No, this does not mean that buses are free, but it’s just another sign that tourists and old farts need a rethink when boarding a London bus.
Beginning this Sunday – 6 July, 2014, bus fares cannot be paid with cash. Sooo… if you have a UK swipe card, you’re all set. Otherwise – and here is where tourists and old farts should step up – you’ll need an Oyster card. TfL has more info at this link.
Oyster cards are endlessly refillable cards you just hold in front of the reader at the turnstile. Sort of like a Metro Card in NYC, but with no expiration date. I’ve had an Oyster card for several years (clever tourist and clever old fart – that’s me) and I make sure to top it up on each trip after clearing customs at Heathrow. You can also add money to them at ticket windows, helped by a real person – this may be the only way to use American cards since we don’t have chip-&-PIN type cards yet. Sterling cash can be used at the automated ticket machines, just check the LED message at the top of each machine to be sure.