Transport for London: Open-loop payment system allows riders to use their own payment cards instead of top-up cards and paper tickets


Image courtesy Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels

Technology approaches used to catalyse investment: An account-based ticketing software application that allows contactless EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) cards to be used to pay for public transport journeys

Commercial approach(es) used to catalyse investment: Operational cost savings from alternative ticketing options and streamlined ticketing

Finance approach(es) used to catalyse investment: Detailed forecasts of reductions in operating costs enabled the allocation of the necessary funds from the capital investment budget

Key benefits: 

  • Eliminates the need for riders to pre-purchase a set value on an Oyster card, under a 'use-it-or-lose-it' model 
  • Allows riders to use payment cards they already carry rather than purchase an Oyster card; this is particularly important for visitors who may be visiting and/or unfamiliar with how the transit system works
  • Provides even more access to contactless ticketing and payment, allowing riders to avoid touching high-contact surfaces in and around transit stations 
  • Cuts costs and boosts efficiency by reducing the size of the workforce needed to sell tickets, issue new Oyster cards, and assist customers (often visitors and occasional riders) with using Oyster cards
  • Cuts costs by issuing fewer Oyster cards to visitors and occasional riders, reducing the volumes of cash that have to be collected and banked from stations and bus depots, and reducing commissions payable to small retailers for Oyster balance top-ups.

Scale of deployment: 

To implement, 26,000 smartcard terminals were upgraded to accept contactless EMV payments across a fleet of 8,500 buses and in almost 500 stations across London.

Project value: 

In 2014, the capital budget assigned to deliver the capability was GBP75 million, the majority of which was committed to the upgrade of the smartcard terminals and the development of the required account-based ticketing softward applications.

Project start/end dates: 


Current status of the project: 


Transport for London (TfL) runs the public transportation network for one of the world’s busiest cities. TfL ensures the efficient running of London’s network of buses, overland trains, Tube, and ferry services for the capital’s regular commuters and influx of visitors.

Every day, up to 5 million people ride the London Underground, and the city typically sees more than 20 million visitors annually. Before this project, London’s Oyster system meant that travellers either (a) paid in advance for a weekly, monthly, or annual transit card or (b) registered and topped up a pay-as-you-go card with incremental amounts at ticket offices or top-up stations. Funds added to Oyster (a closed-loop payment card) could only be used across the TfL network, and the top-up was lost if not used.

Mastercard worked with TfL to complement TfL’s closed-loop Oyster system with open-loop EMV payment acceptance, which enables riders to use an EMV payment card or enabled device that they already carry with them to pay for public transit.

The technology solution used is an account-based ticketing software application that was developed and implemented by TfL and Cubic. It allows standard contactless EMV cards issued by Mastercard and Visa banks to be used within the complex fare/product structure required by TfL. 

By eliminating the need for top-ups and separate paper tickets, contactless ticketing reduced the resources TfL expended to manage and distribute fares. This drove operational efficiencies and delivered convenience to TfL’s riders. London’s contactless ticketing deployment was a world first and set a new standard for transit ticketing innovation.


Note: This case study and all information within was submitted by Mastercard in response to our global call for InfraTech case studies.

Last Updated: 24 February 2023