Saturday 22nd January 2022
One of the proposals London Mayor Sadiq Khan has put forward to help shore up TfL’s finances in ongoing funding negotiations with Government to replace the current arrangements ending on 4th February is the end of the Travelcard.
If this goes ahead it will confirm without doubt the wheels have well and truly come off “London style” public transport, for so long held in such high regard by ill informed MPs and naive provincial politicians.
Introduced to much acclaim in the mid 1980s, initially branded as Capitalcard, the much appreciated integrated ticket revolutionised travel across London by including British Rail’s network of trains as well as London Transport’s buses and Underground for the first time in a London wide ticket.
A decade or so later Oyster Pay As You Go was launched in 2003 and gradually expanded from buses and the Underground to include National Rail services so that an Oyster day cap became an alternative to a one day Travelcard. For some time TfL have set the Oyster daily cap at a lower price than a one day Travelcard to nudge Londoners into using Oyster, and in more recent times contactless bank cards, rather than Travelcards. The proposed withdrawal is therefore the culmination of a process that’s been gradually underway for some years and I suspect TfL will be only too pleased to eliminate another paper based ticket from its estate.
It’s not absolutely clear when Mayor Khan says he’s proposing Travelcards will end in favour of Pay As You Go by Oyster and contactless whether he’s referring to the London only Travelcards or whether he’s also including in his proposed cull the popular Travelcard add-on arrangement used by rail passengers throughout the Home Counties and beyond when buying a rail ticket to London.
If he is indeed pressing the nuclear button of withdrawing that facility, prepare for an outcry from commuters and leisure travellers across many provincial ‘shire’ towns who’ve been used to adding Underground and bus travel on at a great value price when they purchase their day return rail ticket.
After all, the clamour for having ‘one integrated ticket’ covering all journeys by whatever mode is encompassed in this long standing Travelcard, and passengers from outside London might not take too kindly to having to use a different payment method once in the Capital when they’d previously been used to waving their ticket at bus drivers or slotting it in Underground gates, not having to worry about any further travel expense and ‘caps’.
It’s not clear whether this proposal is only about paper tickets and rail passengers who load season tickets with Travelcard add-ons to their rail company smartcards will find they’re no longer accepted on TfL’s Underground, buses and trams without having to use a separate Oyster or bank card for such journeys. If so, it really will be a retrograde step in the drive towards ticket integration and ‘smarter travel’.
When you look at the price implications you soon see why it potentially will make for a nice revenue earner for TfL to force rail travellers coming into London from outside the boundary to pay for their use of the Capital’s network of buses, tram and Underground just like Londoners do “as they go” with Oyster or a bank card.
The table below shows prices for a return journey from my local station Hassocks to and from London Terminals (ie principally Victoria and London Bridge) compared to the cost of a Day Travelcard giving unlimited travel in zones 1 to 6 as well as the return rail travel.
As befits rail fares it’s complicated by peak and off-peak as well as options for travel supposedly only on Thameslink trains as opposed to Thameslink and Southern trains (called “any permitted”) – even though, as we all know, they’re the same company, but that’s a point for another time.
I’ve also shown the discounted prices for passengers with Railcards including comparative prices using a Railcard enabled Oyster card.
As you can see in this byzantine world of rail pricing the Travelcard upgrade is far from a simple to understand standard add on affair.
In each case the price of the Travelcard add on is less than the price of a standalone Day Travelcard if purchased in London or using Pay As You Go as shown in the prices in the lower half of the table.
|Ticket type||Day Return to London Terminals||Day Travelcard||Difference|
|Anytime; Any permitted||£49.40||£58.00||£8.60|
|Anytime; Thameslink only||£40.90||£45.60||£4.70|
|Off peak; Any permitted||£27.70||£32.50||£4.80|
|Off peak; Thameslink only||£16.00||£24.80||£8.80|
|Off peak; Any permitted Railcard||£18.25||£21.45||£3.20|
|Off peak; Thameslink only R’card||£10.55||£16.35||£5.80|
|TfL prices for Zones 1-6 travel||Pay As You Go Daily Cap||Day Travelcard|
|Off peak Railcard||£8.90||£9.10|
|TfL prices for Zone 1 only||Pay As You Go Cap||Day Travelcard|
|Off peak Railcard||£4.90||£9.10|
You can see that an off-peak any permitted Day Travelcard (£32.50) compared to an off peak Day Return (£27.70) is just £4.80 more whereas an off peak PAYG Cap is £13.50, meaning passengers could end up paying up to £8.70 (£13.50-£4.80) more for their day’s travel (a 27% increase) depending how many Underground, bus and tram journeys they make, and at what times – particularly if using the Underground between 16:00 and 19:00 when peak surcharges apply for journeys from zone 1 to outer zones whereas currently there’s no restriction on the use of Travelcards at these times.
