back to article London commuter hell will soon include 'one card to rule them all'

Government-funded bods at a tech incubator called the Transport Systems Catapult are working to design a "one-card-to-rule-them-all" system that includes London's buses, underground and overground trains as well as its black taxis, The Reg has learned. The pay-by-bonk system is intended to be similar to TfL's Oyster card, but …


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  1. Kay Burley ate my hamster

    Paid more than they earn.

    Any figures on how much these people were paid to add Taxi's to the Oyster card?

  2. Ommerson

    For at least some taxi drivers, it will be accountability and audit trail such a card generates that is the problem. No more jobs 'for cash'.

    1. Vinyl-Junkie

      For at least some taxi drivers.....

      Not only that, but no more blank, signed receipts allowing unscrupulous employees to claim double the taxi fare back...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: For at least some taxi drivers.....

        The answer is simple.

        "String em up, that's the only language they understand. I had that Vince Cable in the back of my cab....." etc ad nauseum.

        Mines the black leather bomber jacket style jacket with the copy of the Sun in the side pocket.

    2. NotWorkAdmin

      You've neatly sat on the fence

      @Ommerson of course people who's employment entails large numbers of small cash payments evade tax. It's popular these days to bash large companies for legally evading tax, but somehow seen as "OK" for individuals to do it illegally, even applauded. I'm not sure I understand why - my wages are all paid electronically and I have no way out of PAYE. I've known (and indeed still know) many people who illegally avoid income tax; if asked I always tell them as far as I'm concerned it's me they are robbing.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Jobs for cash are the least of the problem

      Taxi drivers generate "valid" inflated receipt by doing 3 circles around the target and taking the scenic route, not by having no trail.

      So unless Taxi drivers are officially Uber-ized with the receipt being on the basis of real distance from A to B (not the round-n-round-we-go driven one) this is yet another gimmick with no value.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      For at least some taxi drivers, it will be accountability and audit trail such a card generates that is the problem. No more jobs 'for cash'.

      That might also explain the aggressive response against Uber, because with Uber you end up paying one fee, irrespective of how many detours were taken and all transactions will be stored somewhere. I shudder to think what that does for user privacy, though, isn't Uber's HQ in the US?

  3. Admiral Grace Hopper


    Where's Steve Bong when you need him?

  4. batfastad

    Oyster in taxis?

    So this is just an oystaaar card added to taxis? wow. amaze.

    Though did I read somewhere (here on Reg probably) that the Oyster tech/license costs TfL a fair amount, that's why they're desperate to try and replace it with a new bonking card tech?

    I've heard they're already planning to call it the "Scampi" card, which I think is fantastic.

  5. IHateWearingATie

    Is this a joke?

    I already use my Oyster to travel pretty much anywhere inside the M25 north of the river, and a fair chunk south of the river (there be dragons etc etc) on overground, underground and buses.

    So this is adding Oyster to some more Southern trains stations (extending out past Leatherhead for example), a few extra buses (the one that goes past my house to Watford Junction would be nice, and not that difficult as other Oyster enabled buses go to Watford Junction) and Taxis?

    How can they talk about this with a straight face?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this a joke?

      It could be a step to a nationally integrated single payment system as you'll find in places like Switzerland, but even there, taxis are outside the picture - I guess it's a bit harder to manage and license independents.

  6. Justin Clift

    So basically a credit/debit card with NFC?

    Credit/debit cards with NFC already work on London buses and taxi. Haven't tried trains though.

    How is it this new group are inventing anything new/worthwhile? Credit/debit cards already have massive user base, industry acceptance, etc.

  7. Frank Zuiderduin

    Oh dear...

    "The scheme was inspired by similar projects on the continent, such as a card in the Netherlands which allows travellers to pay for trains, hire bikes and even book electric vehicles."

    Pray they don't make the same mistakes. And keep on top of whatever the companies involved are trying to do. While the Dutch 'OV-chipkaart' is a good idea in theory, the way it's been implemented is an example of how NOT to do things.

