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Contactless payment cards were used more than a billion times in Europe over the past 12 months, fresh figures show.

The Telegraph newspaper said contactless spending over the year soared to £8.94bn (€12.6bn, $13.93bn), citing data from Visa Europe.

A total of £1.14bn (€1.6bn, $1.77bn) was spent in March alone – a three-fold increase over the same month in 2014.

The surge in contactless payments was driven mainly by customers in the UK, who spent £234m (€330m, $365m) across 52.6 million transactions in March.

Britain also leads the way in the number of contactless cards in circulation at 49.6 million – well over double the number of second-placed France, which has 20.3 million.

Poland is third with 14.5 million cards followed by Spain at 11.5 million.

Contactless payment works by holding up the card to a reader. A tiny antenna inside the card communicates with the terminal, enabling a transaction to be completed in less than a second.

A key driver of the technology in Britain is the acceptance of contactless payments in the transport industry.

In March, Transport for London (TfL) said it was the fastest growing contactless Visa merchant in Europe, six months after it was launched on buses, tubes and trains.

TfL said the number of contactless transactions in a day hit the one million mark on 13 March, with over 14% of all pay-as-you-go journeys made through the technology.

Visa Europe predicts the payment system will become more common going forward as more areas and devices adopt the technology.

"The popularity of contactless will only increase in future as we experience the next generation of digital payments, where the simplicity and convenience is extended to mobile and wearable near field communications technology," Visa Europe's Sandra Alzetta was quoted as saying.

"We're proud to have led the way in establishing contactless payments in Europe, and excited to be at the forefront as contactless payments become increasingly available to everyone."