Is a cashless Islington on the cards?
Most parking meters in the borough have recently been switched to a pay-by-phone system. But is everybody happy with leaving their change at home?
Shoppers may be moving away from plastic when it comes to packing their purchases, but the same can’t be said for paying for them. A study conducted by the British Retail Consortium found that cash payments have dropped by 14% over the last five years, and debit card payments now account for more than 30% of transactions.
The trend is seen across all aspects of society but a cashless ideology is most evident in the way we travel. Motorists are experiencing the implementations of a ‘cashless society’. Road tax payments have moved online as well as congestion charge payments. The most evident, however, is in the method of paying for parking.
Parking in Islington can cost up to £6 per hour. The council has disabled most parking meters to a ‘pay by phone’ system in a bid to save money. But motorists may find themselves in a tight spot when their phone’s battery runs out.
In order to use the ‘pay by phone’ service, you must first register by going online. “I loathe jobs in central London because of parking,” says Jamie Ashton, a freelance plumber. “It’s hard enough finding parking, but then you do, and can’t park because you don’t know how to pay for it.
“It isn’t to make my life easier, if it was, they’d give us all options. But they force us to pay with our phones, it’s just to save them money. That’s all it comes down to.”
Responding to our Freedom Of Information request, Islington Council said that, “since the pilot started, we received a few complaints which have resulted in the cash facility on machines being switched back on at 15 locations”.
In response to complaints, the council has also launched a system allowing motorists to pay for their parking at designated shops in the borough.
In the summer of 2014, Travel For London restricted all bus fares to cashless payments. According to TfL, prior to going cashless, cash transactions only accounted for 1% of all bus fares paid per day. That 1% was 60,000 individual payments, made primarily by tourists.
While cashless buses do increase efficiency, they are not without their problems. Ali Solatash, a Turkish tourist visiting London with his family, said he couldn’t work out how he was meant to pay for his travel, and was forced to step off the bus with his children. He attempted to travel from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square, where he had promised his children a picnic.
“When I was on the bus, I did not know, I got home and my brother explained to me. Luckily it was a short walk,” Mr. Solatash, who is staying with his London-based brother, says.
Mr. Solatash fears for those who are less familiar with the city. He worries that those “who do not know and can not speak very good English, they would be stuck”.
Tourists are not the only group who have had trouble with the cashless bus system. Hedieh Shirazi, a laboratory technician at Kings College Hospital in Camberwell raises the problem of ‘double charging’. If you are accustomed to paying your underground or bus fare by tapping a wallet or purse, you risk being charged more than once, depending on the number of contactless cards you carry.
Ms. Shirazi travels from west London to south east London five days a week and carries her oyster card and two contactless credit cards in her Oyster sleeve. She was charged £2.90 instead of £1.45 for her bus fare from Brixton station to Denmark Hill. “There is no way of knowing, if you don’t check your statements, you could be paying over the odds for your travel,” she says.
TfL claims there is no possibility for a reader to accept two payments simultaneously, but it is possible if there is a slight time gap between the two detections. Ms. Shirazi said she made her complaint and received a full refund. TfL advises customers to store oyster cards and contactless payment cards separately.
Research into consumer behaviour by Sage Pay, an innovator in cashless pay systems, found that cash payments cost small and medium sized British companies £17.8bn a year, or £3,700 individually. Sage Pay say that cash carries the most inaccuracies of all payment methods and that storing, transferring and accounting for all cost businesses money.
According to their research, £12bn is lost when business can not facilitate card payments, with 31% of customers saying they put items back.
The CEO of Sage Pay, Simon Black, says that new payment technologies are “rapidly transforming our lives”.
Mr. Black admits there is still work to be done before a truly cashless society is reached but says “there is a raft of ground-breaking technologies that will make cash a mere supporting act in the near future”.
While card payments can reduce costs to small and medium sized businesses, there are costs associated with cashless payments. Mr. Shah, a shopkeeper on St John street, explains why his business has a minimum payment for card payments: “We are charged when a customer pays with a card, especially credit cards.”
CMS card payment analysts say premium cards such as charge and credit cards can cost up to 2% so that, on a £10 spend, the card payment facilitator could take 20p. Businesses offset their costs by adding the charge of the service to their customers.
The way in which customers pay for their purchases has evolved since the notion of trade began. The move to a cashless society is just another metamorphosis into a form that will become obsolete one day.