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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Leah Farrell/ Dublin Buses on O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre.
Can I Tap?

How have other countries managed contactless bus payments while Ireland has not?

The National Transport Authority recently said it would take “years” for the service to be rolled out.

LAST YEAR, THE former CEO of Dublin Bus Ray Coyne estimated that contactless and smartphone payments on buses could be in place in late 2023.

It followed comments made by the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) head of ticketing technology Barry Dorgan, who had told The Journal the previous year that 2023 or 2024 was a “likely timeline”, but that it would depend on a number of factors, including funding and the supplier’s work.

However, the NTA CEO Anne Graham recently told a meeting of Dublin city councillors that it would be “years” before a contactless payment service is implemented on Dublin Bus and other transport services around the country. 

The NTA is set to trial contactless payments on its Local Link bus service in Cavan and Monaghan this month, which Graham said has more modern ticketing equipment that allows for contactless payments to be made. 

“We do need next-generation ticketing and new equipment to be able to deal with bank cards,” she said. 

“Our current system on our bus service is too old to actually manage to deal with contactless payments, so we do need new equipment, which is part of the next-generation ticketing.”

Graham said the NTA is in the middle of a procurement process for next-generation ticketing and hope to be able to start the implementation of contactless payment services once they have appointed a contractor to deliver it. 

“Once we have that contractor appointed, we’ll have a better idea of what the timeline is. But it will be in the months and years to get across all our services, as you may remember how we rolled out Leap card,” she said.

“We would obviously want to do it quicker than that, but it is a significant deployment of new infrastructure and new IT systems.”

Currently, those using a bus must either use a prepaid Leap Card or use cash to pay their fare. Dublin Bus only accepts coins, with no facility onboard to use credit or debit cards to pay a fare.

Many transport systems in the UK and across Europe now have the ability to tap on using your bank card or smartphone. But Ireland is not alone in not having this option just yet. 


In London, buses have offered customers the option of tapping on with a contactless payment card since 2012. Two years later, this was further rolled out to the underground and rail network.

Andrew Anderson, head of customer payments at Transport for London (TfL), told The Journal that it was quite a long project to undertake.

“I started working on it in 2007 and it took us a couple of years to define the customer proposition, partly because no one had ever done it before. We had to do quite a lot of work with the payment scheme, so MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and our merchant acquirer to understand how it could work,” he said.

“When we launched on buses, it was actually a very simple model, it was kind of the same as paying for things like a coffee, where every fare was a single transaction. We didn’t have capping when we first launched in 2012. It actually took us until 2014 to introduce capping, which was much more complex.”

Anderson said that when TfL began to develop the idea, contactless was still very new and not everybody had a contactless bank card.

“Barclays was trialling it and it was only available in very few places, but from the dialogue that we were having with Barclays and the payment industry generally, we could see that this was likely to become a big thing,” he said.

From our perspective, we were looking at how to reduce the cost of collecting revenue, and not having to issue cards was one easy way to look at doing that, being able to move people on to something that they already had, which makes public transport more accessible.

“The card issuers – the banks – did actually focus their rollout around things like we were doing, because that was where they could get the mass usage penetration going on… I think in fairness, what we did helped with take up of it because it started to become second nature. In London, access to the public transport network is pretty fundamental and so people got it pretty quickly.”

Anderson said the thing that took the longest amount of time and was the most difficult to do was implementing a revenue protection model that supported contactless, because “it didn’t exist”. 

He said the programme underwent a voluntary customer pilot for a year before it was rolled out and needed a lot of testing. 

“It’s not just ‘get the technology done, get it out there’. You have to go through a series of tests and accreditation with the payments industry to demonstrate that the reader is compliant with the security standards around payment card transactions, and that is quite a robust process and takes several steps.”

Contactless is now the single biggest way to pay for travel in London, with over half of fare-paying passengers using the method. 

a-london-bus-crossing-westminster-bridge-with-the-london-eye-in-the-backround-london-england Alamy Stock Photo Buses in London have allowed customers to pay for their journey using a contactless payment since 2012. Alamy Stock Photo

Anderson did not disclose how much the entire rollout cost, but he said that TfL developed the contactless payment system themselves at a cost of around £10 million.

He said that he was not surprised that the service had not been introduced in Ireland as of yet.

“Although it’s been implemented in London and there are relatively off-the-shelf schemes available in the UK, every country is different,” he said.

“There are nuances in how the payments industry works and the scheme rules, so the card issuers and the merchant acquirers have to be brought on that journey with the payment schemes to make it work. I would suspect there’s probably a voyage of discovery going on.

