back to article Oyster system failure causes travel misery

London commuters are suffering more problems than usual this morning, thanks to the weekend failure of the Oyster card readers at tube stations and on buses. Extra staff have been drafted in this morning to sort out problems with cards which were used between 5.30am and 10.30am on Saturday. Some cards were apparently wiped, …


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  1. yet another Matt

    Not the cards

    Despite how the lay media make it sound, the Oyster cards can't all simultaneously decide to stop working. They must have released an update to the barriers over night which buggered the system.

    The barriers then buggered the cards, which is why some still aren't working today. Although I don’t know why all free roaming cards would be affected, which is the impression I get from the TFL statement.

    Busses are worse because they only can be updated at the depots. But I did find that 184 to Turnpike Lane Station on Friday morning wasn't accepting my Oyster card either. I wonder if this was related or not.

    Doesn't bother me though, they can be buggered for years, I'm not inconvenienced in the slightest. In fact, it's quite a convenience not having to pay.

  2. Wayland Sothcott

    Roll on the National ID

    Clearly this sort of thing can be solved by the National ID. I have it in my pocket here somewhere, what I don't need to show it? you already scanned me? wow that's efficent.

  3. Tim Brown

    So adding 142 and 344 together we get...

    Given that a lot of cards need to be replaced, I think maybe that this was a trial of some sort of anti-hacking patch in response to those Dutch researchers?

    Of course, it all went horribly wrong and disabled a load of legitimate cards instead...

  4. Silas
    Black Helicopters

    London Bridge

    I went through London Bridge station at about 12.50 on Saturday lunchtime and they were making announcements then that you shouldn't, under any circumstances, touch your Oyster card in or out. The buses coming up towards Brixton from Croydon were still showing "Free Travel" notices on their Oyster card readers at about 6pm Saturday.

    My first thoughts were "I wonder if the system has been hacked" followed by "I wonder if they've fucked the system trying to patch it from hacking". While the former would be funny, I suspect the latter may be more true.

  5. Harry Percival
    Thumb Down

    unbelievably convoluted process for getting a replacement card...

    Inceredibly annoyed - not so much at the technical fault and problems it caused - we all know these things happen - but more at the insanely convoluted procedure I have to go through to get a new card. I've just taken a look at the form I have to fill in - TWO PAGES of personal details WHICH THEY ALREADY HAVE ABOUT ME and the obligation to provide some form of proof of address. not the kind of thing I walk around with every day.

    They have my home address, why can't they simply send me a new card in the post? It's perfectly secure, and it's the minimum hassle for both them and me - no booth interactions and no processing forms.

    morons. "oh, sorry customers, we've already wasted loads of your time with our broken system, why not waste even more time fillling in ****ing pointless forms"

    grrrr. where's the "angry" emoticon, eh?

  6. xyz Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    As the proud owner of an....

    .....unregistered and working oyster card, I'm still trying to work out in the name of the DPA, why they need your name and address?

    Anyhoo, I'm away for the summer, so if you see the SAS (TFL battlegroup) leaping out of black helicopters over Catford, on or around the 17th Sept, it's just me trying to renew it.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Rumour has it

    They were trying to lock an super user account in name "Ken L"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cloned Cards

    Perhaps someone tried a cloned (or otherwise messed with) card and that caused a glitch in the software causing all this?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Opps! my bad ...

    my RFID implant tried to give the Oyster card computers a nasty virus turning it briefly into another one of my hoard of mindless drones that spew out mindless crap 99.9% of the time ...

    Still trying to find a cure that after the last time I visited Parliament ...

  10. Anonymous Coward

    KB951748 issue?

    So, to put in in a language that we all understand:

    TfL solved the problem by reducing the security of their Zonealarm firewall to Medium. All services will be back online fully when TfL test and then install the ZoneAlarm patch issued by Check Point Software.

    TfL recommends Windows (TM).


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    The kids ran riot..

    Around these parts on Saturday the kids were on all the buses causing mischief, harranging passengers, destroying bits of the bus and playing with the emergency doors. Apparently it didn't take them long to figure out that as they didn't need to touch in with their kiddie photo oystercards anymore they could do what the hell they wanted without fear of having their free travel taken away.

    Fortunately for one little s**t he was so excited at the prospect he'd just destroyed half of the bus and hung out the emergency door at the back a few times he left his oyster photocard on the seat in front of me - much to the bemusement of the stressed driver when I handed it to him.

    Black helicopters, cos that's probably what TFL will use when they abseil down the council flats where he lives and crash through the window to read him the riot act and take away his free travel.

