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Transport for London Sell Out The Public To Visa.

The completely manipulative and cynical advertising by Visa in connection with the launch of "contactless" on all Transport for London services almost takes one's breath away.

Four pages of hype in the London Evening Standard, though costing tens of thousands of £'s, is small beer to the mighty Visa.

This is, of course, a total sell out by those responsible for London's transport system. Recently, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, collaborated in the sell out by allowing cash to be banned as a payment method on London Buses. This was done to prepare the way for the contactless launch, with no justification other than it suited the plans of those pulling the Mayor's strings. That relationship is far from contactless: Johnson responds quickly to every pull, doing as he is instructed, without question.

Since cash is banned on the buses, Visa's claim that contactless is "cheaper than cash" does not hold water as far as such services are concerned. If you can't chose to use cash, contactless is not cheaper: it is simply the only payment method allowed.

Real "Choice" is what is absent in all of this. Henry Ford once arrogantly told his customers   "you can have any colour of car, so long as it is black".  Johnson and his cronies are just as arrogant.  He should really be told to get on his bike - but then again, that would be a costly option for the public.  The cost to Londoners of running the "Boris Bikes" has only recently been fully exposed. £millions of Ratepayers' money are spent every year, supporting a scheme we were all lead to believe was fully sponsored by the private sector. Disgraceful.

Transparency isn't a big thing for the Mayor and his pals. Their aim is to phase out the Oyster card, to allow Card Schemes like Visa a free hand to control completely payments made for travel in London.

Oyster has its faults, but one good thing about it is that when you tap it on the card reader, you see what you have got left on your card, so you also know exactly what you have paid (of course, if you don't tap it, you won't know this, which is one of Oyster's issues).

Using a Visa or another Card Scheme's contactless card leaves you completely ignorant of what you have spent. You will not find out until you receive your card statement, probably weeks later. You would never do this with any other payment, but Transport for London and Visa know Londoners have no choice but to accept their dictats. "Do as we say or walk" is the message, loud and clear.

So Londoners are being forced to give up choice, the freedom to decide how they pay, deprived of the ability to exercise their independence, which every British adult should be entitled to do. They can, of course, still make the choice to exercise their legs by walking, if relatively short distances are involved. This may be the best option open: indeed, the only one.

In return for giving up their right to exercise real choice, Visa are offering Londoners the chance of winning £500  "every day". Well, actually, if you read the small print (which you must always do with Visa), only every day until the end of October. So 44 days, really, costing Visa a maximum of £22,000 - or, put another way, a whole lot less than they paid the London Standard just yesterday. Oh, and it's not just Londoners who can share this massive "prize" pot: anyone in the UK using contactless gets a chance to "win". Cheapskate, or what?

The background to all of these capers is the fact that Visa want cash to disappear. The fact that the British Public still exercise their free choice to make over half of all their shop purchases using cash vexes Visa no end. They don't like choice: it costs them money. So they are doing everything they can to remove it as quickly they can, often working with compliant Public Officials, such as the London Mayor.

If you are reading this and thinking "but I do find cards more convenient", I would ask you to  analyse how much time - and money - they really save you. I have already done this for myself and the answer was "none", apart from in relation to online shopping (and I prefer the High Street!) - but please exercise your choice to work out what they do for you.

I would also ask you to think of the future. Do you really want to have no choice as to how you pay?  You may be being bought off by some prizes or discounts now, but when there is only one payment method available, all of that will surely change.  Visa and other Card Schemes are Public Companies, whose primary aim is to maximise profits for their shareholders. To do that, eventually the discounts and prizes will be phased out, to be replaced by an increase in the charges they make for their services.  Those charges will lead to higher prices, for transport and for all of our shopping.

We can all be duped by the advertising hype surrounding plastic cards.  How many of us bought into the big UK grocers' loyalty cards for years, getting discounts that amounted to about 1% of what we spent?  Now we discover Aldi and Lidl don't have cards, but you can save 30% by shopping at their stores.  Using those cards has been costing us a fortune in the last decade or more, but we were not smart enough to realise it - until now.  In 2013, Aldi and Lidl were the UK's fastest growing retailers in terms of overall sales, despite their wonderful low prices.  We have got smart.

Which brings me to the point of which we all should be aware. It is NOT "Smart Cards" or even "Smart Phones" that we really need.  We need to be SMART ourselves.  That means thinking for ourselves, not being fooled by deceptive advertising.  It means voting  for politicians who want us to be smart, not just their compliant followers.  It means considering the future, not just focusing on today.  Most of all, it means being aware of what we each value most.  If high on your list are "choice", "freedom" and "independence", for you, your family & friends, don't give them up.  Ever.  And certainly not for the pieces of silver offered by Visa as "prizes". 

Thursday, 18th September 2014

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