Article Highlights

Key Takeaway:

Go-Ahead, one of the UK’s big five private bus companies, saw cash usage plummet and contactless rise, in part because of the pandemic.

Key Data:

Contactless payments now accounts for 41% of bus trips outside of London for the Go-Ahead. That’s up from around 30% of transactions in March 2020–when the first Covid lockdown began–and an increase from only 16% in August 2018.

Organizations Mentioned:

• Go-Ahead

The Go-Ahead Group, one of the big five privately owned public bus operators in the UK, said today it has seen cash usage on board the nearly 3,000 buses it runs in England outside of London fall to 23% of transactions, down from 53% three years ago.

The company attributed the large drop in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, which it said “accelerated” the shift away from cash across the UK economy. It noted that cash payments throughout the country fell by 35% during 2020, according to trade association UK Finance, compared with a 15% annual drop before the pandemic.

Go-Ahead said digital payments technologies, such as contactless EMV, combined with fare-capping, have also encouraged more customers to dispense with cash. Contactless, either with credit and debit cards or card credentials on NFC devices, now accounts for 41% of bus trips outside of London for the operator, Go-Ahead told Mobility Payments. That’s up from around 30% of transactions in March 2020–when the first lockdown began–and an increase from only 16% in August 2018. Other digital payments, such as closed-loop contactless cards, make up most of the rest of current transactions.

Other bus operators in the UK are seeing the same cashless trends. According to a spokesman for CPT, a UK association of bus and coach operators, cash made up a little more than half of transactions outside of London two to three years ago. Today, “well over half” of bus transactions are cashless, mostly with contactless technology, he told Mobility Payments.

London buses have been cash-free since 2014, a mandate from transit authority Transport for London. Go-Ahead is the largest operator of buses in London, running more than 2,200 of the vehicles under contract with the authority. Contactless EMV combined with Transport for London’s closed-loop Oyster card account for nearly all transactions on London buses. Passes make up the rest.

Outside of London, contactless has been slower to gain widespread adoption on buses. In June 2019, UK Finance, which is a banking and financial services association, said contactless payments had an adoption rate of 25% on buses outside of London. Adoption was higher in the Southeast, closer to London, and lowest in the Northwest, noted the association at the time.

Go-Ahead, which has nine regional bus companies across England, has also sought to encourage use of contactless by offering tap-on/tap-off service, sometimes called TOTO. Most UK bus operators, including in London, charge flat fares, no matter how short of a ride the customer takes. So enabling bus riders to tap off–and paying only for the distance they traveled–can save the customers money. And TOTO, which like other contactless service is pay as you go, is always combined with fare capping.

As Mobility Payments reported earlier, Go-Ahead was the first major UK bus company to enable TOTO, launching it in September 2019 with two of its operating units, Brighton & Hove and Metrobus, which serve counties in Southeast England. Four months later, the company announced that it had recorded more than 1 million TOTO transactions.

That number has since grown to 5 million trips, Go-Ahead said today. That includes TOTO trips from three additional bus operating units that Go-Ahead has equipped for the service. Tap-on/tap-off technology covers 30% of Go-Ahead’s buses outside of London, and the company said it plans to have 60% of buses using the technology by the end of September. 

Go-Ahead was also the first bus company to enable fare capping across two separate operating units, using technology from processor Littlepay. The bus company indicated today it plans to launch a trial next spring in Southwest England capping or setting fares across multiple operators, apparently from different companies.

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