Concerned man on the phone

Watch out! How your smart device can charge you twice on London transport

Do you have your mobile phone or another smart device connected to your bank account so you can travel without a second thought? This saves on the need to buy paper tickets or delve into your wallet for a debit or Oyster card.

But did you know that if you touch in with your mobile phone and out with your smartwatch at a TfL station, you may be charged the maximum ticket fare? Twice.

This is a big bugbear for passengers riding the tube, DLR, London Overground, Elizabeth line and even Thames Clipper boat services.

The double charge occurs because while the same bank account is usually registered to the smart phone or watch, they carry separate unique device codes (or Permanent Account Numbers). Therefore, the ticket readers think that two separate journeys are ‘incomplete’ as the person using their mobile phone did not touch out while the person with the smartwatch seemingly did not touch in to start their journey.

Joanna Davidson, CEO for London TravelWatch, said:

“We’d like TfL to work with the issuing banks to see if this issue can be resolved in the interests of hard-pressed passengers where every penny really does count right now.

We don’t think it should matter if the devices being used are different, only that the same registered bank account is paying for the journey.

We know that once someone works out they have been charged twice due to a ‘mixed-device payment’ issue, requesting a refund is relatively straightforward. But it is not immediately obvious that a double charge has taken place as the ticket gates still open as normal.”

To avoid unnecessary charges, Transport for London encourages passengers to always touch in and out using the same device.

In 2022, the London TravelWatch casework team has received concerns from customers about this issue. Many did not find out about being charged twice for some time, with multiple journeys affected. That is because the ticket gates open as normal even if you’ve used multiple devices to complete your journey. They do not beep to warn passengers there might be an issue.

In industry speak this issue is called a ‘mixed-device payment’. People either touch in and out on card readers using different devices in error, or because they believe the system will be able to tell it is the same person making the journey. Either way, the result is that they then need to request a refund.

London TravelWatch is recommending that if you do pay for travel using smart devices you should check your bank statements regularly and keep on top of any of these potential issues, so you don’t lose out.