Automated No Cash Economy | Transport for London


We all hate that moment when we forget to ask an automated ticket machine in London’s busy tube network for a receipt. Just as you finish juggling your possessions to finally get to your wallet that contains your Oyster card and cash, press the sometimes unresponsive touch screen selections for your travel pass while also trying to filter out numerous distractions around you like noise, overcrowding and whatever personal problems have on that particular day, you fumble your cash into the machine when requested, and then press your card against the sensor to get the pass.

Head in Hands

Woe and behold though, you forgot to ask for the receipt! There is no way to obtain it if you didn’t press the “Print Receipt” button that vanishes off the screen the moment you insert all of your money, from that machine. You look around you and notice there are hardly any humans left on London Underground, one if you are lucky.

When you do find one, they will tell you that you can print one off online. Once you get home, you try to find he link that allows you to do this. There isn’t one, but you figure you must be able to see one if you register your card. Once you do this, you still can’t find the option to print off the receipt that has now consumed all your creative energies for the day.

You then call TFL and the incredibly helpful assistant then goes on to inform you, that you have been misinformed. Bureaucracy at its best! You can only print off a receipt if you paid for it online, you can’t obtain a receipt if you paid cash.

“There’s always a paper rail if you pay with your card!” – Unhelpful twat at TFL

Before I get into the more sinister matter of how this form of environment is discouraging cash more and more everyday to move us towards a world where only plastic can be used, I think it’s very obvious that the first ‘assistant’ was just trying to get rid of me, by lying to me.

Receipts and travel are essential, many people require receipts and why one has to ‘opt in’ for a receipt at an automated kiosk, is completely backward to say the least. If there is no fail-safe that asks before you place your card on the Oyster sensor, “Are you sure you don’t want a receipt?”; I think it would be a better service if the default setting of the kiosk gave a receipt and you would have to OPT OUT of having one, rather than have to request one.

When a human operates an Oyster machine in a corner shop, the receipt is printed off as a standard and the retailer will ask if you require one. Why the kiosks have been set up this way has a sinister side to it, the obtuse and blatantly apathetic treatment of it’s customers using bureaucracy in this way, TFL is a big player in the encouragement of not using cash at all.

Why would a public infrastructure encourage this? Well, Jashin Khan produced an interesting thesis entitled “Cash or Card : Consumer Perceptions of Payment Modes” which has some interesting views on the matter.

Here is a section of the abstract :


 “This study examines the cognitive and emotional associations that people have with payment modes in order to ascertain if and how these associations impact on payment mode choice and how the payment mode selected impacts on purchase behaviour. This is a neglected research area, but not totally ignored.  Early research compared cash, cheque and credit card payment modes  and  concluded  that  credit  card  use  equates  with  increased  spending.”

Khan takes a peek at our perceptions of physical money and the absence of money, along with the access to non-physical money in the form of credit leading to debt. Before I examine the paper more thoroughly, I personally find the abstract speaks enough truths from my own experience.

If I have money physically in my hand, I can quantify it much better, I know exactly what I have, what I can spend and will then proceed to budget with it. Spending on a card is more nerve wrecking. All you have is a number in your head and when you swipe, the experience is very different, there is no physical exchange and after a few swipes here and there, it can be very difficult to quantify what I have spent without looking at the cash machine, or my balance online. Sometimes I am afraid to this, especially if I know i’ve been spending a lot and a few bills are likely to have thrashed my balance and I could be overdrawn. This was especially true when I was younger, when I took out £1000’s in loans. It didn’t seem like I had that much money, non-physical money is entirely different to manage from my personal experience and I have to agree with the abstract, that using cards and not cash, leads to higher spending.


“This study is a multi-phase, multi-method field based naturalistic enquiry. Modes of data collection included focus groups and in-depth interviews; a quasi field experiment and a self report scale.  Nvivo  was  used  to  analyse  focus  group  data to  develop  items  for  a  payment mode  perceptions  (PMP)  scale. Data  from  the  field  study  employs  ANOVA  technique  to examine  modes  of  payment  effect  on  purchase  behaviour.  The result indicates that the payment mode has significant effect on value and volume of purchase.”

It doesn’t take much to realise why TFL would reinforce this structure, if you pay with a card, there is always a paper trail, so one may submit to the power of TFL and the non-cash economy ideal, in order to protect their tax claims.


“Participants who preferred to and  normally  used  cash  or  debit  card  exhibited  positive  feeling  to  their  preferred  payment mode.  However irrespective of their preferred mode, participants did not like gifts of money deposited  to  their  bank  accounts,  thought  that  their  awareness  of  spending  and  money management skills were impair by electronic card use.”


For this reason, I prefer to have cash that I can deposit myself, I know that I can manage the non-physical experience better, if I SEE the money first.

“Participants who used debit cards spent significantly higher than did the cash group.”


Here is the full paper if you wish to examine this fascinating and highly necessary study.

As regards TFLs’ awful customer service, one could argue that I am making a  conjecture based on my frustration, but the answer I was given was one that stands rigidly in favour of this non-physical cash infrastructure and rigidly against the basic requirements that automated services seem to lack, unless you use your card and have a paper trail.

I stand firmly against this automated world, to remove cash out of the economy would be a very risky state of affairs, one that is panoptic in nature, every transaction, every move you make, is recorded and can be used as metadata analysis. This structure makes us vulnerable to marketing spam, it decreases autonomy in the long run, if money is entirely digitised, not to mention over spending due to the non-physical experience of money.

While automation has benefits, people are assuring where machines are not at all. Once you enter a problem, be it at the tube, or even Heathrow airport, customer service is practically non-existent and accountability is completely removed from the service and moved onto the customer entirely.

There needs to be more resistance towards this type of structure, I am not speaking as a Luddite, I am speaking as a concerned consumer and someone who works very hard and who prefers human contact to automated services.


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