Pay-as-you-go system reaches Gatwick Airport
London’s contactless and Oyster pay-as-you-go system has been extended to Gatwick Airport, meaning passengers can tap their bank card to open the barriers and step on a train to London without queueing for a ticket.
“We expect 10% of travellers to take up pay-as-you-go within the first year,” said Gatwick Express Passenger Services Director Angie Doll. “The magnetic stripe card is a long way out of date, and passengers tell us they want faster and more modern ways of paying.
“The ticket office at Gatwick is very congested and most people here still buy their tickets in the station. Will this be the end of paper tickets? Not yet, but we are moving in that direction.”
Gatwick is the furthest point south that the Oyster and contactless systems have operated. It has also been introduced at Horley, Salfords, Earlswood, Redhill and Merstham.
The extension required an agreement between Transport for London, the Department for Transport and operator Govia Thameslink Railway. GTR already has its own smartcard, known as The Key. Only a small percentage of travellers use it, but it is now available at nearly all GTR stations.
The wider government-backed South East Flexible Ticketing programme, which is intended to support the use of smartcards throughout the region, is years behind schedule.
“The rolling out of other systems has been far slower than I would want,” admitted Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin at the Gatwick launch event on January 11. “I don’t think this new system replaces it - it does not make our smartcards redundant. It is another option for passengers to choose.”
The following day, the major bus operators jointly announced that contactless technology would be available on every bus in Britain by 2022. Cashless travel would be fitted on all 32,000 buses operating outside London.
At the same time, train operators said they would provide more funding for a joint project with the card industry, to explore how long-distance and season tickets can be loaded onto payment cards so that passengers no longer have to print tickets.
Melanie Johnson, chairman of the UK Cards Association, said: “Our collaborative project with the transport industry aims to transform the way customers pay for their travel.”
Passenger numbers at Gatwick station have increased by a third in the past four years. Last year it handled 17.5 million passengers, making it one of the busiest stations in the south of England outside London.
“This has been a key area to improve in terms of customer service,” said Gatwick Airport Chief Executive Stewart Wingate. “We want as many people as possible using the rail services. Many European passengers in particular are already used to using contactless bank cards for routine transactions, and this means they will not have to stand in a queue to get a ticket.”
Fares paid for with contactless bank cards will cost very slightly less than with paper tickets. A single journey on Gatwick Express is £19.80, 10p cheaper than a conventional ticket. A journey from Redhill to London Bridge will be 30p cheaper without a paper ticket.
Shashi Verma, Director of Customer Experience, Transport for London
The system of ticketing has been very cumbersome for a very long time.
Oyster brought a lot more convenience when it was launched 12 years ago. Contactless brought another big improvement when it launched a year ago.
Passengers have been voting with their feet. Contactless is already a quarter of all our pay-as-you-go journeys in London, and we are seeing more than 20,000 new customers every day. And that rate of growth has increased every week since it was launched.
Customers want to buy a journey on a train as easily as they buy a cup of coffee. And you don’t need to buy a ticket to get a cup of coffee. Contactless is even more convenient than Oyster. That is the benchmark everything must be measured against.
On a platform crowded with government and industry dignitaries, Shashi Verma, Transport for London’s Director of Customer Experience, sidestepped the opportunity to criticise the alternative and much-delayed ITSO-based smartcard system that has been favoured by the Department for Transport.
However, before Christmas he told RAIL’s sister publication RailReview: “My suggestion to anyone operating transport systems anywhere in the world is to stop investing in ITSO technology that is already 15 years old. And go with the most modern solution: contactless bank cards. Your passengers already have them. They do not need to carry an extra card.
“What we have done is world leading. And we are in discussions with practically every major city around the world. They want to emulate what we have done - New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore. My recommendation is that the rest of the UK cannot ignore this any more.
“Passengers want convenience. Contactless is the most convenient system.”