back to article Transport for London gobbles up Oyster

London's Oyster Card system is now owned by Transport for London, which stumped up £1m for the brand as well as considerably more for the associated infrastructure. TranSys, which has been running the Oyster system since 1998 under a Private Finance Initiative, took on £190m of debt at the start. That debt was due to be paid …


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  1. Simon Cresswell


    Does that mean with the potential for so many more Oyster points all over the capital, London will have one big pearl necklace?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Someone somewhere

    Has made a lot of money from the people....

    but since they are from not me - who cares

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Most successful?

    Having lived in Tokyo for a couple of years I would say their Passmo system is much better. Doesnt stop working for no reason for a few attempts at a gate, can be used on underground, bus and trains and can be used to buy things in shops. You can also get one from the ticket machine unlike Oyster cards which are a pain in the arse to get hold of for visitors who then get robbed for £4 for a ticket if they fail to find one.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Pain in the arse?

      Visitors to London can obtain their Oysters via mail-order before they leave home, they can buy them at the ticket office of whichever tube station they first encounter, or at the Oyster vending machines located in some stations. If they're part of an organised tour, chances are someone else will have already done this for them, with the Oyster either provided in their pre-departure information pack or handed to them on arrival in London. And if they're staying with someone in London, its increasingly likely that their hosts have at least one spare Oyster ready for use by guests or will have obtained them in readiness for their guests arrival.

      So is it more difficult to obtain an oyster card than a paper ticket? Marginally so, yes - as you say, you can't simply buy one from any old ticket machine. Does this make it a pain in the arse to get your hands on one? Not unless your tolerance levels for dealing with such minor difficulties are considerably lower than mine (or, I suspect, most peoples). Is this marginal one-off inconvenience then amply compensated for over the days/weeks the visitor will then be using the Oyster compared to paper tickets? Yes.

      There's only so much a public transport system can do to hold the hands of visitors - ultimately they have to accept some responsibility and do a bit of homework before travelling if they want to get the best value ticketing for their travels. Whether it's knowing to buy an Oyster rather than a paper ticket, or knowing whether to buy a single, return, one day, multi-day, yellow, brown, purple etc. etc. ticket in whatever ticketing format is provided, anyone not reasonably familiar with the ticketing arrangements on offer risks being "robbed" by ignoring the human assistance offered by the ticket office, walking up to one of those temptingly convenient machines, and buying a ticket which is less suitable for their needs than one of the alternatives.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        London Zoo

        Where is the nearest place to get one at Regents Park Mr Smarty Pants?

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          My pants are quite plain, actually...

          ...and it's about half a mile from the zoo entrance to the nearest Oyster-selling Ticket Stop, according to the handy map on the TfL site. A site to which a visit should be high on the list of priorities for anyone about to visit London if they have any intention of using TfL services...

      2. peter 45


        If it is so easy and convenient, why can't I buy it when I buy my ticket to go into london for the day by train from my local train station?

        If it is so easy and convenient, why does it cost £10 to get a refund on unused credit? Why cannot I just put on the card enough for the journey I plan to make, for example. Why, for example, cannot I just use the Oyster card and have the cost of that journey direct debited from my account?

        If it so easy and convenient, why can't I buy one from everywhere I can buy a paper ticket?

        If it so easy and convenient, why do I have to plan in advance to get an Oyster card as opposed to turning up and paying for the journey when I need to.

        If it so easy and convenient, why do I have to remember where I put the card last time I used it 6 months ago .

        If it so easy and convenient how can I find out much is left on it so I dont have to go to a ticket office to top it up (just like going to a ticket office to ........oh I a ticket for example)

        Basically it is easy and convenient for those who use TFL services on a daily basis and know how much per month they need to put on the card. For the rest of us in the rest of the country who come to London irregularly or infrequently it is no more convenient than buying a ticket (and usually less so because I can conveniently buy a paper ticket as part of my rail fare). I suppose that is why they have made the ticket prices really expensive, to try to force all of us into buying the card, 'cos there is really no other reason to do so.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      You can get one anywhere you can buy a ticket, just about.

      I am a visitor to London these days, and found it simple to buy and top up at the local newsagent.

      Why must people *invent* problems?

      I would agree completely though, that it should cover all transport within London, at least equivalent to the travelcard that I used to use when I lived there. Having one bit of rail travel not covered by your oyster is ridiculous.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        I have a zone 2-5 travelcard loaded on my Oyster card, and there are readers right out into rural Surrey now, it's pretty good now.

  4. RJ

    Most successful!?

    "the world's most successful transport smartcard",

    The Japanese Suica card may have something to say about that.

