Of the total Oyster credit left unused, £57m remains on Oyster cards that haven’t been used for a decade or more, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter
New data reveals how much cash is in theory available to be reclaimed from Oyster cards gathering dust.
According to figures disclosed by mayor Sadiq Khan’s office, there is a total of £261m pay-as-you-go balance available for refund from Oyster cards which have not been used for a year or longer.
Of this amount, £237m comes from cards which have not been used for at least three years, £180m for five years or longer and £57m for a decade or more.
Money on the cards can be reclaimed regardless of how long it has been since an Oyster was last used.
The statistics were requested by Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly’s Liberal Democrat group leader – who said she thought the money, after five years of non-use by customers, should be reinvested into TfL’s network.
TfL explained, however, that any money on Oyster cards which have been inactive for two or more years is transferred into the organisation’s reserves and used to improve the network from there – but that customers’ refund requests were always honoured regardless.
Khan said: “The money already is being invested. There’s not a penny that’s not being used sensibly by TfL […] So the idea that there are hundreds of millions of pounds sitting around is not true.”
The mayor pointed out that some Oyster cards were held by people who only visit London occasionally and only make a handful of journeys on the network each time.
In recent years, the Oyster has faced increasing competition as a payment method, due to the rise of contactless cards and mobile payments.
Contactless was first introduced on London’s bus network in 2012, before becoming available on the rest of the network in 2014.
Shashi Verma, TfL’s chief technology officer, said: “We already reinvest all available money that we hold, and there is no pot of available money that is not being utilised.
“We look to utilise any Oyster balances which have not been used after two years to reinvest in the transport network, but this money remains ringfenced in case a customer looks to travel or request a refund.
“We are committed to ensuring that our customers can get back the credit on their Oyster cards if that is what they want. This is why we regularly publish the amount of credit on cards and how people can obtain a refund if they wish.”
He added: “Balances on disused cards will always be honoured. Customers can use their cards with confidence even if they have not used it for a prolonged period.”
According to TfL, as of September 2023, the average balance left on an Oyster card which had not been used for a year or more was £3.08.
The organisation also says that a total of 84,597,225 cards had not been used for a year or more, as of September 2023.
The figures released by the mayor’s office do not include the £5 refundable deposits which used to be the fee for acquiring an Oyster card.
Oyster cards bought on or after 4th September 2022 cost a non-refundable £7.