No, there’s no reprieve for off-peak return fares and no removal of the punitive 4-7pm peak period, but there is (or was?**) some good news for annual National Rail Gold Card-holders.
Browsing the TfL web site’s new (and extremely complicated) National Rail Oyster fares guide, my wife this weekend noticed the following surprise addition at the bottom of the page** (my highlighting):
Senior, 16-25, Disabled Persons, Family and friends, Annual Gold card and HM Forces Railcard holders
- A third off the adult Off-peak Oyster single fare for most journeys
- A third off the off-peak daily price cap
Disabled Persons Railcard holders
- Discounted travel for one adult travelling with them for the whole journey. The accompanying adult should buy a child Off-Peak Day Travelcard
You need to register your Oyster card with your Railcard details. You can do this at all Tube, London Overground and some National Rail ticket offices.
Yes – “Annual Gold card” had** appeared in the list of railcards eligible for the one-third Oyster PAYG fare discount!
There was, of course, still a catch. Gold Cards, when used to purchase paper tickets, get a one-third discount on all tickets purchased after 10am on weekdays (and all weekend). The catch here is that the Gold Card discount on Oyster PAYG doesn’t apply during the evening peak period, 4-7pm.
This means that for the common scenario outlined in my first post about this last year, to get the cheapest fare a Gold Card-holder still has to queue to travel into London between 4 and 7pm, but to buy a discounted single paper ticket rather than a return. When travelling back out after 7pm, the person can then touch in and get a discounted fare, resulting in an overall saving (for the journeys we’ve checked – I haven’t done anything comprehensive yet!) compared with buying a discounted paper return.
In other words, this system still fails the fundamental test of whether it’s true to the number one principle of Oyster: you should be able to touch in and out and get charged the cheapest available fare for your journey – full stop.
Putting it to the test
That’s the (depressing) theory. But does it work?
My wife has an annual Gold Card, so on Sunday, armed with a highlighted print-out of the web page in case of dispute, we did as it says: headed for a Tube station (Oxford Circus, on Sunday afternoon) and asked at the ticket office for them to enable the Gold Card discount on her Oyster.
(It would be nice to think that now this is possible, any ticket office loading any annual travelcard onto an Oyster will automatically enable this, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. I’d guess it’s more likely to be a case of don’t ask, probably don’t get.)
The staff member didn’t seem as surprised or confused by the request as we’d feared he might, although he did take a minute or two of staring at his computer screen and my wife’s Gold Card to complete the task. So far, so good.
Tonight we went into London after work. She bought a paper single with Gold Card discount to travel in at 5pm, but on the way back out at 9pm, to her motor memory’s great confusion, she simply touched in and out, just like me with my lowly Oyster bus pass.
And sure enough, she was charged the discounted fare! It really does work.
So, here’s an update on exactly when Gold Card-holders should buy paper tickets and when they should just touch in and out (after, of course, a trip to a tube station to get the Gold Card discount enabled on their Oyster card). You can link straight to this part of the post using this link.
Buy a Gold Card-discounted paper single ticket if:
- Your journey starts between 4 and 7pm on weekdays, and you will not be transferring onto the Tube, DLR or TfL Overground services to continue your journey immediately after your train.
Touch in and out and enjoy the Gold Card discounted Oyster fare if:
- Your journey starts before 6.30am, after 9.30am* but before 4pm, or after 7pm.
- You expect the total Oyster cost of your post-9.30am* travel to exceed the daily off-peak price cap, which the TfL web site suggests* would be:
- £3.75 for travel only within Zone 1 or Zones 1-2
- £3.40 for travel only within Zones 2-6 (or any subset of those Zones)
- £5.00 for travel in Zones 1-3, 1-4, 1-5 or 1-6.
Touch in and out because Oyster’s cheaper (or no more expensive) regardless of discount if:
- Your journey involves both National Rail and TfL services (Tube/DLR/ Overground).
- Your journey is between 6.30am and 9.30am.
- You expect the total Oyster cost of all your travel that day, including some before 9.30am, to exceed the total daily price cap for whatever zones you’re travelling in – i.e. whatever price you’d pay for a one-day peak travelcard for those zones.
I think that’s everything covered – simple, isn’t it?! – but please let me know if you spot any errors or omissions!
Update: I’ve done the number-crunching and believe it or not there are still exceptions/anomalies, even to the above over-complicated rules. If you make return trips between Zone 6 and Zone 1 or 2, or return trips entirely within one zone, be sure to check my latest post.
* I’ve seen no real-world confirmation of things with asterisks, which would be better than the old situation for Gold Card-holders (no discount before 10am, and minimum travelcard price of £5.00), so it seems hard to believe the train companies would have let them slip through. They are clearly suggested by the TfL web site’s information, though, so should be true.
** Where’s the Gold Card mention gone?!
I thought that was going to be the end of this post, until I looked at the page I first linked to and quoted from above. At some point between Saturday evening and this evening, the reference to “Annual Gold card” has been removed!
This recent Mayoral answer suggests that the Gold card discount is not operational until “the end of May”, so perhaps Saturday’s publication was a little premature. But if so, why has my wife been able to add the discount entitlement to her Oyster already, and benefit from a discounted fare on her way home this evening?
As is so often the case where the train companies are involved, this is a messy implementation which doesn’t achieve what it’s supposed to achieve and ultimately raises more questions than I have answers.
But hey, at least my wife can save 10p(!) on a return trip to London after work now…
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