  12. Alan

    Mifare will be laughing

    as TFL put in an order for another million cards...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. anon card and DPA

    I had a most enjoyable experience with customer service (CS) re. unauthorised charges on an Oyster card (if you use pay-as-you-go, CHECK THE CHARGES FREQUENTLY as the system gets it wrong *often* - unsurprisingly never in your favour).

    Conversation (phone handed to me by guy at ticket office):

    Me: "Hi, guy at ticket office tells me you alone can correct charges, here is the card number"

    CS: "Umm, yes. That card is unregistered. We need your name and address.

    Me: "Why? What part of 'unregistered' doesn't work?"

    CS: "We need to make sure we pay back the right person. You could have just found the card."

    Me (after finishing laughing): "And by which process would you make sure that I didn't find it when I give you my details now?"

    CS: "Umm. Umm, it's part of our process"

    Me: "So the price of a refund has now been raised to my privacy?"

    CS: "Sorry, we can't refund to an unknown card."

    Me: "So, we now have set the price for privacy at London Underground. Well done".

    Let me repeat what I said at the top: the Oyster card pre-pay system appears to err substantially in LUL's favour, at least in the case of two separate cards I've tried. Extrapolating that to the volume of cards out there it appears this is a nice way for LUL to earn some extra cash by making it difficult to recover erroneous charges.

    This may also explain why the refund process is (a) now extremely well hidden - try finding a brochure about Customer Refund, or even more than a one liner in, say, 1 out of 30 brochures - and (b) it is not automated like it can be.

    I would be interested in knowing just how often they have to correct charges. The true number could be rather shocking.. Anyone any idea?

    PS: for the record, I still have those 2 cards, and I think that includes the journey printouts...

  14. Anonymous Coward

    we could always go back over 20 odd years ...

    to ticket inspectors on the barrier , before LUL's "UTS-Underground Ticketting system" and automatic barriers everywhere, and that would waste lots of time for EVERYONE, EVERYDAY!

    Also we could have people queuing up to pay cash to the Bus driver, scraping around for the correct change, whilst minutes of your life ebb away, never to be recovered.

    (sarcasm alert)Oh boy do I miss wasting vast chunks of my life in such queues....

    thank god for automatic barriers and payment systems, even if they do cock the system up once every so often, whilst trying to block Ken's Super User account ..... or where they trying to put a new account on for Boris ?

    and if it worked perfectly , well we wouldn't have something to moan about.

  15. Nigel

    @Anonymous coward

    Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence. And in the immediate aftermath of a vast cock-up, it's not even incompetence, just a lot of staff who haven't had time to be fully instructed in the finer points of the system and just know to hand over a form and get it filled in.

    I'd suggest complaining via the web site (which should get a response apologising for ill-trained staff). then go back to the station next week, armed with this reply.

    Incidentally as explained in TfL's own brochure when I last read it (~2 years ago), an unregistered PAYG card is just like cash. It's fully transferrable, and if lost, whoever finds it can keep it.

  16. Steve
    Thumb Up


    I used the Overground at 11am, no working card readers (so my card ain't buggered), being a good citizen I bought a paper ticket even though it was 50p extra(as instructed by staff "Or you'll get fined mate"), although I did grumble about it.

    When I got to my destination I needed a bus which was of course free since it had not been back to the depot (why the different treatment between bus and rail?) which meant I was up by 40p.

    No hassle!

  17. Alex

    workaround for tracking

    Just buy a new unregistered PAYG oyster card before your journey with the value of just one journey on it and hand it in for a refund of the deposit at the end. Don't forget to tell them you're sick of them invading your privacy, profiting from the interest on your money, stealing money by errors in their favour, etc.

    Alternatively get out of the s**t hole that is London (and the rest of the UK) and pay tax elsewhere.

  18. Andy Livingstone


    What's an Oyster Card?

  19. sam
    Black Helicopters


    Cloned cards should be fairly easy to spot - If go in at station A, then in at station B, then out at station C and out and station D... I am 2 cards.

    Further, if the system says I recently entered the network at station A, and I swipe in at B, it is fairly simple to have an alarm go off so that a guard may harass me.

    Similar systems are already used by banks, because (at least the strips) on thier cards are easily easily clonable.


    Black helicopters, because I'm sure as hell not traveling by tube.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    Oh no, that's awful. Loads of passengers encouraging TfL to monitor where they go, get inconvenienced for their trouble. I hope they put in a strong complaint.

