The London Assembly has questioned a plan to introduce contactless bank card payments to the city’s transport network next year, raising concerns that the business case propsed by Transport for London is "not backed up by evidence".
A report by the Assembly’s transport committee found that the Future Transport Programme (FTP) had failed to establish the strategic case for change adequately. The proposal compares unfavourably to a similar scheme by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NYMTA), it said.
"The business case for the NYMTA fare system sets out the drawbacks of the current revenue collection system, as well as the objective of the new system and how this fits with the organisation’s wider strategic plans," the report said. ‘The FTP business case provides no information on the existing Oyster system, its costs or perceived weaknesses"
The committee did acknowledge that contactless payments could improve the current system. Issues with Oyster include proprietary standards which create barriers to interoperability with other transport systems in the UK and worldwide, the high cost of the system (14p in the pound), and a complex refund system.
"Though very popular, [Oyster] is expensive and complex to administer," said Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat MP and chair of the committee. "Contactless bank cards use existing technology, responsibility for issuing cards would lie with the banks rather than TfL, and the operating costs should be lower."
But it also voiced concerns that TfL customers without contactless bank cards would be shut out from the cheaper fares made available though those lower operating costs. A TfL spokesperson denied this, saying that "oyster card fares will continue to be on the same level as bank card fares".
TfL has already committed to supporting contactless bank cards from March 2012. Further extensions of the scheme, culminating in Oyster being phased out in 2015, are awaiting budgetary approval, however.
"Given the exclusion of some key pieces of information from the appraisal [a document submitted by TfL] and the lack of alternatives proposed we conclude it would not be reasonable to commit to spending over £70 million of public funding on the basis of this document alone," the report said.
"There is still some way to go before ‘wave and pay’ can be seen as a win-win for TfL and passengers," Pidgeon said.
In a statement, TfL’s director of customer experience Shashi Verma said that “TfL welcomes the transport committee’s constructive scrutiny of our Future Ticketing Programme. Ensuring payment methods are secure whether via contactless credit or debit card payment or Oyster is a priority for TfL and we are fully confident that our systems are safe and fully protect personal data."