Sunday, February 12, 2006

London Oyster Card

For those travelling to London you will probably have noticed two things:

1) The cash price of a single fare on the tube (zone1) or bus is now quite expensive (£3.00 and £1.50 respectively)
2) There is a thing called an Oyster card that makes travel a lot cheaper.
A full list of prices can be found on Pages 9 and 10 of the TfL-fares-2006 pdf doccument.

Among the types of Oyster card is a ‘Pay as You Go’ card. These can be obtained at a tube station and then topped up via cash or credit at any time. As they are used, the price of the journey is deducted from the Oyster card. An advantage of this is that the fare prices are a lot less (£1.50 and £0.80 in the examples given above). They are also capped meaning that if you travel enough to have paid the equivalent of a day travel pass for the area you are using then that is it, you pay no more.

There is a £3.00 deposit payable on the Oyster card when you first get it. This is refunded when the card is handed back in if you have registered the card.

Is this useful for Visitors?
This all sounds like a great idea for visitors to London, who can get an Oyster card at the beginning of their journey and then hand it back in at the end. However, I have just been informed by the Oyster refund helpdesk (Sunday 12th Feb 2006) that the refund is posted to you as a cheque in £GB to the address used to register the card. There is no means for getting the refund of credit on the card or the deposit at the station. One would have thought that it would make sense to be able to get the card at Heathrow, for example, use it whilst in London and then return it back at Heathrow as you leave, picking up the deposit and credit on the way out. Sorry this is not going to work so easily. Your cheque will be sent to you in a number of weeks. This is the official line that I got from TfL helpdesk, though there seems to be conflicting evidence elsewhere to sugges that you can get your money back there and then.

Oyster not Compatible with Rail Network
The whole of the London network consists of the Tube, bus, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Trams and Overground Rail systems. The Pay as you Go Oyster card is useable on all the above except (most of) the Rail system. Specific journeys are allowed, but they are few and far between.

Needless to say, this frustrates Londoners a lot and is because the readers for the two networks are incompatible, and for some reason, when the rest of the country went for one system, London opted for another (Yes, I know it makes perfect sense – not!). Now there seems to be a bit of a ‘discussion’ going on over who is likely to pay for the conversion / installation needed to make things compatible. Ken Livingstone and Transport for London (TfL) has suggested that the rail networks pay, with them indicating a certain obvious degree of unwillingness to foot the bill for TfL decision.

Another good point about the Oyster system is that if you use enough travel to have paid for a travel card for the day, then your payments are automatically capped to that cost no matter how much more travelling you do. Be warned though, that even though a daily travel card would cover the whole of the London network, the capped Oyster card can still NOT be used on mainline train journeys in the zone because of the incompatibility of the systems!

As yet there is no indication as to when / if this is going to be addressed.

So, a potentially really useful tool for the tourist probably rendered mostly useless (or harmless) do to the complexities and variances within the systems. For those of you not fully confused or asleep up to this point, further information can be waded through on. Personally I feel that the system should be made more visitor friendly re both the refunding system and compatiblity with the whole network, and maybe you would like to contact TfL and tell them so!

No comments:

New Panoramas on Panoramic Earth