  21. William Old

    @Andy Livingstone

    It's a contactless electronic stored-value payment card for the London transport system (underground, bus, Croydon Tram), so-called because it generates the pearls that go to senior LT staff to keep them in the luxury to which they have become accustomed...*

    * Please note that a key part of this explanation could be regarded as slightly controversial and/or "economical with the truth"... :-)

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Paul Taylor
    Black Helicopters

    Rotten oysters

    Why isn't there an independent web site for publishing complaints about this system?

    After the breach of privacy, the thing that most irks me about is is the 3 quid fine for not touching out.

    The system is inherently misconceived, because the same action is used for both entry and exit, and there is no way of checking or correcting the status. The equipment is also faulty.

    I have re-touched my card on exit on the instructions of a ticket collector, only to discover later that I've been charged an extra 4 quid for a journey that I never made. And this was after asking a booking clerk to check it.

    I have had the system check me in, without opening the gates. It probably happens the other way round too, but not to me so far.

    The part of the system that I use most - the DLR - has no gates, but readers that are invisible in either light rain or moderate sunshine. The ones on bendy buses are also illegible in the summer. There is no way of knowing whether you're checked in/out or not.

    All of this is plainly designed to allow them to collect as many fines as possible.

    One of these days it is inevitable that I will be stopped by an officious ticket collector after a reader has failed to check me in. It would be useful to have some legal advice from OUT-LAW about what to do in this situation.

    Finally, linking this weekend's Oyster failure to the story about a third of the working population needing CRB checks, no doubt the police will come up with a story of a stabbing or rape over the weekend where they could have caught the perpetrator if only they had had complete Oyster records.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Re. anon card and DPA

    You could have just made up a name and address. They're not the police, you're not necessarily required to be truthful.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    @Karl H

    Just like it is up here. There's a blg conflab (ie public ignoring) session due soon to see if we would like more public transport and a congestion charge in 2013. Problem is we could do with it now, but not the congestion charge as it would clog up M60land even more than it is already.

    There is a card we can use now but it's £20 quid a week (it ISN'T universal, like your lobster card; instead we have about 20 different bus companies), something us poor northerners can't afford. I like joined up thinking, me.

    Outlook not so good cos it's grim up north.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Is this oyster thing as horrific as I think it is?

    As some kind of northern monkey, can I clear up a few things about this horrible system:

    If you don't want to use an oyster card, can you still use the London buses etc.? i.e. Can a customer pay with cash there and then at the station/bus, or is it credit cards all the way?

    Have I interpreted a comment above correctly, that cash payers have to cough up 50p more per journey than card holders?

    You have to sign both in and out of stations/buses etc.? If not, they assume you rode the transport for the longest possible journey, and charge you accordingly? Or do they just fine you a flat 3UKP? Is this fine cheaper than the most expensive journeys available?

    If I'm even close about the above, then wow, I'm glad I don't live in London! And of course there's the Stasi-esque tracking. But thinking about it, the last time I used the underground with stiff paper tickets from a machine, you had to pass that ticket through the entry and exit barriers..... I guess when I bought the ticket there was a camera in the ticket machine, and the magstripe on the back had a unique ID.... they've been tracking people for years, havent they!?!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    cash fares actually double


    Cash bus fares are actually double what they are on Oyster. Yes you can pay cash, but you'd be stupid to do so.

    No feral children on my free buses on Saturday, a few bewildered tourists and a lot of happy south Londoners.

  28. paul fox

    Best to lie only for neccessity

    >You could have just made up a name and address. They're not the police, you're not necessarily required to be truthful.

    But, then we might decide that you are probably a terrorist and therefore an undesirable person. Nasty things can happen to such people, door mysteriously broken down whilst at work, other cards stop working, you notice your blender is missing......

  29. Wayland Sothcott


    You are discribing an idealized version of reality.

    First off DO attribute things to malace that could be excused as incompetance. How much of a fool would you be if you believed their silly excuses?

    second a poster before you has shown an unregistered card is not the same as cash when you want them to give you a refund.

    finally, you think complaining will illicit a helpful response. Where have you been for the last 7 years?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What's an Oyster Card?

    @ Andy Livingstone

    What's an Oyster Card?

    An Oyster Card is a handy means for you to give away private and personal information to the halfwits "in charge" of Londons Public Transport where it can be used to send you unsolicited propaganda/marketing material and to track your every movement on the Underground system.

    It was designed by halfwits, is supervised by halfwits and was implemented by a Mayor with an approach to public-opinion/consultation akin to Adolf Hitler's approach to World Peace. It is also an excellent excuse to charge those people who use paper tickets and travel from mainline rail stations a higher fee on account of the fact that certain rail-operating companies refuse to accept it. It also gives Barclays Bank a marvelous excuse to clutter up our underground stations with their little cardboard sales kiosks where they'll try to flog you their combined Oyster/Credit Card.

