Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its plan to make the capital’s train stations cashless after lobbying from campaign groups highlighted the difficulties it would have caused countless users of London’s public transport.
Under the plan, all of the city’s underground, overground and Docklands Light Railway stations would have become cashless, making permanent the temporary, COVID-19 related restrictions on using cash at certain stations and extending it to many more. Emma Gibson, Director of London Travel Watch, points out that this would have left a large number of travellers dependent on newsagents to load credit onto their Oyster cards using cash, and there are many underground and DLR stations that do not have one nearby, on top of the disruption caused should they be closed.
After engaging with our stakeholders, we have decided not to expand our temporary measure of making ticket machines cashless to remaining Tube and DLR stations, or other stations on our network, at this time.
It’s not hard to see the advantage of Oyster cards over cash payments to TfL, given the BBC reported in November 2019 that the organisation had ‘amassed a fortune in unclaimed balances and deposits’ worth almost £400 million. More than half of this is made up of the mandatory £5 deposit required to obtain a card, and the rest constitutes unused pay-as-you-go balance. With public transport described as ‘the biggest loser’ of altered spending priorities in 2020 in a Co-op survey, it seems likely unused credit has since risen as people have been unable or unwilling to use it.
Liberal Democrat assembly member Caroline Pidgeon campaigned on the issue of a permanent move to cashless payments, and brands the temporary measures ‘a mistake’, noting they came about ‘without public consultation or proper consideration of the consequences for some of the most excluded people in London.’ She welcomed news of TfL’s change of heart, but believes there is still work to be done.
TfL should now go further and reinstate cash payment facilities at 200 underground, DLR and overground stations where changes were made by stealth last summer.