Some time early on Sunday morning, somewhere in London, a driver on a TfL contracted service will accept the last cash fare on the capital’s bus network, because from 04.30 only prepaid or concessionary tickets, Oyster cards or contactless payment cards will be accepted
There is no doubt that cash was expensive to handle, costing £24m a year, a saving that TfL says will be reinvested in the network. It will also help to maintain quick boarding times as cash payment increased stop dwell times.
However, cash payers were already paying a substantial premium for their journey compared with the Oyster fare for the same trip, which must have gone some way towards recouping the difference.
I know that with the widespread use of Oyster and other options paid for off-bus that the number of journeys involving handing over cash on the bus was down from 25% in 2000 to only 1.0% earlier this year. This has fallen again to 0.7% since the introduction last month of the ‘One More Journey’ facility on an Oyster card, though you do still have to have at least some value left on it. Some 44,000 people a day are already making use of the facility which will deduct the difference next time you reload your card. Having forgotten their oyster card or knowing there was insufficient money on it was the biggest single reason why people still tendered cash. It also suggests that around 100,000 people a day still want to tender cash.
I went to a presentation earlier this week in which it was said that one of the target areas identified for the future was to improve interaction between drivers and passengers. I doubt that refusing to accept money for a journey once someone is on a bus will help in this respect.
TfL didn’t take the step lightly. It consulted and received 37,500 responses. Most of those against were not from people who used cash but from those who were concerned about others who did.
I know it makes financial sense but I can’t help feeling that psychologically, refusing to take cash is a retrograde step. The people who will be turned away will not be regular users and they will remember. They may never board a bus again. Hopefully the training given to the capital’s drivers will encourage and empower them to take a long term view when it happens, but it is an awful lot to ask of a driver. TfL says that tourists can buy Visitor Oyster Cards, but would you go to the trouble of pre-buying an item for £3.00 plus postage in advance of a visit to London?
I think there is also an issue with the disconnection between spending and the value of money that a generation decreasingly accustomed to actually handling money may develop.
My feeling of unease about the measure is not helped by the proliferation of notices that have sprung up on the Underground urging travellers to be careful with their cards to avoid paying twice for journeys. Were there, heaven forbid, to be major security breach involving smart card systems, there could easily be an undermining of public confidence in using public transport, one that could have been overcome with the ongoing option of using cash.
Something within me also wonders; if you can’t spend cash, what can you do with it?