An idea for London

Why not set up Oyster card touch points at each busking semi-circle which could give £1 per tap?

Apple Pay arrived in the UK this month – woo!


And, teething issues aside…

…the launch has only served to further enlighten the public at large that we are indeed edging ever closer to a completely cashless London.

For some, that’s awesome.
For others, it’s a problem.

Specifically, it’s a problem for the buskers of the London Underground.

For those of you that don’t know, the buskers of our fair city’s amazing transport system are all auditioned and then licensed accordingly; they are of a standard.

With 39 busking pitches across 25 stations with an audience of up to 3.5m commuters every day, these talented guys and girls have a huge opportunity to turn in a few quid by pleasing the ears of the frequent passers by.

That is, if they carried a few quid on them.

Which, as we’ve established, is becoming rarer and rarer.




Why not set up Oyster card touch points at each TfL busking pitch that could give £1 per tap?

Think about it.

I’m pretty sure the technology wouldn’t need that much of an update to allow for this adjustment. You could start in Zone 1 and work out, or vice-versa, and go from there.

It should be simple from a logistical perspective as well. For example, given the already acknowledged stringent licensing that takes place, it follows that the talented musicians that grace the tunnels beneath our streets would probably have to book into their respective slots in advance. Meaning there must be a database somewhere that tracks who plays where and when.

Simply marry that data up with the money tapped in during those hours, and at the end of each day (or at the start of the next), said talent collect their money from a TfL window or a collection point of some description.

From a cost angle, TfL/Oyster could lift 1% of the donation to cover costs or if they were really savvy, they could get a brand to partner up on it and they could pay the costs as part of the sponsortship.

That’d make sense wouldn’t it?

What about safety? TfL handles millions of commuters every day and those tunnels and walkways have to be kept clear BUT if there’s room for a girl with a cello, there’s certainly room for a wall-hugging Oyster ‘tap-to-donate’ button.

Right? Right.

In short, it frustrates me when I hear great music and/or singing and am unable to show my appreciation because of the lack of shrapnel about my person. With a busking Oystercard touch point, I’d be able to give a pound every time I liked some music.

Which would be ace!

With the advent of Apply Pay, contactless payments in London have never had greater mindshare. If we truly give a monkey’s about our city then we should be working hard at lowering the barriers to donating to charity wherever possible and fundamentally making it even easier to move towards the progressive-yet-caring cashless society we’re so ardently idealistic about (maybe that last past is just me).

Try this: next time you’re in the Underground and you hear a busker that you enjoy, I want you to think about how much would it please you if you could just tap-to-donate them a pound as you wander by.

If TfL made it happen it would be:

  • An extra bit of pocket money for TfL.
  • A potential not insignificant lift in busker-income.
  • A way of helping the commuters of London feel better about having the cashless pockets that society is granting upon them.

So come on TfL, let’s make it happen.


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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

7 thoughts on “An idea for London”

  1. Feel this would also be a boon to homeless people if a nice solution was made by the right tech company.

    Hate the feeling of not being able to give because I don’t carry cash on me.

    However am happy to donate time whenever. Oyster or phone payments would be welcomed for those most in need, not just those that can afford instruments and the busking license.

  2. Hi James, thanks for this.

    I write as a former Underground busker (and continuing, if occasional, street performer). First of all, it’s gratifying to hear that you want to tip, but you might not because it’s difficult. There’s usually no way of knowing for sure why one’s instrument case only has a few coppers in it. Is it me, am I playing badly today, or do they not have any cash?

    There are some very reasonable assumptions in your thinking that don’t quite stand up. I don’t *know* how it is now, but when I was licensed from 2007-2009 we started off with just such a database of who, where and when and pitches were bookable online, but when the sponsorship contract finished and TfL took the management in-house it was a bit chaotic, the online booking was replaced by a phoneline and I’m not aware of whether that data management has been centralised again since then. I didn’t renew my licence because the management system was unworkable for me. Current participants in the scheme will know what progress there’s been, but don’t get your hopes up.

    One of the reasons for this is that despite TfL presenting a united front, the tube actually runs so well and so safely because so much authority is devolved to station managers. The downside of this is that any pan-tube initiative has to take account of traditions and customs that have built up over the years and station managers vary in their friendliness to the busking scheme (but public safety has to come first). That’s why (for example) there used to be a pitch at Notting Hill Gate, but now there isn’t.

    Part of me is also just a bit put off by the idea of centralising payments. I think the aim has to be to keep transactions between the public and performers as peer-to-peer as cash currently is. Nobody at TfL needs to know how much I’ve taken, and I’d like some certainty over how well the system is working. At the end of the day, the station manager’s word is law, if there’s a dispute, they win. And that means, at best, having worked for a couple of hours for no payment.

    Also, I wouldn’t want to have to wait for my money at the end of the day when station staff already have enough to do – buskers are often seen as a nuisance and obstruction to staff doing the important part of their work.

    If I’ve played at 3 different stations in one day, where do I pick up my takings from? One of the attractions of street performing (to the performer) is having a direct contact with revenue – not having to wait for it to go through somebody else’s books.

    Ugh, this sounds negative. I don’t want to be a wet blanket here, I really hope that something can be done, because I love playing and I love hearing others play around the network. We’ve got lots of new ways of showing appreciation peer-to-peer, NFC’s just one of them. Let me know if it goes anywhere and I can be of any help, especially thinking things through from the performer’s perspective.

    Much love always.

    James Whatley Reply:

    Thanks the comment, Lloyd. I did think of you while I was putting this post together actually and was going to fire it your way if it didn’t reach you organically, so to speak – so hurrah and hurrah again.

    To your points:

    – The note about online booking is indeed an interesting one. Moreso because it seemed to be working/in place when the pitches had brand sponsorship. I think it might’ve been Carling or Coca-Cola at the time, am I right? Either way, having a brand partner would be a good way to reintroduce this database/booking system.

    – I didn’t know about the station manager aspect, at all in fact. Public safety first, absolutely. That said, from the conversations I’m having, there would be very little need for the station manager to get involved if the oyster/contactless payment button was installed and ran without any interference independently – much like oyster touch points do today.

    – The picking up of the money aspect is something that needs a little more thinking; it is admittedly quite woolly at the moment. At first I thought about vending machines that could dispense cash, like a change machine, once the busker enters their licence number and password, for example. But again, you’re working in the realms of taking up more space in the ticket area. Maybe – and to address another point – it could be a couple of central points across London. Or perhaps, if a brand partnership is successful, branded collection points across or near to the main stations. More thinking required.

    Really appreciate the feedback Lloyd. Don’t see you as a negative Nancy at all, it’s healthy to temper my terminal optimism with a dose of reality from time to time.

    Andrew Bowden Reply:

    Payment direct to a bank account would be the obvious one. Or, indeed, an Oystercard. Far simpler – could be issued on a daily basis or whatever. Certainly, an automated system makes sense.

  3. With the introduction of ‘pay by mobile phone number’ solutions – such as a Ping it by barclays and Paym across a lot of the other banks…

    … if buskers put their/a mobile number up which was registered for this, then people could take down their mobile number (take a photo or type it in there and then) to send them a payment of £1, 3, 5 or more.

    (UK bank customers only though, and based on having to register for these pay by mobile number services.)

    But would be an alternative approach.

    James Whatley Reply:

    Nice alternative but, what with being underground and everything, the immediate gratification of rewarding the busker may be somewhat lost in the process.

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