What is Boris doing about the 17 million unused Oyster cards that cost £55m?


Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, accuses the mayor

Earlier this week it was reported that there are 17 million Oyster cards which have not been used for 12 months or longer, with a total value of £55m left on these ‘dormant’ cards.

As with so much useful information I only managed to obtain these facts following a Freedom of Information request. The mayor of London, who runs Transport for London (TfL), is not very keen on providing this type of information to the public.

Less than two years ago, the amount left on Oyster cards that had not been used for 12 months or longer was £30m – so in just two years this amount has doubled. I also expect the total amount will keep on growing in future years, unless things start to change.

You might be thinking does this really matter? In the grand scheme of things, is it really important? After all there are many people who have a spare Oyster card which they haven’t used for some time, but might when they next have relatives or friends visiting them – although these are normally used at least once a year.

“The fundamental issue is that the amount left on these Oyster cards is money that people have a right to claim back, even if it is only a few pounds”

And indeed, if you divide 17 million Oyster cards by the unused total of £55m, it is clear that the average amount on each card is relatively small – typically just £3 or £4 per card.

So why all the fuss? What really is the issue?

Well for a start the fundamental issue is that the amount left on these Oyster cards is money that people have a right to claim back, even if it is only a few pounds.

It is not the mayor’s money but money (mostly) from ordinary Londoners some of whom could really benefit from £3, £4 or £5 being given back to them this week.

Yet, if you look at TfL’s website there is no clear information about how people can easily claim back their own money. Alternatively, the daily TfL’s ‘advertorial’ page in the Metro newspaper never provides this type of useful information for passengers.

But there is an bigger issue at stake here.

“Last year more than 10 million passengers missed out on refunds they were fully entitled to”

If this really was just a totally isolated issue of how TfL operates it would not be quite so bad. However it isn’t – not by a long way. For example, if you travel by Tube, and the train is more than 15 minutes late, and the delay is the fault of TfL, you are  entitled to a refund for the cost of your single journey.

Yet very few people even know this.

In fact, last year more than 10 million passengers missed out on refunds they were fully entitled to.

And even worse is the issue of Oyster overcharging.

Every day a huge number of people are ripped off and are overcharged when using Oyster Pay As You Go to travel on the Tube or trains.

At busy Tube and train stations people are often over charged through no fault of their own. The practise of ‘auto charge’ is a regular occurrence. Just check out this excellent BBC report from last year about how many honest passengers are regularly being ripped off. And only yesterday it was confirmed the problem is actually getting worse. 

There is across London an intensive debate now raging over fares. Ken Livingstone is claiming he can almost magically cut ALL fares at a stroke. His promises are not realistic, more like monopoly money. Just look at his actual record on fares. When he was mayor he hiked up fares between election years.

Yet, while not trusting Ken Livingstone for one moment, we should not have to settle for the record of Boris Johnson, who seems to have no real understanding of what it is like for many passengers, especially those on low incomes.

What the Lib Dems will do for London Transport

There really are policies which can make fares fairer, which are affordable and will not undermine TfL’s much needed investment programme.

The Liberal Democrats are advocating a one hour bus ticket, so people can make two or three short bus journeys for the cost of a single fare. You can do this on the Tube, so it is only right bus users can do the same. Time limited bus fares are actually quite common in other European cities. It is time London caught up.

We also advocate reduced early bird Tube, DLR and London Overground fares. Some of London’s lowest paid workers, people who typically open up and clean our offices for example, would greatly benefit from reduced fares for journeys ending before 7.30 am. Such a policy would also help to reduce overcrowding.

We also need to recognise that not everyone works a conventional five day working week. We need to start providing competitively priced travelcards for part-time workers who work three days a week.

These policies are affordable but would make an immense difference to Londoners with the smallest pockets.

These three policies make up the centrepiece of our fairer fare proposals  for the mayor and London Assembly elections.

However, we also go further. We recognise that if people are being overcharged when using Oyster, through no fault of their own, that must stop and it is appalling that Boris Johnson has just ignored this issue for so long. An
d if they are owed money by TfL they should be able to claim back that money as easily as possible, if not automatically.