    1. Ian 7

      Re: Oh dear...

      "the way it's been implemented is an example of how NOT to do things"

      Genuine question - what did they do wrong, or what problems have they introduced with the way they've done it?

      1. Julian Bradfield

        Re: Oh dear...

        You have to keep a non-trivial sum on it, because they won't let you on unless you have enough to pay for a "reasonable" journey.. The only way to top it up free is with cash or a Dutch bank card. And they want to make it the only means of payment. At present, they have a surcharge for not using it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh dear...

          "And they want to make it the only means of payment. At present, they have a surcharge for not using it"

          I was over there the other week - I didn't realise that there's a price difference; While I was there on business, I can imagine tourists feeling that being fleeced for effectively not being a 'local' leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

          1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

            Re: Oh dear...

            While I was there on business, I can imagine tourists feeling that being fleeced for effectively not being a 'local' leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

            Same as London then :) There is a similar surcharge for not using Oyster nowdays.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Oh dear...

              Same as London then :) There is a similar surcharge for not using Oyster nowdays.

              Took the words right out of my mouth. I couldn't believe just how expensive a one day travelcard has become. I really cannot find any other explanation than that they seek to fleece tourists.

              Not that that is new - in the days where there was there was more prominence of the (later aggressively hidden) Underground refund scheme, it was set up to require a UK address to send the refund cheque to. Not that even a London inhabitant stood much of a chance, because practically everything was done to stop you from claiming that refund, from taking in your ticket at the gate to making it a hard to process refund cheque so you spent ages queueing.

              Even now you will find that fancy payment system can magically not handle an automated payment of that nature, no, you still need the manual whole paper & queueing process. Oh, and if you don't know of it, well, I heard it from more than one member of staff at London Underground that they were actively barred from mentioning it when there was a massive disruption. That, too, didn't come entirely as a surprise...

          2. Trixr Bronze badge

            Re: Oh dear...

            As someone else has observed, if you don't have an Oyster card, you also get "fleeced" in London. I was fortunate that I'd lived there for several years previous to my last visit, because I went straight to the Heathrow tube station and got myself a 1 week travelcard/Oyster and saved myself a bomb just on the trip to the West End (not to mention travelling around the remaining 4 days I was there).

            The assumption is - and it is in every country of the world where I've been on public transport - that if you are a local you'll pay for a multi-trip ticket of some description for your commuting, which is effectively subsidised by the local council. Locals pay "full price" as well if they can't get off their chumps to get a multi-trip ticket and/or only travel by public transport very rarely.

            In other words, why is any of this a surprise? It's not about "fleecing tourists" per se.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    generate £90bn a year for the UK by 2025

    I think he was being modest, why not £900bn?

  9. danbishop

    Why stop at London? This should work across all trains, trams, buses etc. Along with a sensible fare calculation system that means a ticket from Edinburgh to York should have cost the same as the five tickets I actually bought (at much less expense) for the same train (breaking it down into Edinburgh-Berwick Berwick-Newcastle Newcastle-Durham etc.).

    1. I'm Brian and so's my wife

      The fact that one has to engage in that split-fare bollocks to get a reasonable price seriously pisses me off.

      I generally prefer free markets, but the kind of crony capitalism bullshit we seem to implement and tolerate over and over again (utilities, banking, transport) makes me wonder about alternative approaches.

      I don't recall baulking at the price of train tickets when I was at uni 20 years ago and earning significantly less. I may now be older and more cynical/miserly/unrealistic, but like I said, just talking about it makes my blood boil.

  10. Anonymous Coward 101

    We are still waiting on a version of the Oyster card for other cities in the UK. Whenever I am travelling around Edinburgh or Glasgow, it's always a pain to either pay with coins or credit card the whole time.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      There is a Bramble Card for the Glasgow Subway, but that is only one circle line with 15 stations.

