London Agency Plans International Contactless Transit Card

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Transport for London said it hopes to see a cross-border contactless transit and payment card rolled out by 2012 that would support access to transportation services domestically and overseas.

The agency is working with several other transport operators in the U.S., Europe and Australia to "develop common standards for the technology," a Transport for London spokeswoman said in an e-mail last week. It also is in talks with several card companies, including Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and American Express Co., she said.

Transport for London is upgrading its ticketing systems, first for buses and then for the London Tube network, to accept network-branded contactless credit and debit cards, the spokeswoman said. Financial institutions would develop and issue the actual cards.

Most London consumers already use a contactless transit card, the Oyster card, which works with all modes of the city's transportation.

Consumers also may combine the Oyster application with a Visa-branded chip and PIN credit card issued by Barclays PLC for use accessing the London transport system.

Combining a transit card with a debit or credit card function increases consumer convenience and reduces Transport for London's commission and processing costs, Kulveer Ranger, a transport adviser for London's mayor, said in a press release earlier this month.

Some experts, however, do not believe the 2012 goal is possible.

"The challenge is the interoperability of the different transit systems involved," Tony Craddock, the chief executive of Global Prepaid Exchange, said in a newsletter last week. "Different from near-field-communication-based mobile payments, which has strict standards, contactless transit fare collection lacks a similar international standards body."

Additionally, while "card technology should be transferable across borders and it's great that the industry is working toward more cross-border alliances," it may be difficult to convince consumers of the value of the card, said Matt Simester, director of the Auriemma Consulting Group in the U.K.

Many frequent travelers would appreciate this type of card, but others may prefer to keep their finances separate and may not want to combine their bank or credit card with their transit card, Simester said.

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