Londoners, time to put your Oyster card in a different wallet

You could be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow.

Londoners, if you don't have separate Oyster card holder, it might be time to get one. A new feature introduced by TfL will make it a lot easier to get around if you don't have your card on you – but could end up costing you a lot of money if you aren't careful.

According to an email posted by BorisWatch, TfL is enabling support for contactless card payments on London buses from tomorrow.

This will let you pay for bus journeys with a card, which is useful in a pinch or if you don't have an Oyster card. Better still, you will only be charged the Oyster rate, not the full cash fare.

But in order to speed up boarding, it does not appear that TfL plan to require card users to confirm that they want to pay cash (we're waiting for confirmation on this). So if, like me and many others, you carry a contactless card in the same wallet as an Oyster travelcard, you run the risk of paying for trips which you didn't mean to do.

So time to decant that Oyster into its own holder, if you haven't already. That "Sack Boris" wallet hasn't outworn its usefulness just yet.

We are also waiting on comment from TfL to explain the discrepancy between today's email, which says the change will happen tomorrow, and the website explaining the feature, which still says "later this month". Hopefully, not too many people will be caught out if the change does take them by surprise tomorrow.

Update:

To clarify, as TfL says in the link, if the reader senses two cards, it will return an error message, as it has done for a while. The problem comes if it doesn't. For instance, this is (roughly) my wallet: the right-hand side contains my debit card, the left contained my Oyster card. Tap the wrong side to the reader, and you've accidentally spent money.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.