The potential increases are the same for Railcard holders who currently pay just £3.20 more for their Travelcard (£21.45) compared to the (Any permitted) Day Return (£18.25) whereas they could pay up to £8.90 using Pay As You Go – an increase of £6.70 (£8.90-£3.20) or 31% on current arrangements.
Price savvy passengers are going to have to be even more astute than usual in grabbing the best fare. For example, take a look at the ‘Off peak; Thameslink only’ prices shown above where the Travelcard add on is a whopping £8.80 (the highest of all the prices quoted, even Anytime ones). If that passenger is just making a couple of Underground journeys in zone 1 during the off peak – at £2.40 a trip – they’ll spend another £4.80 by tapping their Oyster or contactless and save £4 compared to the old Travelcard price. But that saving would disappear if the day’s itinerary included a journey from say zone 1 to zone 4 between 16:00 and 19:00 which costs £4. This is obviously the case appertaining now and I wonder how many passengers realise they could be making savings.
The situation will also be complicated for families visiting London who currently take advantage of family rail price deals and a £2 Travelcard rate; whereas in the new scheme of things they’ll need a Zip Oystercard for each child aged 11 and over which for most will be impractical. I really don’t know how young people will be accommodated in any post Travelcard world arrangements.
From TfL’s point of view the elimination of Travelcard add-ons on rail tickets from outside London will give them revenue upfront as passengers tap away with their cards rather than having to wait for rail settlement plans to hand over the money at the end of each period, and depending on passenger travel patterns may give it more income. On the other hand, passengers may react to the change by making less journeys while in London, becoming more aware of what they’re paying, and TfL may lose out.
Either way it’s a shame this once lauded ‘integrated ticket’ looks to be on the way out. I sincerely hope it’s only a clever negotiating tactic by the Mayor or I’ve got the wrong end of the stick about what he proposed or it’s really just all a bad dream.
One thing that isn’t a bad dream and is definitely bad reality is …..
Mystery of Southern’s missing trains continues
Before signing off from this blogpost, just another word about my personal beef at the moment – the continuing lack of through services from the busiest main line in the south, the Brighton Main Line, to the second busiest London terminal, Victoria. Despite the Government’s change to its previous Work From Home edict from next week, this farcical situation is set to continue right through until the nine day blockade between Three Bridges and Brighton begins on 19th February. I’ve written to Southern’s Customer Services asking how diverting trains to London Bridge instead of Victoria saves staff resources and received the usual standard reply from Tina ….
“There are two main factors at play, the first is short notice absence due to track and trace mandated isolation and positive Covid tests. The second factor is the cumulative result of at least sixteen months of disruption. In particular, Coronavirus has had a knock-on impact on driver training, as social distancing limited numbers in the cab and the classroom. With regular staff turnover, there are now fewer people available than before the pandemic.”
So I wrote back:
“Thanks for your reply Tina but you haven’t explained to me how running (a) train/s to London Bridge instead of Victoria is saving staff resources since the train/s is/are still running and the journey time is just 2 minutes shorter (East Croydon to London Bridge takes 15 minutes instead of 17 minutes to Victoria) so please, for the benefit of all us Victoria bound passengers on the Brighton Main Line, can you explain how this arrangement is saving staff?”
I’ll keep you posted when the next reply comes.
In the meantime, I was changing trains from SWR to Southern at Clapham Junction again yesterday afternoon at 16:30 and during the 16 minute gap between East Croydon bound trains more and more passengers arrived on the platform resulting in the next train getting besieged with it already very full from Victoria. This situation is completely unsatisfactory especially as it’s patently not saving staff, as at that very same time trains bound for Eastbourne and Littlehamton were over in London Bridge when they should have been coming from Victoria. There’s no doubt Southern are hiding the real reason, whatever it is, for this very farcical arrangement – I reckon we need Sue Gray with her renowned investigative powers to tell us what’s going on. With a bit of luck she’ll be free to do this after next week.
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Next blog, Sunday 23rd January: Luton Airport’s DART almost ready for take off.