  11. TRT Silver badge

    That kind of fits in...

    with a pie-in-the-sky idea I mulled over with some other crayonista train spottery types for personal travel pods at a complex rail interchange. The idea was to provide interchange at Old Oak Common by linking it to the Acton/Park Royal, Wembley/Neasden and Brent Cross/Hendon interchanges (which are not quite interchanges, but are so close they should be). You program your journey into an electronic ticket which guides you through the station (one argument against a massive Old Oak interchange is that so many lines converge there, the station would be a nightmare to navigate), and can program a personalised rapid transit pod with the correct interchange for you. Expanding that concept further, you could search for and select your route on your mobile device which can then be used to pay for the various stages of your journey, provide advice and guidance at stations and bus stops, programme personalised pods e.g. at airports presently, warn you about delays which may impact e.g. your flight departure.

    But, as you say, it's a spooks paradise. You don't HAVE to use it, though.

  12. Infidellic_


    So like others have said it's Oyster but *also* in taxi's. That's hardly a revolution. The train companies nationwide are already, glacially, working towards smart cards there's even a chap in charge of converging this with Oyster ( ) and a standard written (PDF: ). Introduce ITSO requirements into all franchise renewals and force TfL to integrate with ATOC standard. Job done for all rail travel + London public transport.

  13. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Are oyster cards identifiable ?

    Mine is, as I ordered it online. But how about the one I bought for the Mrs (for a London trip !) in cash at a newsagents ?

    If you want to confuse the surveillance aspect of this scheme, have a pool of burner oyster cards. And/or swap them with your mates.

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

      I have 3 bought in a shop with no details attached I also use cash to top them up. I have no loyalty card and sometimes swap credit cards etc. with 'a friend'.

      Oooh, I also live abroad and do not own a house, 2 cars etc. honest guv.

      This week I am a female of a certain nationality for various reasons and next week who knows?

      Call me paranoid if you want but a bit of data mining can reveal loads, so why not readjust reality.

      The only person who neede to know about me was the tax man, now I live abroad it is someone else with a similar but more gentle purpose.

      1. Blackbird74

        Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

        I think the ones you can buy in a shop without any registration process are "Visitor Oyster Cards", which whilst useful for the purposes you outline, they have limitations. Primarily, they can not be loaded with weekly, monthly or annual tickets, which most people who travel regularly in London will use for convenience and price.

        This compares to Travelcards (showing old paper type, but similar for Oyster)

        There are other benefits such as being able to transfer credit online if you lose a registered card, which I have, and it even refunds the £5 deposit need for the new card.

        The Visitor cards are useful for spook-dodging as you described, but as I said, there are limitations.

        (TRT beat me to it, but as he/she said, you can also add auto-Top Up etc.) So again, a big trade-of between privacy and convenience.

        1. Test Man

          Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

          Visitor Oyster Cards are exactly the same as normal Oyster cards except you pay less of a deposit on it and you can't put any Travelcard fare on it. You can get a normal Oyster card without having to register it - you just can't put more than a 7-day travelcard fare on it

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

      You can choose to register them online so that you can automatically top up by debit card, top up on line, reclaim the balance if it's lost or stolen... that kind of thing.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

      Not always, but TFL can (and do) use CCTV synced to when a given card went through a given ticket barrier to track people for fare evasion

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are oyster cards identifiable ?

      Station CCTV as well as ticket gate log files are probably synced to the same time source, so if they really were interested in you it wouldn't take long to connect you to a specific Oyster ID. You could confuse things by returning the card after a season ticker runs out, and getting a new cash one elsewhere, that breaks the chain.

      Refunds are fun in this context - notice how much effort they put in to get your details as soon as it's about giving back some of their ill gotten gains? A few years back I had hard evidence on two separate cards that the system was overcharging pay as you go clients to quite a degree, and the kind of circular arguments used by their phone support to get ID out of me for refunds were impressive, albeit annoying. I won in the end, though, but that's more because I'm a stubborn git when annoyed and I was quoting bits of the DPA to the manager they eventually called.

      I wouldn't mind buying a card with credit card access, but it's exactly this enthusiasm for abusing data that stops me from giving them a too easy route to track me. Screw that - I want them to put at least some effort in before they can.