“In the background, there’s also quite a lot of software development has to be done to create the systems to manage the transaction processing and then also to manage the customer accounts and the risk models associated with it. There’s quite a lot to do.”

In Northern Ireland, Translink buses in Belfast currently offer a contactless payment option, while in Britain, those using buses in Edinburgh and Cardiff can also tap on with their card.

Other UK cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, also have a contactless payment option on its public transport. 


A number of cities in Europe have also gone in this direction for both rail and bus services, including in Madrid, Rome and Stockholm. 

In Finland, the city of Turku, located around 160km west of Helsinki, became the first in the country to roll out contactless payments on its buses in 2021 through its public transport network Föli. 

Development manager at Föli, Topias Pihlava, told The Journal that the region’s 300 buses already had a modern ticketing system in place when they decided to introduce contactless payments.

“That gave us some advance and flexibility to introduce different medias in the system, including the contactless payment,” he said.

“From the system point-of-view and calculating the ticket prices, we had quite a good system already existing. In our case, we had to change our validators.”

Pihlava explained that the old ticket validators on the buses were able to read the contactless card, but it didn’t meet the the requirements from the payment service providers. This meant that they had to be replaced, which delayed the project. 

“It took some time. It was almost two years from the time that we decided to order this until we had this in the production, but the main delay was caused by the certification process. We were almost a year waiting to get certification done.

“There were some issues with the supplier and the payment service provider. They had to do the certification test according to their standards, so that took more time than we thought.”

He said it may have been possible to have the service working in a year-and-a-half without this delay, “but in general, it always takes some time if you have to renew your devices and change it on every bus”.

Pihlava said it cost around €1 million to introduce the service.

“But we were able to use our ticketing system. That really helped us in this matter and we didn’t have to make big changes to the system itself. In the case that you have to make some changes to the system, the cost might be much higher.”

Asked if he thought Dublin would have introduced the method by now, he said not necessarily. 

I do know that there’s a lot of cities in Europe that don’t have contactless payment yet, and of course, we as public transport authorities know quite well the difficulties that come with this system.

“These things are normally quite big systems and you need huge investments in this, and all the technology has been moving forward pretty fast, so we totally understand that these kind of big systems cannot change quite that fast. There is also quite a difference between different regions with how much they use cash versus cards.”

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the NTA said: “The NTA is in a public procurement process for Next Generation Ticketing (NGT) which will ultimately be deployed on all PSO operators on all modes of transport across the country.

“The NTA anticipates signing the NGT contract in Q1/2024. Once appointed, implementation timelines will be planned with the successful tenderer.”

Service improvements

Brian Caulfield, a professor in transportation at Trinity College Dublin, told The Journal that Ireland is not far behind other countries by not having a contactless payment option.

“There are a few cities across the world that do have contactless, and that’s probably eventually where we’ll end up getting to I would imagine,” he said.

“We’re not massively behind other countries. I think it’s pretty standard that most cities and countries have a smart card like a Leap Card. The main benefit behind these things are we no longer use cash and we no longer have to ask for the fare, and it gets people on and off of buses and trams and trains faster.”

A recent report by environmental group Greenpeace ranked Dublin the worst for public transport amongst 30 European capital cities for affordability and simplicity of the ticketing system.

The report found Dublin to be the second most expensive city for public transport, and said it is “the only city analysed which does not have a fixed-price long-term ticket for all means of transport and available for all passengers”.

Caulfield said that while having the contactless option on public transport would be a positive, there are other things that should be done first to improve services first.

“If I had money to spend on public transport, it wouldn’t be the first place I would look,” he said.

“I think when people say the reasons why they don’t use public transport, it’s that they don’t understand the fare system or it’s too complicated. If we could make the fare structure a lot more simple, I think that would be beneficial.”

He cited Austria’s annual public transport pass, which costs €365 and gives uses a year of unlimited travel for €1 a day, as something that could be implemented simply here. 

“I think that’s more of a barrier than the actual technology being the barrier. They can over-engineer it and put all this new technology in, but that’s not the reason why people aren’t using public transport.

If someone said to me: ‘Which would you rather have – your current smart card and better bus services, or be able to use your Visa debit card or your phone and the same bus services?’, I’d rather more bus services.

“I would improve the real time information, I would get more bus services out there and I would make the fares system simpler. That would be the key thing I would do rather than worry about the technology around how people pay for it.”

Caulfield said there is a “frustration” at the moment with the pace of improvement of public transport, which he described as “sluggish”. 

“Everybody wants better public transport and it just seems to be taking a long time to get there. That’s because of the planning and all the rest behind it,” he said.

“All of the public transport projects that have been planned are fantastic, we just need them to happen quicker.”

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