LBC appearance

I popped up on LBC 97.3 earlier today. Ken Livingstone, presenting his programme, had made the mistake of saying that there were surely no downsides to the introduction of Oyster Pay-As-You-Go on National Rail. That’s certainly one way to make me finally drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning!

You can listen to the three-minute item here. Sadly it was time for adverts and news before I could get onto OEPs, evening peak or the abolition of off-peak return tickets, but at least I got the Gold Card discount issue – surely the easiest to fix – covered before time was up. It also appears that my phone may have a sock covering it or something – sorry I sound so muffled!

More on Gold Card discounts

Oyster 'loser' card

Transport for London’s news release about Oyster PAYG on National Rail includes an interesting admission:

In the overwhelming majority of cases, Oyster pay as you go offers the cheapest single rail fare applicable to that particular route. The only exceptions are holders of certain National Railcards (Network, Family and Goldcard) for whom cheaper paper tickets for travel on National Rail may be available. Passengers are advised to check the best fare before travelling with the relevant train operator.

So it appears it’s official that what I said earlier is indeed likely to be the case. The questions that remain are therefore:

  1. Why is the off-peak return train ticket, which is what Gold Card holders tend to buy when travelling into the centre of London after work, being abolished, thus increasing Gold Card holder’s costs regardless of whether they use Oyster or not?

  2. Why can’t Gold Card discounts be applied to Oyster PAYG in the same way as Young Person’s Railcard and other Railcard discounts already are – particularly if the Gold Card travelcard is held on the Oyster card in the first place so it already ‘knows’ you’re entitled to the discount?

Question 2 looks to be the most baffling. At least it’s possible to string some sort of semi-logical argument together to answer question 1, in relation to the new peak period between 16.00 and 19.00 each weekday making such tickets more complicated or something. But really, if anyone can come up with a response to 2, I’d be very interested to hear it.

In the mean time, I shall assume that I am going to be an Oyster Loser come January.

Picture adapted from Oyster card by flickr.com/b0xman – used under a Creative Commons licence.

Oyster: Pay-More-As-I-Go?

Time to bring the blog out of hibernation to cover today’s big Oyster PAYG on National Rail announcement.

Oyster Card Reader - Unzipped

While in many respects of course this is a positive announcement, there will be a substantial minority of us who will be significant losers from the new system thanks to some aspects of how this is going to be implemented.

For the purposes of this post, let’s assume, as I’m sure many people living in outer London boroughs like Bexley do, that I have a Zones 5-6 annual travelcard loaded onto an Oyster card for convenience. This enables me to travel freely in my local area and on all buses in London, and gives me a Gold Card discount of one-third off all National Rail travel in the south east.

Currently, for me to travel into London and back for leisure, after a day’s work in Bexley, it costs me £3.50.

Under the new system, I will still have to queue (but at a newsagent rather than the station) but will then be stung, by my calculation, for £6.50 – that’s an astonishing 86% increase on a journey I make quite frequently (around ten times a month).

The explanation for this is as follows:

Currently I can buy an off-peak return from the last station in Zone 5 (Sidcup on my line) to Charing Cross and get the Gold Card discount on this. I can do this any time after 10.00am. It costs £3.50.

Under the new system I would have to queue up to get an ‘Oyster Extension Permit‘ (OEP) added to my Oyster card. This is to allow me to travel beyond the zones of my travelcard. On the TfL network this has never been necessary as the system just works out whether you’ve done this when you touch out on arrival. But on the National Rail network it seems the train operating companies are scared people will not touch out and they will lose revenue, so these OEPs have been introduced to save them from, for instance, having to staff their stations a bit more so as they can make sure people touch out. This requires me to visit an Oyster retail outlet, which doesn’t include any National Rail train stations, so means a newsagent – not really the convenience usually associated with Oyster.

The next problem is that, although you can load a range of discount-entitling cards onto Oyster, such as Young Person’s Railcard, and despite the fact that my travelcard is already loaded on my Oyster so it already ‘knows’ I am entitled to a Gold Card discount, all the announcements and documents about Oyster PAYG on National Rail are silent on the matter of Gold Card discounts, so it appears there is no intention to automatically apply these to travel after 10am, as with Young Person’s and others.

The third problem is that, although the National Rail companies have avoided adopting some of the customer-benefitting aspects of Oyster, such as not needing to plan and queue in advance to travel beyond a travelcard’s zones, they *have* adopted a new evening ‘peak’ period which TfL uses to charge higher Tube fares between 4 and 7pm. Of course, when I do go into London in the evening for leisure, my journey into the city is invariably taken between these times.

The final insult added to the above injuries is that today’s announcement on the National Rail web site says that paper off-peak day return tickets will be withdrawn from 2 January. This means that continuing to purchase the £3.50 ticket I currently use will no longer be an option either. Instead I will have to travel into town on a £3.90 Zone 5 to Zone 1 Peak ticket, and out again on a £2.60 Zone 1 to Zone 5 Off-Peak ticket – a total of £6.50.

[Edit: There is some doubt as to whether I would need to pay the fare from Zone 5 or only Zone 4, when I have Zones 5 and 6 covered by my annual travelcard. I’ve been working on the basis that the current situation is that to travel into London I need to buy a return from Sidcup, the last station in Zone 5 on my line, and that Southeastern and other rail companies are unlikely to change this in the passenger’s favour. If this basis is incorrect, the new fare would be £5.40 rather than £6.50, representing an increase of 54% rather than 86% – still not good!]

The combination of all these things means, as I say, the cost to me of travelling into London in the evenings for leisure is set to rise by 86% from 2 January. If you can find any rail fare elsewhere that rises by this much from 2 January I will be very surprised!

There is a caveat to all this. The actual increase in costs I will really experience in January is ‘merely’ 43%. This is because there is no point spending any more than £5.00 on any post-10am travel within London because I can simply buy an off-peak Gold Card-discounted Travelcard at £5.00 instead. But this fact speaks volumes about the absurdity of the new PAYG fares for those of us in this position: to carry out a simple return rail journey in the evening, a third of which I already have a travelcard covering, the cheapest method will be to buy a ticket which allows me unlimited use all day (after 10am) of just about all transport methods in the entire city!

So what can be done? Well, I hope the train companies enable Gold Card discounts for Oyster PAYG, and do away with the requirement for OEPs, but in the mean time I’m afraid this long-awaited announcement looks set to be very disappointing and costly for some of us.

Disclaimer: I’m pretty confident the information I’m presenting here is accurate but if any readers can find anything which contradicts me I would of course be very pleased to hear it, and correct my post accordingly!