  14. Credas Silver badge

    Is this a belated April 1st item?

    It's an "Oyster card" that will work across any transport system: AKA a pay-by-wave credit/debit card.

    They're "tracking brand sentiment": AKA conducting surveys/opinion polls.

    If I didn't know better I'd think that someone at El Reg is taking the piss here, on the feeble pretext of it being Friday 13th.

    1. Bloakey1

      Re: Is this a belated April 1st item?

      Not everybody has a credit / debit card.

      The great unwashed must be monitored, why not make cash payment expensive and registered card cheap. That way we can pick up those with less money and track them along with everybody else.

      I like the idea of pay by bonk but I fear with a body like mine I would never be able to afford any goods or services.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Is this a belated April 1st item?

        There are pre-paid credit cards around. I don't know if any of them are NFC enabled, but there is nothing to stop TFL issuing a pre-paid Visa or Mastercard with pay-by-bonk facilities.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Is this a belated April 1st item?

      I think it's more than simply pay-by-bonk. It reads to me like they want a bit more flexibility in the travel card system - a kind of door-to-door fare system.

  15. FlatSpot

    colourful rosette designs = jobs for the boyz

    Can't help but think, if the Network from Network Management was removed, £80bil is a nice little job to get involved with if you're a soon to be a booted out MP or Business Secretary.

    1. billse10

      Re: colourful rosette designs = jobs for the boyz

      "soon to be a booted out MP or Business Secretary."

      Can we have both please, in one easy to vote (out) for package? Damn, I live in SE London, not SW. Not that there are many other options to choose anyway.

      Got to let him have his optimism about 10% of a £900bn market though - he's a LibDem. Take away his optimism, what's he got left? Self-respect and the knowledge he stood by all his pre-election promises? (Actually, that's prob true about all of them, so maybe unfair to pick on just Vince "It wasnt me it was that nasty Lord Oakeshott" Cable).

      As for IHateWearingATie's comments about "south of the river (there be dragons etc etc) ", I should hope there are dragons here, and I know they will be welcomed as part of our openness to new ideas, diverse culture, and new things in general. Unlike in the Stalinist- and assorted fascist- supporting area north of here. :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward 101

    "It also raises questions of surveillance, as any card which is able to track a person's entire journey offers a fantastic opportunity for spooks, businessmen or politicians to snoop on citizens."

    That war is already lost. Use public transport in London, and you are not only recorded at the Oyster machines, you are on a plethora of CCTVs (as you would anywhere else). So stop complaining, or fight this state of affairs. Or tilt at windmills.

  17. Christoph Silver badge

    It's a gigantic government IT project - what could possibly go wrong?

    One obvious problem for a start. Once this is brought in all other methods of payment will be removed. The same way they are stopping cash payments for London buses. So if your card is lost or stolen, you won't be able to use any form of public transport. If you are stuck somewhere late on a Saturday night, you are stuck. Sorry young woman who's just been robbed, you're going to have to walk home and hope you don't get raped too many times on the way.

    1. h4rm0ny

      >>"It's a gigantic government IT project - what could possibly go wrong?"

      Agreed. They should keep this as simple as possible. Create a protocol where start and end points can be costed which various transport methods can volunteer information with and make this publically available.

      Private enterprise would take it from there with various phone apps and big players touting their own Door to Door software to create a travel plan and cost for you. Competition on these would be great and phones with NFC you could even use as the payment device as well as having them tell you where to go.

      1. Ommerson

        The government has already been pursuing a 'one card to rule them all' solution for about a decade. It's called ITSO.

        It's been designed by committee and is obsolete before it's even hit prime-time.

        It's found some use for concessionary fares on buses, and, in theory will be rolled out across rail franchises - although the franchisees aren't terrible keen.

        The DfT has paid TfL quite a bit of money to make the Oyster infrastructure compatible with ITSO. It's worth noting here that Oyster is firstly commercially successful and handles *way* more transactions than ITSO does - or is likely to.