    You can use it on the tube, mainline railways and most buses, trams and Shinkansen trains...even taxis... And you can us the card practically anywhere in Japan, not one city. It can also be used as a proximity payment card for convenience stores, storage lockers in stations etc.

    Not to mention that the suica technology is actually built into many mobile phones out here so I can do all of the above with my basic phone.

    Suck on that Oyster.

  5. Tim J

    Oyster is v. useful

    No hassle, no faff, just touch and go. Better than the old days.

  6. Samo

    HK Octopus Card

    It's strange, because Red Ken went over there and bought back a few things from HK, including the RFID card, which I admittedly love.

    a small correction / expansion of a point, though: The Octopus card can be used as payment - and be topped up - in a couple of chains, such as 7-eleven and McDonalds. It''s not limited to any one type of item, just places.

    Personally, I like the Oyster card, as those blimmin' paper ones used to disappear in the pocket quicktime, but not as happy with Big Brother being able to track my every movement...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I liked the paper tickets

      You didn't need to shell out for a fancy card to travel on the tube on top of the cost of your ticket when visiting the capital.

      1. Test Man

        Oh wow

        You couldn't afford the £2 visitor's card deposit then? Bet you're a Northerner.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          @Test Man like a joke without the funny bit

          And its not £2 dickweasel.

    2. Allan George Dyer

      Some differences

      Yep, the supermarkets accept Octopus, so you can buy anything from anchovies to zinc ointment. The parking meters have all changed to octopus now, too. You can get a personalised Octopus, that will refill automatically from your bank account, and an Octopus in your watch. Shop assistants will sometimes look at you oddly if you choose NOT to pay with Octopus.

      But Oyster uses the MIFARE card, which has some security problems, Octopus uses FeliCa, with no known security issues.

      The records kept by the Octopus system are stored for years and have been used by the Police as important evidence in several high-profile crimes. In one recent case someone threw a bottle of acid onto a crowded street from a building, a bag with another bottle of acid was found on the stairs, video from the nearest underground station showing the bag being carried through the gates was correlated to the Octopus records, and led the Police to the area where the carrier usually travelled, then they lay in wait and followed him home. Now discuss the balance between safety and privacy in a surveillance society...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    This is fantastic news for taxpayers. I'm amazed that a sensible financial decision was made.

    The author is correct, TfL are not innovative or business driven - it would be great to be able to use the card as a retail product - however, business development is not their core competency.

    1. Steve Foster


      While the early buyout was financially sensible, why on earth did TfL relinquish ownership of the "brand" to start with?

      1. Graham 25
        Thumb Down

        They aren't that smart as has been suggested

        Because TfL didnt create it - it was created with another name - the "Prestige" in the early 90's and Cubic realised it was a pants name, so created the Oyster brand.

  8. Nigel 11

    Love it?

    "not that Londoners love it".

    That's a bit harsh. It's hard to love something that exists to take one's money for the purpose of paying for transport. But that fundamental aside, it's a darned sight more convenient than the paper tickets it replaced. It would be even more useful if it could be used as an instant cash substitute for coffees, sandwiches, confectionery etc.

    For accuracy, there is a choice - paper tickets still exist. However, they do cost more. Better to invest in a spare anonymous Oyster cashcard (all of £3, refundable) should you ever make journeys that you don't want Big Brother to log to your ID. I keep a couple lying around for a different reason - for use by friends and family visiting me in London.

  9. lglethal Silver badge

    So when do you think...

    ... Londoners are likely to see the cost decrease (or at least the temporary halting of the continual price rises) from these £4 million pounds in savings?

    Funny i havent noticed Lucifer sharpening his ice skates recently, you?

    1. Thomas 4

      Does this mean then...

      ...that people will have to shell out more for Oyster?

      Thank you, I'll be here all week.

    2. Samo

      Re: So when do you think...

      A new keyboard.

      You owe me one for that last line.

  10. vegister

    who owns the data?

    it concerns me that in this increasingly fascist country we could be presumed guilty for something we did not do, on account of our proxmimity to an event shown by our oyster travel records.

    1. Nigel 11

      Registration not compulsory

      I'll worry if you ever have to hand over your ID before you can get an Oystercard.

      At present you can buy one for cash from a machine, and top it up with cash. So if you want to travel anonymously, you can. I even spotted that the need for anonymous travel was recognized by TfL in a document I once found on their web-site.

      It's the Labour flavour of UK government that might have other IDeas about your privacy. There's still hope. The Tory manifesto pledges to abolish ID cards and the national ID database.

      1. DrXym

        Doesn't matter if you need an ID to buy it or not

        Smart criminals will simply steal their oyster card. Wouldn't be surprised if underground knew there was a few bob to be made from selling cards that were handed in by the public.

