As exclusively revealed on this website two months ago, TfL are phasing out the Oyster card deposit from February 23rd. Cards purchased before that date will still retain the £5 deposit which can be cashed in when returning or cancelling the Oyster card. From Sunday 23rd onwards an Oyster card will cost a £5 fee. If the card is retained then that £5 will be added to the PAYG credit balance on the first anniversary of purchase. Unused credit will still be refundable at any time, along with the deposit on older cards.
The main reason for making the change is to discourage people from buying an Oyster card for a few days and then refunding it. Once cancelled, an Oyster card cannot be re-issued so the card has to be disposed of. To be recycled would involve a costly process breaking down the card into its component parts so cancelled cards simply add to the plastic waste problem.
People who need to use Oyster cards (for discounts or travelcards) generally keep them for over a year and so will benefit from getting the fee back before they no longer need the card. Since the introduction of contactless cards and devices in 2014, their use has grown considerably, up from 25% of PAYG journeys in 2016 to 60% today.
Since their introduction in 2003 over 130 million Oyster cards have been issued. In the last 12 months 9 million have been issued, a rate of around 21,000 a day! Of those 9 million cards, 7 million were not used after 4 weeks and either refunded, disposed of, or kept by the customer.
When contactless was first introduced there were concerns that foreign cards might attract exorbitant transaction fees, but over time this doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem as first thought. TfL have seen cards from over 145 different countries used on the network. Encouraging their use saves visitors the £5 card fee, TfL significant operating costs, and reduces the environmental impact of the plastic waste.
Over the next month TfL will be updating signage and their website to publicise the changes. They are also making it easier to donate the credit remaining on an unwanted Oyster card to the Railway Children Charity through changes to the ticket machines at London Underground stations. I guess I’ll also be updating this site <sigh>.