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Contactless travel, where will it take us?

The acceptance of contactless bank cards by Transport for London (TfL) marks the end of a hugely successful and significant first phase for electronic ticketing and payments for the company. Despite hiccups on the way, large numbers of the general public have learned to love and accept the Oyster card. 

TfL deserves real praise for teaching us a new social skill. With the Oyster card we have all become adept at waggling our hand by a touch pad – not all new "user experiences" in payments are normally acquired as easily.

With the migration to this next phase now begun, the acceptance of contactless bank cards by the public could have an even greater impact - not just on ticketing, but also on the way we make payments in general. Perhaps it has even opened the barrier to a third phase, where tickets and cards will become obsolete? 

So where do we go from here? What is the next phase for ticketing? Last week saw the launch of Apple’s new iPhones and with this the launch of Apple Pay, which has potential to be a major catalyst towards the general adoption of mobile wallets and an alternative to contactless bank cards. The social experience with Apple's mobile payment is broadly familiar - waggle your hand - but the cards have disappeared in the Apple world and have been replaced with phones and wearable devices.

So how long will it take for cards to disappear completely from TfL and when will we hear “watch out for watch clash” instead of “watch out for card clash”? Perhaps not that soon - we still have to wait for our new NFC contactless phones. But it may be worth archiving one or two cards to show your grandchildren just in case.

TfL should also be recognised for the strides taken which in turn have helped to cut costs in the payments industry. Previous to the introduction of the contactless bank cards, both the transport community and the banking industry have travelled on different technology tracks (banks promoting EMV whilst TfL adopted ITSO), so this convergence may eliminate some costly duplication. 

When social anthropologists conclude the history of payments, TfL should get a high profile credit. Not just for changing the way we have bought tickets, but also for changing the way we used our wallets.


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