      2. Allan George Dyer
        Big Brother

        but that doesn't keep you anonymous...

        See my earlier post on crime detection in Hong Kong. One observation of you using the card at a gate links you to all the travel (and purchases) done by the card.

  11. Elmer Phud

    The world is your grit-bearing bivalve

    Unless you want to hire a bike from TfL this summer - no Oyster for one of the most obvious uses.

    TfL website has no menton of the Oyster being extended to this year's 'big idea'

  12. Complicated Disaster

    Missing the Obvious

    What I want to use my Oyster card for is buying normal train tickets!!

    1. DarkOrb


      You can use Oyster on overground services in the London Metro area (any zone covered by the travel cards). Both season tickets and pre-pay work.

  13. James Thomas

    Londoners do love it...

    At least those that can remember what it was like before. The introduction of the Oyster has had a massive improvement on bus speeds (due to quicker boarding times) particularly, and makes getting on the Tube much quicker too.

    I don't entirely see the point of using it for other things (maybe vending machines?), but it's definitely been a major improvement for the transport netwrok.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Oh the irony

    Good call by Tfl to invest in their billing infrastructure and control it directly but if they want to spread their wings and become another "paypal" (essentially) for other customers then they will need to separate out that division again to prevent possible conflicts of interest and to ensure customer confidence.

    I watch with interest.

  15. greyfox


    How about a barclaycard onepulse that will give you the more advantages to an Oyster.

    Although i do understand how difficult these things are for holiday makers.

  16. Admiral Grace Hopper
    Thumb Up

    Non-Londoner Finds London-Only Thing A Good Thing Shocker

    As a non-Londoner I have found the Oyster card a good thing to have for when I have to visit the metropolis. Not having to use it day-to-day I am spared some of the frustrations that more regular user may experience, but it is inordinately useful to be able to arrive in London and know that I have hassle-free access to the bus and underground networks without faffing around with friable tickets and intricate fare structures.

    Good luck to TfL, just don't bugger it up.

  17. Jolyon Ralph
    Thumb Up

    The Octopus card is great

    It can be used to buy all sorts of things in Hong Kong, not just newspapers. Most fast food restaurants and supermarkets will take Octopus (which looks and works just like the oyster card).

    Now all I need to do is find where I put mine before I fly to Hong Kong tomorrow night.


  18. Raelynne79

    Are you kidding?

    I *adore* my Oyster card!

    Living in a city that has three different ticketing services and no understanding of what "integrated" actually means, I think wistfully every day of the convenience of my Oyster. Five years after I stopped actually living in London, I still have my Oyster and use it on all my visits.

  19. Jon Green

    Does this mean...

    ...that the chances of being able to use the Oyster card nationally, thus dispensing with paper tickets for anyone who wants to, are now knackered? I did have hopes of not needing poxy bits of creased card any more.

  20. Sam Crawley
    Thumb Down

    So does this mean...

    ..the squabbling between National Rail and TFL about the cut of the revenue will finally end such that we will be able to use Oystercard everywhere?

    Call me a cynic... but I suspect not.

    1. Matt K

      Oyster on the overground

      The big question for extending the use on overground rail is who pays for the infrastructure — ticket barriers in every station, machines to top up cards, ticket offices able to sell them. And I wish I could remember the details, but it also fits into the penalty fare setup; I could be wrong, but I think rail companies make a lot from penalty fares, and having Oyster cards reduces those (as well as costing them to implement).

      I'll check and find out what the sticking point was.

  21. Baldychap

    Not sure it's going to work...

    Visa are pushing out their 'paywave' quite aggressively and they just get retailers to update existing visa terminals. I can now use my Barclay's debit card to buy sandwich and the couple of quid just comes straight from my account. Why would I want to go through the hassle of topping my oyster card?

    The way I see it, oyster cards are for travel and that's how it'll stay. Hopefully they'll get extended nationwide once London show's all the TOC's how good it is.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Banking Licence

    They've been talking about using Oyster to pay for stuff in shops since the day it launched. The deal breaker, as far as I understood it, was TfL needed a banking licence or somesuch before it could be used as a generic payment system. And that involves agreeing to be regulated as a financial institution (yes, apparently they're regulated, who'd have thunk it).

  23. Anonymous Coward

    What A pity....

    They are not bringing it in-house, to a proper IT department with proper directly-employed full-time staff.

    Call me old fashioned...

    Must be one of the reasons I was given my coat :)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      No news here

      Cubic and HPESts getting the contract - call me cynical but aren't these the same folks that were running Oyster before (okay, EDS is now HPES)?

