The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

The Oyster Card is really good. I got mine over Christmas, and so have just been able to start using it. An incredibly convenient way to travel on the tube - No more standing in the queues fumbling for change or dealing with the grumpy bloke in the ticket office. There are downsides though...

First of all, the Oystercard is pre-pay (although marketed at "pay as you go"). They get your money, while you find time to spend it. TFL must make loads of money in the interest on that alone. At least you get to see your credit (unlike the Congestion Charge).

The other downside really affects the paranoid and the stupid. My friends will no doubt be chucking away that I'm even mentioning this, but the Oyster Card is of course and RFID tag [1] [2] [3]. With millions of Londoners carrying these around, and suitable technology, you could identify exactly where people had been, how long they'd been there, and even who they interacted with.

If you don't know, an RFID tag is a little electronic component. The yellow circles on tube ticket barriers sends out a signal, which makes the RFID tag start working and send a signal back. The yellow circle then reads this signal and knows the Oyster card number. It then looks that up on the computer to figure out how much money you have on your account and then opens the gates.

Right now, you have to put your Oyster card on the yellow circle to make it work. This is so that you've had to make a very positive act, which then authorises the deduction of money from your account. Conceivably, they could make a ticket barrier that was a bit more sensitive, so that you didn't need to even take the card out of your pocket - you just walk up to the barrier and it opens.

Go a few steps further, and stop thinking about opening barriers and deductng money. Now, imagine if they made a machine that was so sensitive it could detect you when you walked through the doorway of your place of work. Now, your boss could know when you got to work, when you went to lunch, when you got back, and when you went home. Take it a step further and put one of these "detectors" in every room, and your boss can tell how long you spent by the coffee machine, or in the toilet.

The cost of doing this sort of thing isn't going to be cheap. It'll come down in time, of course, but right now, it's either so incredibly expensive it seems "impossible". GIve it a few years and it'll be in the grasp of big organisations, perhaps governments and really big corporations. A few years later, and every man and his dog will have it.

That sort of world isn't necessarily all bad. I mean, what if your bank issued you with an RFID tag. Now, if you go into a cinema and sit down, they'll just deduct the ticket money from your account. If you leave the film early, they could even give you some money back. If you sit on a train to somewhere, you automatically get the fare deducted. If you do the return journey in the same day, then they deduct the 10p extra that would have been a cheap day return (or whatever). It could be incredibly good, and really convenient.

Of course, that scenario is kind of scary. If you were the government, you could be tracking exactly where someone went and what they did. In other words, if they decide they don't like you for some reason, then they will begin to know everything about you. It's hard to hide what you've been up to if they know exactly where you've been. It's probably even harder to explain you didn't do something if you've been to a certain place (let's say you're married, and you go to an old girlfriend's house for the night, it's going to be pretty hard to convince someone you're not having an affair!).

So, all in all, RFID is pretty scary. I suppose we should keep them in metal boxes or something, where they can't be detected. Possibly a bit paranoid, but if everyone did it, then RFID tracking technology wouldn't get developed (because there'd be no point).

I think I have a love-hate relationship with my RFID Oyster card ;-)

Update: There's some more information about Oyster on the OysterCard Wiki page!

Submitted by coofercat on Thu, 2004-01-08 12:56


The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

Yeah right, when it comes to checking out what time you arrive at work and what time you leave, you don't need RFID, you just need to good old swipe card as I had in my first job. Clock in, clock out, if you arrive 2 minutes late or leave 2 minutes early, they come and ask you why. But it's ok to do nothing for half an hour at the end of the day just waiting for the clock to reach 5pm and then rush out en masse.

Anyway nowadays, they know where you are and what you do thanks to you mobile phone, credit cards et al. But then would you give up your mobile and credit cards? Or your Oyster card for that instance (yes I have one as well and I love it)? At the end of the day, it's always the same trade off: increased security vs ease of use.

Submitted by Bruno (not verified) on Tue, 2004-01-13 16:00.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

Be careful.

I received a penalty ticket today as the pay-as-you-go Oystercard I have (a credit of ?60 on it) is not valid between Romford and Liverpool St.

I get charged ?10/day for my travel through Liverpool St Station (which to me, sounds a lot), I was forced to pay a further ?3 for travel home (the ticket inspector picked me out during the travel home today) and given a ?20 penalty.

The strange thing is - I can use Oyster on a time limited card (i.e. a 1 week / 1 month card)but not a pay as you go - WHY?

I travel in London 2-3 days a week. I believed this was the most cost effective method.

Obviously not.

I now need to find a way of getting the credit I have on the card back.

I bet the Oyster Card web page doesn't cover that one in an easy to find section.

I will be happily amazed if it is.

I still have the ?20 penalty fare to deal with.

What a rip off.

