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!

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11 Responses

  1. The z1-4 off-peak cap is £5.80, so even if Gold Cards aren’t enabled, that’ll be the maximum you pay for your evening travels (if they are enabled, it’ll be £3.90, which is barely worse than now and allows you to go anywhere in London you like).

    Also, all NR stations where Oyster is currently valid (including quite a few FCC, NXEA, C2C and FGW stations within the zones, as well as London Overground) also sell and top up Oyster cards, so it’s pretty much certain that the same will happen at the NR ticket offices which start accepting Oyster in January.

    But I agree with your main point: if Gold Card discounts aren’t enabled, that’ll make fares much more expensive for season ticket holders, which is rubbish.

  2. Forgot to explain a main part of that: the peak period for Oyster caps is 0430-0930 only, so even though the single fare is higher in the evening, you’re still being capped at £5.80 total spend for the day.

  3. Thanks for this extra information John. The different definition of ‘peak’ for caps is particularly interesting.

    I think in light of this and discussions elsewhere it’s clear that any campaign from season ticket holders for a better deal from PAYG on NR should focus on Gold Card discounts as the main area of disadvantage over the old system.

    After all, OEPs are no more annoying than extension tickets – but will be during any period between PAYG launching on NR and NR ticket offices retailing Oyster, and while I agree that ultimately the ticket offices will have to start dealing in Oysters I don’t think it’ll happen in many places from day one.

    The ideal would be DLR-style trust of passengers at unstaffed stations (or – imagine! – Tube-style staffed stations) so no need for OEPs, but in the absence of this fantasy coming true we could at least get fairer fares by enabling Gold Card discounts.

  4. Hi – you don’t mention the other issue with Oyster – the fact that you are tracked wherever you travel, and the information is stored on a giant database (illegal under the Data Protection Act, as they don’t tell you this at the point of sale). Also, Oyster is not “cheaper” as such – they artificially inflated the non Oyster price to try and force people to take up the pervasive and intrusive system. The whole stinking thing is Big Brother writ large.

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  9. […] about whether the after-work return fare to London for Gold Card holders in outer London had truly risen by 43%, and their Public Affairs Manager’s total avoidance of this point too, that it really is the […]

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  11. […] Day Return paper tickets were abolished at the same time, resulting in fare rises (of as much as 43%) even for those switching to Oyster in the case of Gold Card-holders, who could no longer benefit […]

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