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Changes to Auto Topup

Anyone using auto topup on an Oyster (or zip) card will have received an email yesterday.  The key points are:

From Sunday 17 November 2019, the Auto Top-up threshold will change to £20. From this date, your Oyster card will be topped up with your chosen value when your balance falls below £20.

You will also see Auto Top-up charges more quickly in your bank account. If we are unable to collect payment for your Auto Top-up, your Oyster card will be stopped.

I have seen some comments already on other forums expressing disgust which I must say surprise me somewhat.  My first reaction is great, or why has it taken so long.  At a stroke it will solve the issues with auto topup at Gatwick Airport and Victoria platforms 13/14.  There might still be problems at Paddington HEx platforms but they will be reduced and TfL probably thought increasing the threshold to £25 was a step too far.

The second paragraph appears to be somewhat draconian, but it is in fact similar to the current procedures.  At present the auto topup amount is requested as part of an overnight process the day after the credit was applied to your Oyster card.  Back in the day many details of touches were only transferred to the central system overnight, but that has long since been superceded by transmission within 30 minutes.  Again, it’s perhaps surprising that TfL have taken this long to update the auto topup process.  Remember that the credit is applied to the Oyster card and can be used immediately, meaning that TfL take a revenue risk.  By claiming the funds quicker they reduce the risk.

The big change is that TfL will no longer send an email if a collection fails offering you the chance to correct the issue within a few days.  This is a shame, but is almost certainly due to increasing misuse of the system by fare evaders.  You won’t actually lose the upto £20 legitimately on the card, but you will have to liaise with the helpdesk to regularise the issue.  It should also be noted that you won’t be trapped in the system if your card is stopped as exit gates are programmed to allow exit on stopped cards.  The key is to always ensure that your account has enough money to cover your £20/£40 topup at any time.

Finally, if you aren’t happy with these changes you can always deactivate auto topup.  And if you pay full adult fares then using a contactless payment card/device is a better solution than auto topup anyway.

5 Responses

  1. I can understand the disgust others have expressed and indeed was somewhat annoyed when I received the email from TfL.

    I understand the reasoning behind this; fares are going up, journeys are getting longer and the minimum balance needs to cover the maximum fare. For regular users the extra £10 squirreled away by TFL will soon be forgotten and everything will continue as normal.

    However, many Oyster cards are not used regularly. I have had an Oyster card for many years (it’s a first generation card) but not living or working within the contactless area I only use it occasionally. I have auto topup setup so that when I do visit London I can be confident I can just use the Oyster card without a problem.

    So currently I have a balance of £18.70 which has been the case for most of the year. Next time I’m in London I’ll most probably make £2.40 tube journey or a single bus journey. This will trigger a £20 topup giving me a balance of around £36 which will remain the case for many months. This is a considerable amount of money for TFL to be “borrowing” from me.

    Yes, I’ll get over it, yes, I’ll forget about it over time, but yes, it is annoying. It doesn’t help that the announcement came in the same month when a BBC News article highlighted that TfL has amassed a fortune in unclaimed balances now worth almost £400m(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-50304437).

    With every active Oyster auto topup customer about to gift TfL an extra £10 shortly after 17th November I can fully understand why the more cynical among us may see this as an underhand plan by TfL to quickly raise extra funds.

    I could of course do away with my Oyster and request a refund, but with the contactless part of my payment card failing on over 50% of eligible transactions in stores I would not be confident to rely on it working at both ends of the journey. I like the reassurance of having a dedicated card for the Oyster network.

  2. Hi James,

    I do understand how you feel, and you’re being a lot more pragmatic than some comments I’ve seen. If your contactless card is genuinely failing to be read then I’d request a new one from your bank. However, the regulations requiring occasional PIN entry have been tightened up in the last few months and you’ll be asked for it more times. It shouldn’t be 50% of the time, but it will depend on various useage patterns. The one exception to this is transit mode transactions, which is what TfL use (indeed they specified the model with the payment processing organisation). Personally I had a couple of problems early on with contactless, but advice from a helpful staff member suggested not touching the card absolutely flat. Hence I stick my index finger just under one edge with the opposite one on the reader. I’ve not had a problem since.

  3. Hi Mike
    Do you know if this change is working correctly or when the auto top up will be taken from the card? My wife only uses her Oyster card occasionally and yesterday evening had a balance of £6 and so was topped up by £20. The fare was £6.40 so on the return journey there was another auto top up. I could see all this in real time in the app. This morning there are no pending transactions on my card and the card is showing no journey history in the app. My card is showing ok and I tried signing out and in but nothing changed. On the website I can see the correct balance and journey history. Not sure if the issue with the app is related to the double auto top up or not, but surely other people must have had this in the first few days after the change as well?

  4. Hi Nick,

    Yes and no. I’m just finishing off an article about what’s happened. As you’ve seen it has upped the threshold, but the changes to the payment processing do not appear to have happened. I’d be keen to hear from anyone else experiencing issues with auto topup this week. I think it’s safe to say that TfL have received a massive funds boost since the weekend.

    As to the app, I sometimes see the behaviour you mention so it’s nothing to do with the auto topups.

  5. Do they have the capability to remove a card from the blocked list, now? In the old system, once they blocked a card due to failed payment (after many reminders) the card was irrevocably blocked and they and they had no capability to reactivate.

    Resolving issues where there was also a season ticket on the card hence became problematic.

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