diamond geezer

 Saturday, September 11, 2021

Yesterday the BBC News website published an article entitled London's Oyster card: Are its days numbered?

The answer to that question turned out to be No.
This is a fine example of Betteridge's law which states "Any headline ending in a question mark can be answered by the word No." Had this been a genuine story then the headline would have read "London's Oyster card to be withdrawn" but it isn't, hence the question mark to command interest. We still click on these stories in case the answer is Yes for a change, but no, it was obviously No.
If journalistic question-baiting peeves you, you are not alone. But if it makes you properly angry you should probably calm down and try to develop a sense of perspective. No badly phrased headline is worth getting incandescent about, indeed if this enrages you you're probably a thin-skinned miseryguts who moans and whinges excessively, so ssssh.
Yes, technically the Oyster card's days are numbered. There will come a day when it can no longer be used, perhaps after a drawn-out cost-saving consultation or perhaps the day after the capital is destroyed by a nuclear explosion, Maybe Oyster has 537 or 2734 or 6078 days left but as yet nobody knows, so let's not get hung up on a metaphorical technicality.
The article claims that...
...82m Oyster cards haven't been used for at least a year
...only 5.7m of the Oyster cards in circulation are still active
...there are three times as many contactless users as Oyster loyalists

This sounds bad for Oyster.
But hang on, the adult population of London is about 7 million so 5.7m Oyster cards being active isn't half bad, especially during a pandemic. Also if a "contactless user" is anyone who sometimes uses contactless, and an Oyster loyalist is someone who only uses Oyster, then we're not comparing like with like. This might not be what the journalist meant, I don't know where he sourced his figures, but it pays to be circumspect about these things.
But it's not that catastrophic.
According to a recent FoI request, the Oyster/contactless split was 49%/51% in 2018, 43%/57% in 2019 and 38%/62% in 2020. Oyster usage is definitely dropping but it's nowhere near extinction level yet.
Which'll be why, about halfway down the article, a TfL spokesman debunks the original question.
However there are no plans to stop offering an Oyster option, according to TfL's head of customer payments Mike Tuckett, who joined the ticketing team just after the contract to deliver the technology for the Oyster card was signed in 1998. He said: "I can't imagine a situation where everyone either will have a bank account and card suitable to pay or wants to."
Oyster is there for those who can't or won't use contactless, most importantly the former.
It's there for those without a debit card or smartphone, for those with some kind of season ticket, for those who get discounted travel and for those who wouldn't use public transport if forced to use a contactless option. I used to use Oyster because I had an annual Travelcard which meant contactless wasn't an option, and now I use Oyster because I prefer waving a cheap piece of plastic with limited access to my bank account rather than the keycard to my savings or £500-worth of nickable gadgetry.
You might respond by saying "Well I use contactless and I think it's better", and that's fine. Or you might say "Well you could always get a smartwatch like me", and that means you don't realise how lucky you are to have disposable income. Or you might say "Well I use contactless so I don't see why anyone should still be using Oyster", and that demonstrates a blinkered lack of empathy. Or you might say "Well I use contactless so I don't see any objection to withdrawing Oyster", and that makes you a selfish bastard. People who are happy to introduce a restriction because it doesn't affect them are the worst people.
There is a genuine nugget of news in the BBC article, which is that weekly payment capping on Oyster is due to be introduced "by the end of the year".
TfL introduced weekly capping on contactless in 2014 and have been promising to introduce it for Oyster ever since. Technically it's more complicated, but nobody ever expected it would be seven years more complicated. That's almost 400 weeks during which Oyster users have lost out - an embarrassingly long period during which it hasn't been true that Oyster would always be the cheapest means of travel.
TfL are actually hoping to introduce Oyster weekly capping this month. It's got to be a Monday because that's how weekly capping works, and it's not this Monday otherwise they'd have announced it by now, and it can't be the Monday after otherwise the good news would clash with the opening of the Northern line extension, so I'll leave you to work out which of the remaining Mondays it must be.
As Mr Tuckett said, "We're investing in Oyster to develop it - we wouldn't be doing that if we were thinking of retiring it. It's iconic. It's hard to contemplate a future without Oyster because it's absolutely right that TfL has to be inclusive in its approach to customers."

No, Oyster's days are not numbered.

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