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Contactless might cost more than Oyster

We’ve all heard the annoying announcements at tube stations. Why not use contactless? The fares are the same as Oyster and there’s no need to top up. In fact, as described elsewhere on this site, contactless can often be cheaper than Oyster thanks to the way it compares all combinations of caps and extension fares. However, TfL have unwittingly introduced an issue which means that sometimes contactless may cost more than Oyster.

Consider these two screenshots of journey history.  First is an Oyster card making a series of journeys, then a contactless card making exactly the same journeys.

Everything is the same until the last journey (first on the Oyster history).  The Oyster card is treating everything as off-peak and thus capping at £12.90 (zone 1-8 cap), whereas the contactless card treats the bus as peak and charges £14.40.

This problem actually dates back to December 2018 when TfL introduced weekly bus capping on Oyster.  At the time an internal communication admitted that there was a bug, but suggested that it involved making 3 chargeable bus journeys before 0930 and that rail travel had to include journeys beyond zone 6 because it relied on the anytime and off-peak caps being different.  Bearing in mind that thanks to the hopper fare you would need to start the first bus journey around 7am, I considered the likelihood of this being utilised as quite low.

However Chris, a regular contributor, recently pointed out that anyone with a railcard attached to their Oyster could take advantage using any zonal combination, even just zones 1-2.  He often takes one bus before 0930 and had noticed that recently this had been counted in the railcard reduced off-peak cap.  A search through his emailed journey history showed that this started happening in December last year, and bingo, the connection was made.

I have asked TfL for a comment, but so far nothing has been received.  I guess it will get fixed at some point, possibly with the September fares revision, but if you live in or near zones 7-9 and start with a TfL bus before 0930 then an Oyster card could well save you some money.


3 Responses

  1. Very interesting – it hadn’t occurred to me that this might affect non-Railcard users, and thus that there might be a discrepancy between Oyster and PAYG!

  2. Hi Mike,
    I used a 16-25 railcard tied to an Oyster until 2015 and received 1/3 off journeys travelling between Abbey Wood and Oxford Circus which started before 0630. I am looking into getting a 26-30 railcard and wonder if this will still be possible for an Oyster card in 2019 given the language on the railcard website:
    “A £12 minimum fare applies for journeys starting between 4.30am-10am Monday to Friday”
    Are you able to clarify if I’d still receive 1/3 off?

  3. Hi Harry,

    Yes, the individual restrictions of each railcard don’t apply when used with Oyster. You get 1/3 off all off-peak single fares and the off-peak cap.

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