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Friday, 18 November 2011

Save the Oyster

Writing as myself, and not as a Liberal Democrat (I don't know what all other London Lib Dems think about this), I am strongly, instinctively opposed to any moves by Transport for London (TfL) to phase out Oyster cards. We've only had Oysters for five minutes anyway and it is already a modern, high-tech and convenient way to travel. I detect zero desire among passengers for it to be replaced. Unlike so many other big IT projects, it has actually been a great success and very popular, so why tinker with it unnecessarily?

The supposedly cash-strapped TfL has somehow managed to find £75 million to enable passengers to swipe their debit and credit cards instead of using an Oyster or paying cash; the London Assembly's Transport Committee (chaired by Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon) has raised a number of concerns about this (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15777441).

This follows TfL's recent proposal to eventually phase out Oyster cards entirely, in favour of swiping debit and credit cards (or paying cash, which means paying a higher fare). Why? Who wants this to happen? What was the point in spending millions on creating Oyster cards if we are now doing this five minutes later?

One in five people has no debit or credit card. Also, it is one thing for me to be over-charged on my Oyster card and get £6.50 re-funded to it some days later. It would be another thing for someone on a fixed income to be over-charged on their debit card, meaning that the £30 that they were about to withdraw from their current account before a night out is now £20.
Or, quite seriously, if someone had ensured that they'd left £700 in their current account so that the rent can be paid by standing order on Wednesday, before they get paid their salary on Thursday, and then an over-payment to TfL left them a quid or two short of £700 on the day in question, then the rent wouldn't be paid after all and that's disastrous for the person concerned.

No, no, no. Nobody wants this to happen. It's a stupid idea and a waste of money. Maybe people should be allowed to swipe debit or credit cards instead of Oyster if they want to (although is it really worth spending £75 million to enable them to do so?), but only if the existence of the Oyster is absolutely guaranteed for the foreseeable future.

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