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Auto top up balance increasing

I’ve just had an email from TfL informing me that the trigger for auto top-up is increasing to £10 from January 2013.  This is not entirely surprising given that there will be more fares above the £8 level with the expansion of PAYG to Shenfield and Broxbourne.

8 Responses

  1. So Boris will now have £10 of my cash on permanent loan, and the same for everyone else with Auto Topup. Must run into millions!

    I don’t see why a minimum balance is needed at all with Auto Topup. Why not just have a system where the card gets automatically topped up each time the balance gets to zero??

    If the topup fails due to insufficient funds in the bank account, the Oyster would have a negative balance and couldn’t be used, just like an Oyster without Auto Topup. So no problem for TfL.

    Can anyone comment/explain?

  2. Hi Martin,

    You have to understand how auto-top up works. When the top up is added to your card as part of a journey it is done on trust. There is no communication with the central system, let alone your bank. Remember that it all has to happen in a fraction of a second or there would be chaos at busy gatelines. When the transaction is authorised the next day the Oyster system has no way of taking it back if there are insufficient funds. The only thing they can do is hotlist the card, which they will do if you don’t respond urgently to the email telling you that there is a problem. In the intervening period you could have used all the extra £20 or £40.

    Now, consider the scenario where you start a journey with just 10p on the card. It’s greater than zero so it doesn’t top up. At the end of the journey you get £9.60 deducted. It doesn’t auto top up at the end of a journey because you may not use the card for weeks afterwards and TfL doesn’t want to have your money in that instance. So, you now have a card with a -£9.50 balance which you can just throw away, losing the £5 deposit, but being £4.50 up in unpaid for travel.

    Remember also that because it only auto tops up at the start of a journey where you card balance is less than £10, Boris doesn’t always have £10 of your money. You could get to a balance of say £2 and not use the card for two months.

    All in all I believe that the auto top up system is fair considering the constraints it operates under and the advantages of not worrying about not being able to travel. It is not mandatory though, so you can always choose to top up manually if you disagree.

  3. The wording from TfL is very poor for auto-topup. They regularly say that if the balance *falls* below the limit then the card will be topped up.

    My last chargeable journey was last year and left my balance at about £8.30, when I used my card this year for a non-chargeable journey (I have a travel card) I was then topped up despite by balance remaining the same (and therefore not falling).

    It’s only a minor point, but it a) Annoyed me because I wasn’t expecting it and b) thought the system had charged me for a journey because I saw the auto-topup e-mail before I could check my actual journey history.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    You have been caught by the change in the trigger level. Until Jan 1st you would not have topped up with a balance of £8.30, but since Jan 2nd it is below the new trigger level of £10.00. Although they say that it only tops up when the balance falls below the limit, they do try to ensure that you don’t get a top-up before you might need it. Therefore it only instigates a top-up when you start a journey with a balance less than £10. It can be frustrating when you have a travelcard, but the system doesn’t know whether you might end up making a journey to outside the zones on your travelcard.

    The real bugbear is when you have a travelcard and make a bus journey when the balance is below the trigger level. In my opinion that should not cause a top-up, but unfortunately it does.

  5. Hi Mike,

    Sure, I see why they do it – it was just an unexpected transaction at a time when I’m not best pleased with all the fare / cycle hire increases!

  6. My biggest annoyance is that the auto top up amount seems to have gone up to £40!

    I don’t want to be hit for £40 if I drop below the threshold… I want to be able to select my own value… £10, £20, £50 would seem like reasonable values.

  7. Hi Mark,

    If you are looking at the amend auto top-up form from the manage auto top-up screen then it won’t show the option you already have. If you go to set up a new auto top-up instruction then you still have the choice of £20 or £40.

  8. Wonder how much interest TfL are earning from all those people with auto-top-ups who have between £0 and £10 just sitting on their cards?

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