How Oyster Cards reduce the environmental impact of the London bus nework

Oyster cards are a form of electronic smart cards used in the bus transportation network in London. This technology offers users of London busses an alternative method of payment and ticketing. Instead of the traditional method of purchasing a paper ticket the bus, Oyster cards are loaded with prepay credit then customers simply have to swipe their Oyster cards against a card reader and the correct amount will be deducted off the card for the journey.

Oyster cards were introduced in 2003. Transport for London decided to introduce this service to encourage the use of public transport. The system is designed to be easy to use, reduce queuing times and speed up journey times but perhaps best of all for its users, offers vast discounts on many journeys. The system is designed to charge the cheapest possible option for your bus journey or journeys and will never charge you more than £3.30 for an adult inside twenty four hours. The system boasts a range of environmental benefits too. Less paper tickets are used, it encourages people to use public transport rather than cars or taxis and speeds up journey times therefore fewer busses are needed all helping to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce pollution helping the environment.

The easy to use Oyster card system reduces queuing times. This is particularly beneficial to London Busses as it is much quicker to swipe a card rather than the traditional payment method of paying by cash on the bus. Bus journey times improved 6.5% between 2001 and 2006. (TFL, 2006) This shows that the introduction of Oyster cards has improved bus journey times by reducing set down/pick up times at bus stops. If bus journey times are quicker then fewer busses will be needed. This will also help to reduce pollution in London. Bus usage in London has increased by 40 per cent since 2001 (TFL, May 2006) and if it was not for the successful introduction of Oyster Cards then no doubt journey times would have increased too, creating much more pollution. So the Oyster card has helped to cope with this increasing demand of public transport usage.

Transport for London can gather data about journey times and patterns. Data can be sent to TFL when the card is swiped against a card reader and using computer they can analyse the most popular times and journeys, therefore they can modify their service to offer the best service to their customers. Customer satisfaction has improved 2% since 2002. (TFL, 2004) This proves that the use of computers can improve customer satisfaction, if customers are more satisfied then it is more likely that they are going to use public transport rather than using private transport. This will have environmental benefits as less CO2 emissions will be emitted from cars and there will be less congestion on the roads causing pollution. The governments decision to introduce Oyster cards reflects their green credentials, showing that they support the need to reduce environmental impacts that transportation networks such as the London Bus network creates.

Oyster cards can offer huge savings for its customers. A single fare with an Oyster card is £1 compared to a single cash fare of £2. This has encouraged people who are travelling in London to use public transport rather than travel by car or taxi. Before Oyster cards were introduced in 2000, 33% of journeys in London were made by public transport and 45% by private transportation methods. After the introduction of Oyster cards in 2003, in 2005, 37% of journeys in London were made by public transport and 41% by private transportation methods. (Chris Hale, March 2008) This shows that the introduction of Oyster cards has increased the number of users of public transport in London. If more people are travelling by public transport then there will be fewer cars on the road producing CO2 emissions and contributing to pollution. Fewer cars on the road will improve traffic congestion. There has been a 38% reduction in traffic. (Michael Mchaon, 2003) therefore the journey times that are made by car will be less, also reducing CO2 emissions and pollution.

The introduction of the Oyster card has resulted in fewer paper tickets being issued, therefore, a massive amount of paper will be saved. Friends of the Earth are hailing Oyster an environmental asset, with 100,000 fewer paper tickets being sold every day - a saving of 32 million paper tickets a year since the smartcard was introduced. (TFL, January 2005) By not using paper tickets fewer trees will be felled, and this will help to preserve wildlife habitats and forests all over the world which is a huge benefit to the environment. Fewer paper tickets being issued will also reduce litter on the streets around London, making London a greener place and much more environmentally friendly. Less litter on the streets will also help to reduce pollution and will make London a more attractive place to be.

Oyster cards have provided a range of benefits to London from reduced pollution and CO2 levels to help saving forests and wildlife all around the world. Similar systems are used in major cities such as the “Touch ‘n Go” system operated in Malaysia and Japan’s Suica system, however could a similar system be introduced into a local region such as Hampshire.

Public Transport has not been as popular as it used to be. “Even with subsidy and other public encouragements, public transport attracts a diminishing share of passenger travel. There are exceptions – public transport sometimes impresses.” (Bunting, P. M) The London Bus network is an example of an exception. It has seen increased passenger usage in the last few years. The introduction of Oyster Cards contributes to the reason why London Busses are an exception and could the introduction of a similar system in Hampshire make the Hampshire bus network an exception too.

(figure 1) A graph to show number of passenger journeys in Hampshire.

Hampshire County Council Bus Strategy, March 2006

As figure one shows bus usage in Hampshire has decreased by over 1.5million between 2000 and 2005. As the source was published in 2006, the numbers of bus passenger journeys are estimates beyond 2005/2006; therefore data beyond 2005/2006 are not as reliable because they are forecasts rather than real statistics. Traffic growth forecasts are estimated to increase and may not be sustainable without busses playing an increasing role in keeping the highway network moving. (Hampshire County Council Bus Strategy, March 2006, 2006) This shows that something needs to be done to encourage public transport use but is a smart card system similar to Oyster cards feasible and would it significantly increase bus usage in the Hampshire region.

The conventional bus network in Hampshire consists of approximately 320 bus services provided by 30 operators using 700 busses. All these services result in many different ticket pricing and many confused customers. So a system that automatically calculates the cheapest price could improve customer satisfaction and therefore encourage the use of public transport, however, unlike London Hampshire has thirty operators that operate that would all have to agree to use and install the system which could prove a difficulty. If the agreement could be made it would be excellent for Hampshire bus users as it would never charge more than the cheapest fare and as in London could bring discounted fares for users of the system which would encourage more people to use it.

On the other hand, this is a very expensive system to install and Hampshire County Council allocates £27million for bus systems. Hampshire County Council Bus Strategy, March 2006. This would need to be significantly increased if the system was to be introduced into Hampshire phase by phase as it was in London. Hampshire County Council could receive financial support from the Government’s ‘Kickstart’ competition to improve bus services. With this possible additional funding it could make it financially feasible to use a smart card system similar to Oyster Cards. Although it would be an expensive system to install, it would prove very beneficial to people who live and work in Hampshire.

In conclusion, the introduction of Oyster cards in the London bus network has proved a great success. It has helped encourage more people to use busses rather than private transportation. The environmental impact that this has is reduced pollution in London. There is less litter on the streets due to less paper tickets being issued and CO2 emissions are less due to fewer cars being on the road due to the increased use of public transport.

The use of busses in the Hampshire region has been continuously decreasing over the last few years. Traffic has been increasing in the region and it is up to the government to do something to contain traffic levels. It is financially feasible if the county council could receive additional funding as it is a very expensive system to install, however, as in London, the benefits could prove very successful. The legal aspect could prove difficult as the bus network in Hampshire has many operators who would all have to agree on price capping and to agree to install the system on their busses. A smart card system if introduced in Hampshire would reduce the environmental impact and could be very successful.


It's a move in the right direction, Chris Hale March 2008 (Nexis)
Hampshire County Council Bus Strategy, March 2006 (Hampshire County Council)
Transport For London Introduces New Ticketing System, Michael Mchaon July 2003 (Nexis)

Bunting, P. M. Making Public Transportation Work, 2003



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