it's the bag-swipers and wallet-wavers who are going to be caught out today, when suddenly the contactless card that lies within wakes up and fires a charge into the system. They've not taken heed of six months of nagging, and they're the ones who'll be penalised when card clash makes the barrier stall or nabs an unexpected payment.

Reason 3: I don't have a contactless card.

Every time TfL go on and on about how fantastic contactless payment will be I sigh, because I do not own one of the magic bits of plastic of which they speak. This surprises me somewhat because I'm a solvent member of the public with a long-standing bank account, but no, my debit card remains a bog standard version. I thought when my latest card arrived last year that I'd be upgraded but no, and the expiry date is in 2016 so I'm not expecting contactlessness any time soon. TfL's endless promotion of their new way to pay therefore washes over me, despite their seeming assumption that we must all by now be appropriately enabled. I'm relieved that there are no up-front plans to discontinue Oyster, because it works for me, and I don't want to join this new suboptimal contactless system just yet.

Every time I mention that I don't have a contactless card I get comments from readers telling me how I should go about getting one. All I need to do is call my bank, apparently, and explain that my current card is "very worn and sometimes doesn't work", and ask for a replacement. That line's always successful, apparently, and yet I'm still not interested. You might think contactless the bee's knees, but I'm in no hurry to be upgraded to a payment system I don't need. I'm not forever spending little bits of money here and there on food and drink, plus I still like paying for things with cash. You might well shake your head and cry "get with the program, Grandad", but no thanks, I'm perfectly happy with coins, a debit card and Oyster. It still works, and it can cope with an annual travelcard, and I can't be accidentally stung by swiping the wrong card by mistake.

So no, however much hype is swirling around, I shan't be using a contactless card on the tube today.

But the rest of you, you have fun out there.

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