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TfL to scrap Oyster system under £1.5B new contract, looks to monetise payments data

"Project Proteus" details emerge...

Transport for London (TfL) plans to make its Oyster card payment option an “account-based system” as part of a £1.5 billion rebuild of its revenue collection and technology infrastructure dubbed “Project Proteus” .

TfL announced the news in a contract notice for revenue capture services that went live on November 14.

Reading between the lines it appears likely that the shift may entail nudging Oysters users onto a dedicated application, as the company, like many before it, aims to capture and sweat first-party user data.

(The contract notice says Project Proteus will “enable potential future revenue collection services” including “commercial utilisation of revenue collection data” as well as “new emerging forms of mobility.”)

See also: Water CIOs agree landmark Open Data project “Stream”

The current TfL app lets customers top up pay-as-you-go credit and check journey history but is not interoperable with first-generation Oyster cards (newer ones have a 'D' in the bottom left hand corner.)

TfL said: “This is likely to be a proof of concept involving design and back-office development work which we will lead on [and] involve significant upgrade to our retail assets, changes to the reader to support the new risk management models, changes to the RID software as well as decommissioning the legacy Oyster system.”

Customer web and mobile application channels are operated by TfL and interface to its back-office – the infrastructure for which is based in two Tier 3 data centres; one just inside and one just outside of the M25.

TfL revenue collection contract "Project Proteus" to last up to 12 years

The current supplier of revenue collection systems is Cubic, which signed a $185 million, three-year contract with TfL in 2017. (Some 75% of TfL’s public transport revenue is collected from customers using pay as you go on either contactless or Oyster –the original technology for which is bespoke and owned by Cubic.)

The new supplier will be signed up to an initial seven-year contract with the possibility of extending up to a 12-year-term – a term length that may raise eyebrows in some quarters amid challenging financial times at TfL. (After months of wrangling, the government and TfL struck a funding deal in August that funds TfL until 31 March 2024. A proposal for the 2025-2026 period is being presented to the TfL board next month.)

TfL issued the contract details as “competitive dialogue” notice, saying that requests to participate need to be in by 27 January 2023, with expected full invitations to tender to be sent out by March 6, 2023.

The winning contractor under the Proteus Contract will have responsibility for systems integration for “operational and technical integration of modules of the [revenue collection] system, the safe introduction of new or changed technologies and services, ongoing activities to identify and address obsolescence, and to manage faults and incidents as they should occur in day-to-day operation of the system.”

The current TfL revenue collection System supports legacy magnetic stripe tickets, Oyster (the TfL closed-loop, proprietary smart card system), contactless payment cards and ITSO (the UK national smart card specification).

Currently the System incorporates ~8,500 buses; ~1,000 London Underground, Overground, DLR and National Rail stations; ~4,000 Oyster Ticket Stops; and seven TfL Visitor Centres. This may be extended in coming years.

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