        The real killer reason why TfL won't be switching is said to be that the transaction time on an ITSO card it really long - far longer than for Oyster. Not so much touch your card, but hold it there on the reader for quite a long time. If everyone used ITSO on the underground, gate-lines would suddenly have enormous queues behind them and stations would close due to overcrowding.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          "If everyone used ITSO on the underground, gate-lines would suddenly have enormous queues behind them and stations would close due to overcrowding."

          Alternatively we could do as the Czech's do and have a carrot and stick system. Buy a card, activate it, walk freely onto the underground. Stick comes in if you get caught fare dodging, which means they have more *people* on the network keeping an eye on things and fewer machines.

          Of course this means there are fewer people getting paid to run those machines, skim transaction charges or just analyze gigabytes of passenger information to work out where bottlenecks may exist. Or just people who are x hrs away from home, where the next Amazon ticket office conversion should be. Or correlating data from wifi & phone info to make targetted mailing lists. Your phone + person who is not your wife's phone take a cab to the west end, then to a hotel so wife gets added to mailing lists for lawyers and PIs. The possibilities are endless, especially when 'cost overruns' (this is goverment IT) mean 'exciting data sharing opportunities' are explored.

  18. AutomationGeek

    Why the Milton Keynes-bashing?

    I live near Milton Keynes, I assure you that the areas within the grid-lines are far from sterile. It's a great place to live and work and there are many opportunities for leisure activities. Even the broadband speed is starting to improve as the old cable TV system starts to be upgraded...

    1. Spiny_Norman

      Re: Why the Milton Keynes-bashing?

      Upvote for this - I live technically in Milton Keynes but off the MK grid (Bletchley) & I actually like it as do many other people.

  19. Gannettt

    Something like this would be great outside London, especially for visually impaired types like myself. Thise awful ticket machines at railway stations that have replaced human beings are so confusing and not really geared up for blindies. I like to think I'm tech savvy, but one look at the machine and I just walked away and risked it buying my ticket on the train. imagine just being able to simplify buying train tickets with this thing?

  20. mac42

    Market opportunity is translated as users pay

    It's sometimes interesting to hear government types excitedly speakabout how a program is worth X Billion for the market or the area. If companies receive 90 billion or 200 billion pounds/dollars, who do these government types think provides that money. There are only two sources of revenue. Government provided funds are paid by the taxpayers. If it doesn't come from taxes, this normally means the money is being paid by increases in the cost of services.

    There is one other source however. If spending 90 billion means the cost of the service goes down by over 90 billion, then yes, it's free money. How often does a large, complex government IT project successfully reduce what people pay in taxes or for services? Most projects promise savings at the beginning but by the end it is way over budget, not as efficient as promised, not as usable as promised and delayed by years.

    Color me skeptical.

    1. Nuke

      @mac42 - Re: Market opportunity is translated as users pay

      Wrote :- "If spending 90 billion means the cost of the service goes down by over 90 billion, then yes, it's free money. [but] How often does a large, complex government IT project successfully reduce what people pay in taxes or for services?"

      These IT projects should reduce costs, but Joe Sixpack seems willing to pay more if it seems more "up-to-date" because it seems cool. Hence, the entrepreneurs and contractors get away with fleecing the public without causing uproar.

      In this case, if it is expected to cost 900 billion for a system just to sell tickets, it seems to me that whatever system is proposed must be incredibly inefficient from start to finish. Nor is it an innovation; you could buy through tickets across different transport systems and companies in Victorian times.

  21. DougS Silver badge

    What about tourists?

    Will they require these, so you can't use cash or credit cards? They'd probably like to - they'd make a lot of money from tourists who visit, are forced to buy/carry an Oyster card for the visit, inevitably leave with some unused cash on it, and then misplace/forget it at home so the whole thing starts over again when they return for their next visit!

    I suppose London can get away with that though, it isn't as though if I'm planning a trip to the UK I can say "well, London has that annoying Oyster scheme, maybe I'll visit Southampton instead"


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