Watchdog Raises Concerns About TfL's Plan To Go Cashless

Says measure will hit those on low incomes hardest

contactless card payment on london undergroun

The organisation that monitors public transport in London, London TravelWatch, is raising concerns about Transport for London’s (TfL) plans to remove the ability to use cash to pay for travel at stations.

TfL removed cash payments from most stations during the pandemic but now plans to take away permanently the facility to buy tickets or top up Oyster cards using cash. Cash payment are to be suspended at London Overground and London Underground stations in the new year for an unknown length of time. Government approval is necessary to suspend cash payments on the Overground.

On London Underground there were 75,000 cash transactions a day in 2019. This fell to 12,500 (16% of the level from the year before) between July to September 2020 alongside a fall to 31% of pre -Covid Tube use and the suspension of cash transactions since May in all but 72 of 270 stations.

Passengers without a bank account or a contactless bank card will only be able to top up an Oyster card with cash at a Ticket Stop which is usually a newsagent or similar retailer.

London TravelWatch has written to the Transport Commissioner, Andy Byford, to express its reservations about the policy. Its letter states, “London TravelWatch is concerned that this proposal will have a significant impact on passengers, and especially those on low incomes. We recognise that there are operational savings to be made from this proposal, but we note that this idea is being put forward as a means of controlling conditions for the spread of the Coronavirus, rather than as a cost saving exercise.”

London TravelWatch’s research shows that 260,000 adults in London are without a bank account. Some with a bank account cannot access debit or credit cards or choose not to use them. Many children have to pay a half fare for non-bus journeys but don’t have access to a contactless card.

Ticket Stops do not always operate at the same time as public transport services particularly at night and it is pointed out that passengers may be left vulnerable if they are unable to travel. Passengers using Night Tube services are likely to be particularly affected.

There are currently 3,800 Ticket Stops in London but their availability varies from area to area with the nearest ticket stops to South Acton and White City over 400 metres from the station. The requirement to use a Ticket Stop is likely to add to the difficulties of many disabled people using public transport services.

A TfL spokesperson said. "We’re focused on making our network as safe as possible for our staff and customers during this pandemic and we temporarily made the majority of ticket machines on London Underground and the DLR cashless in April. We’re now considering whether there is a case for most remaining Tube stations, as well as other stations on our network, to be made cashless on a temporary basis and have now begun discussions with stakeholders about this.

“We realise that there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account before arriving at a conclusion and this will include an equalities impact assessment covering how this could affect staff and customers. In the meantime, ticket machines at these remaining stations will continue to accept cash."

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December 15, 2020