How to use contactless credit and debit cards to pay on London buses

Transport for London has just mailed its registered users to pass on the good news that London buses will now accept contactless payments from debit and credit cards in almost exactly the same way as you can tap in with Oyster. So how does it work? Do you need to register? Essentially, are you going to get caught with your payment pants down if you give it a try next time you want to hop aboard the 149? Here’s what you need to know.

No need to register

That’s right, there’s no need to register or put pen to paper or do any kind of signing up at all.

It starts on 13 December 2012

You can read that date as "tomorrow" if you’re looking at this at the time of writing. Essentially, at the most, you’ve only got 12 hours to wait until you can give it a try. We wouldn’t recommend trying it on the night buses in the small hours of 13 December. The system might not switch over until the day shift proper begins.

Any credit or debit card: look for the contactless payment symbol

No, not on the card reader but on your credit/debit card. It’s the Wi-Fi looking symbol of four arcs of a set of concentric circles. It doesn’t matter whether your plastic is Visa, Master Card, debit, credit, pre-pay or anything else, if you can see the symbol, then you can use that card.

It costs the same as an Oyster fare

Paying by cash on a London bus currently costs about twice that of when you pay by Oyster. So, that’s £1.35 instead of a eyeball-bleeding £2.30. Luckily, it’s the same deal when you use contactless payments through your credit or debit card.

You can’t get a Travelcard unless it’s Oyster

Sure, the single contactless payments on your plastic are the same as Oyster but there are currently no daily limits. In other words, you can never register an effective Travelcard on your non-Oyster plastic. No matter how many bus journeys you take in a day, the system will continue to charge you at £1.35 each time with no upper maximum. Not quite as good as Oyster then but certainly far better than the cash alternative.

By the same token, you can’t add any kind of weekly, monthly or any other sort of Travelcard to your credit/debit card. This system is strictly for single payments only.

It works on all London buses (just about)

To all intents and purposes, contactless credit/debit card payments will work on all 8,500 buses on the London network. The exception to this are the old heritage Routemasters that still run on parts of the number 9 and 15 routes. Obviously, those buses are ancient and don’t feature this kind of infrastructure.

The other point to note is that this system will not offer you your transfer discount if you normally get on to a bus from any of the trams or Bus Feeder routes, eg: the T31, T32, T33, 130 and 314.

Use the same yellow Oyster pad to touch in

The system uses the very same yellow Oyster touch pad next to your bus driver. Just touch in there as you would with your Oyster card and you’ll hear that same familiar beep that means you’re not going to be out on the street wearing out your shoe leather.

Don’t touch both at the same time!!!

One bit of a snag is that you can’t just touch in with your wallet as normal from now on. That’s because you might be registering both your Oyster and whatever other contactless payment credit and debit cards you have floating around. If you do forget, what will most likely happen is that the attempted touch will be rejected, however, TFL has admitted that there is a small danger of payments getting taken from all cards touched.

It's secure

The word on fraud is that you're protected by your card issuer. So, in the same way that you get refunded if someone runs off with your wallet and goes on a Pret and Starbucks joy ride with your plastic, you're also covered in the event of them hurtling round London on buses while they do so.