Submitted by Paul (not verified) on Mon, 2006-01-30 18:32.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

I had a similar problem once, although no penalty fare.

In my view, it's slightly confusing that train operators installed ticket barriers, which even have the yellow readers on them, yet you can't use them. I can't see why pre-pay can't be used, but I suppose it's because not all stations have ticket barriers, so you can't use Oyster there.

There are exceptions, although I've yet to see one myself. Apparently some train companies do accept Oyster pre-pay for some journeys.

As for the travel cards, they'll only issue Oyster based ones at stations that have Oyster readers. All other stations still do paper tickets.

You can see it has some logic behind it. However, it's certainly confusing and a little 'unpredicatable'. In short though, unless you've specifically been told otherwise, Oyster doesn't work on trains.

Submitted by coofercat on Tue, 2006-01-31 12:39.
PAYG Oyster on National Rail services

In answer to your point...

The RFID chip on your Oyster Card stores information about any travelcards and pre-pay credit you have loaded onto it. This makes it easy for ticket barriers on national rail services (and hand-held oyster scanners) to see if you have a valid travelcard loaded on it. No interaction between the central computer server and the reader is required. This is why you are able to use Oyster travelcards on national rail.

However, the pay as you go system is much more complicated. In order to charge your card correctly, whenever you touch it on a reader as you enter or leave a station a connection must be made to the central computer server to find out where the journey began and to calculate the correct fare and update the balance on your account. This linked up technology has not yet been installed at all national rail stations, therefore pay as you go cannot be used.

Submitted by Anonymous Coward (not verified) on Sat, 2007-03-10 20:01.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

i think the oyster card is good, yeah, but see the under 16's one, yeah, bus drivers always complain about it when i swear that if your under 14 you don;t need it. People need to keep their stories straight, man.

Submitted by sab (not verified) on Fri, 2006-02-03 22:03.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

This is not correct: "The yellow circle then reads this signal and knows the Oyster card number. It then looks that up on the computer to figure out how much money you have on your account and then opens the gates."

There is no database look-up in the Oyster system. The card, not the database, contains the most current balance and ticket details. When you pass a barrier the prepay balance is adjusted on the card and later on in the day the barrier reports back to the database this information (along with others) in batches.

Submitted by Tob (not verified) on Sun, 2006-02-05 16:34.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

Tob: interesting stuff. Do you have a source for your information? (he says, having no verifiable sources himself ;-)

I was under the impression that RFID tags are mostly simple devices. Most RFID tags contain a permanent, unique number which is looked up elsewhere to decide what to do. I wasn't aware such tags were sophisticated and reliable enough to contain read/write capabilities.

Submitted by coofercat on Mon, 2006-02-06 10:42.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

basically i want to ask a question
what is disadvantage of the Oyster Card

Submitted by Thana (not verified) on Mon, 2006-02-27 14:53.
The Oyster Card (for transport in London)

Can you imagine if each Oyster card really had to access a central database every time it was scanned? What happens if a gateline gets disconnected from the network? What happens if there is a few seconds lag? What about the bus? It would beed to establish some sort of GPRS or 3G connection to authorise each card. Barriers and readers would be displaying "AWAITING AUTHORISATION" all the time with the barriers closed! The system would be a joke.

Submitted by Tob (not verified) on Mon, 2006-03-13 09:31.
do you need to touch with

do you need to touch with the oyster 16+ photocard

Submitted by BOB (not verified) on Fri, 2007-09-07 21:58.
who able to access your

who able to access your address detais and all that.

Submitted by Anonymous Coward (not verified) on Mon, 2007-09-17 14:14.
Hi, I was wondering if

Hi, I was wondering if anyone knows whether they are scanning oyster cards by hand now at the romford station?

Submitted by Esme (not verified) on Sun, 2008-03-23 14:26.
I got a new oyster card

I got a new oyster card yesterday from a newsagents and I've only just got the chance to register it online today.
The problem is, when I entered the 12 digit number on the back of the card and clicked continue, it said that my oyster card had already been registered!
So now I can't use the auto top-up and I'm afraid that someone else has been using the money that I've put on the card
I rang up customer services and typically that said there was nothing they could do because the card has been registered to another account!

Submitted by tilly (not verified) on Fri, 2009-10-02 13:25.
I got a new card


Just the same happened to me! You know what's more interesting? That I tried to register it, and it said it had already been registered. Days later, on a tube station I had it checked and then the man told me it was not registered. Today, Itried again, but again, got the same result: what? How do you think someone can use the money you put on the card? Surely not without the card, or can they???

Submitted by Squilly (not verified) on Wed, 2009-10-21 23:00.
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I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! This is a very informative post, it helps me more. vol en ulm

Submitted by Caleb (not verified) on Thu, 2010-12-02 16:28.