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The pearl of Mobile Money usage in the Oyster Card

  • By Timothy Roberts
  • Monday, May 17, 2010

When the public has a choice of using traditional payment methods, or a new mobile money system, what percentage would you consider a success? 10 percent? 25 percent?

How about 80 percent of the public using technology powered transactions rather than good old fashioned cash into a vending machine? That’s the success rate of the Oyster Card on the London Underground.

Introduced in 2003, it is now the dominant payment method on the Underground (as well as on London Buses, the DLR, Tramlink, River Boat services and some National Rail routes), and is a real world case where a mobile money transaction service has gained acceptance.

Oyster is based around the Oyster Card, a contactless smartcard. Waving the card over the electronic readers in the stations allows the route used by the owner to be validated, or indeed have the requisite fare deducted from the card. The card can optionally store three season tickets for regular journeys, but also holds up to £90 of credit, debited as required when making a journey.

The system takes on board many of the issues faced by any mobile money system – how to get money into the system, and what problem does it solve?

Oyster has solved them in a way that fits into the environment where it is used. Every Underground Station has an Oyster Station that lets you charge the card either via cash payment or credit card swipers – or you can transfer fund directly through a web browser.

It also shows that Oyster has more benefits that using physical cash – you don;t have to worry about change, you don’t have to wait in a queue, and the cheaper fares available on oyster act as an incentive to use the card.

If people want to see mobile money in operation, then one of the largest Underground railways in the world also has one of the largest real world examples of mobile money.


Contributed by Ewan Spence