    I've started driving to work, sod global-warming!

  31. Alan
    Paris Hilton

    Waht about older cards?

    Does this mean that an Oyster Card that I bought a while ago on my last London trip won't work the next time I visit? Or is it deleted and whatever's left on it (mis)appropriated by London Transport?

    (Paris because I feel I'm asking a bit of a daft question)

  32. David

    @Andy Livingstone

    What's an Oyster Card? Jeremy Clarkson summed it up best on an episode of Top Gear

    "It's useful, if you have no understanding of *money*"

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Northern Wonderer

    As another non-Londoner, I envy them the Oyster card. In principle. Yes, they get a discount on fares (on paper), which seems fair given the reduction in manpower required (theoretically) to service the payment method, and it's supposed to be possible to get the same deal with a pre-pay anonymous card as it is with one associated with an identity, so you shouldn't, in principle, *have* to hand over any details...

    I'd be inclined to have a selection of anonymous cards and use a different one each day, or overy few days, or when I'm doing different things...

    The devil is, as ever, in the implementation... :(

  34. David Beck

    @Karl H

    If you go back 20 years the buses will have conductors, no waiting for the passenger to find change. It's the current system with three payments methods in use and no conductors that keeps the bus in the stop while the passenger, sorry, customer, explains that (a) the ticket machine is broken, (b) they don't have any thing smaller, or (c) this is a Cheshire county OAP bus pass and is good for use in London since April.

    BTW, as a side note, can someone explain why my "Freedom Pass" (I know, parasite ) cannot have a PAYG included for those "out of hours" journeys?

  35. Jamie

    Its calling a driving license

    in my experience most people carry their driving licenses around with them thats proof of address. If you dont have one get one they prove invaluable at proving who you are even just as provisional ..

    unbelievably convoluted process for getting a replacement card...

    By Harry Percival

    Posted Monday 14th July 2008 11:00 GMT

  36. Rich

    happy Oyster user on the day

    To put a positive spin on this story, I travelled London quite happily on the buses for free all day Saturday :) my first journey was at about 08:15 and my last near enough Midnight. Okay, so it only saved me £3.60, but it's a feel good factor that counts here :)

    I didn't have any of the problems suffered by many with extra fines or wiped cards as the bus drivers simply waved people onto the bus :) I actually didn't hear what the problem was until gone 6pm on Saturday.

  37. Mr B

    Toasted Oysters

    for 10p ...

    1 - MiFare card gets cracked

    2 - Crack is applied to Oyster

    3 - TfL releases a statement that all is tikka dee boo, nothing to worry, the system is far more resilient and should pickup the home made cards,

    4 - TfL decides it'd be better to change the crypto-keys on the card coz the Dutch unlawful usage cannot be pinpointed and the above is just PR

    5 - TfL sends the order (to the gates) to change the keys

    6 - Oysters are toasted

    7 - Smell of toasted oysters fills the tube's corridors

    8 - TfL tells the gates to stop frying bivalves & let bipeds thru.

    9 - TfL rolls back the system

    10 - TfL rolls out a bunch of fresh mussel-replacements.

    -> Dutch geeks can carry on using their forged card ... please send the toasted cards to

    Prof.dr. B.P.F. Jacobs

    Radboud University Nijmegen

    Heyendaalseweg 135

    6525 AJ Nijmegen

    The Netherlands

    so he can help TfL investigating what went wrong.

    What worries me a bit is we know the MiFare is compromised, it takes 12 secs to get the keys to read & write the card ... even if TfL were successful in applying a patch/adding some data/changing the keys it would take 12 other seconds to see what changed. Can even set up a website to publish the latest free-ride Oyster "firmware" update.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    borked upgrade ?

    You figure they were upgrading the system to protect against the non-existant security problems illustrated in this earlier reg story?

  39. Cliff

    For you whining people

    I live in Bath, a place of modest affluence, but also has its rough bits like any city. Here we use cash - and it is bloody expensive to do so!

    In London you can traverse the whole of zone 1 for a £1.50 single - that's less than a £1.70 / 7 minute bus ride in Bath. You can catch a bus for a quid or 90p or something. Our minimum fares are £1.10 for going a single stop.

    In London, thanks to the massive savings on cash handling, paper tickets, automated reporting, no queueing holding up services, you get to pay far less than most parts of the country - and the fares in any one day are capped at the equivalent all-day travelcard price. You really do have it good. So here I live in Bath, and I carry an Oyster Card which is utterly useless to me 98% of the time, because you have such cheap public transport in London compared with here it is an absolute bargain every time I visit London.

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