      In which case there's been no change.

  24. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    South-west fucking trains

    Does this mean that after 7 years, South West trains will finally be forced to accept Oyster pay-as-you-go for travel inside the London area?

    Nope? Didn't think so. Integrated and city-wide, my sainted arse.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      After 7 years...

      ..."From 2 January 2010 you are be able to use your Oyster pay as you go on our services within Zones 1-9." A quote lifted verbatim from the SWT website. Check it out if you don't believe me, it's right there in black and white. This is then backed up both by the "Routes and stations where Oyster PAYG is valid" map on the National Rail website, and the "Oyster Rail Services Map" on the TfL website...

      Now, if those three seperate sources of information are all lying to me about PAYG validity on SWT services, and if your personal experience says that PAYG is still not accepted, then fair enough, I bow to your greater knowledge on the subject. So, who's right?

  25. Phil Standen

    Nation wide oyster

    It's called ITSO, an is due to be a requirement for francise renewal for all of the train operators.

    Not all stations will be ITSO-ized, but the medium to large ones will.

  26. Graham 25

    How long before it loses money this time ?

    It'll all end badly - remember that TfL is in a league of its own when it comes to control freakery - nobody will sign up to schemes in which TfL determine the way things are done. They would prevent the cards being used to buy anything that doesn't fit their moraistic view of the world. Try buying a newspaper with the card when the paper in question is citical of TfL or the RMT.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Insurance problem

    The problem is not that Transys didn;t want to roll this out for shops and other small payments, the issue is the liability, the risk factor.

    The whole of the system is insured for a certain amount of losses (I think 4 billion) this includes loss from the machines not working and TFL loosing money and also from things like massive fraud or major technical failure.

    Therefore every time they open up a part of the system the potential for losses from fraud and accidental technical issues increases massively.

    At least that's what they told us when we wanted to integrate.

    That and like the article it says, they want to take a chunk for every transaction. Of course this should changes now TFL own it.

    Roll on cashless payments!

  28. Adrian Esdaile

    oh FFS

    Great, these clowns just got the contract to run Sydney's T-card system, which is already a complete fustercluck with $70 million spent on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING so far.

    Apparently developing a ticketing system for Sydney is more complex that building the Large Hadron Collider ON THE FRICKING MOON.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The idea of TfL with yet more IT technology to maintain fills me with fear...

    I've seen what they're like from the inside... Let's just say their network was getting taken out by Conficker 6 months after Microsoft had issued a patch!

    And that wasn't the first time it had happened. They fixed the first infection I heard about, but still didn't patch the machines!

    *bangs head against wall*

    Oh, and by the way, if you're going to be hopping on and off tubes/buses, it's cheaper to get a zone 1/2 travel card than use the oyster.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spare me the innovation

    TfL have managed to turn a seriously simple to understand pricing structure for cards and per zone fares into one where you have to dig through their leaflets or site to find the price tables, rules and hidden catches (naturally attracting a finger-wagging 'penalty' charge) that cover each of the ever proliferating journey 'types'.

    Take a train from a national Rail station outside your period travelcard zone and you have to microscopically examine an entirely new breed of bureaucratic weaselspeak to work out the hoop jumping required not to get nailed for a 6 quid odd 'naughty boy' fee.

    But what really takes the piss is charging those of us who don't buy monthly/yearly travelcards the full whack at weekends, then shut down half the system for "investment works" or whatever new treacle coated term the lynx-scented pricks in the weaselspeak department have decided to call engineering works this week.

    The only advantage of turning themselves into a bank would be to give us another clear and unequivocal reason to detest them. Perhaps they ought to stick to running a transport system to a reasonable standard and acceptable price, which ought to keep them busy for a century or so.

    1. Rob Davis
      Thumb Up

      Telling it how it is...

      ...with delicious descriptions. Very enjoyable read.

  31. Maurice Shakeshaft
    Big Brother


    I've never had an Oyster card and wouldn't know what to do with one if it was thrust upon me. I'm in London infrequently enough to not have to need one - I suspect. The disparity in cost must be down to either the money the system owners make out of selling Oyster card users details or it is just too much hastle for people like me challenge the theft.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    this is a title

    Somehow I do have an extreme distrust towards Transport Failure London when it comes to using the oyster as paycard @ other places...

    Rather trust a bank on that than them muppets.

    Also, I can pay everywhere I want with my debit/credit card (well, maybe not cabs or so), so don't really see the point in extending the oyster card to be a pay card anyway.

    Apart from that, I can already see this coming up

    *Pays with oyster card*

    *Signal failure on line to payment processing servers, payment suspended*

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