11 November 2009

Oyster is not always the cheapest

"Some say he was responsible for easyJet dropping its capital 'E'; and that his grey matter looks suspiciously like the circuit board from a Wayfarer 3 ticket machine. All we know is, he's called The Stig!"

The Editors have recently discovered that they've not always been getting the best deal when using their Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) cards on Transport for London's (TfL) extensive transport network. I've said I'll happily offer enlightenment.

It is misleading for TfL to state that their electronic Oyster PAYG card always offers the cheapest fare. There are two occasions when purchasing a One Day Travelcard is cheaper than using Oyster PAYG. The first concerns Travelcards added to the cost of a rail ticket for travel to/from London and the other is for those in possession of a National Railcard.

For residents living within what is known as the London Commuter Belt, the cost of an One Day Travelcard can be added to the total cost of the train journey into the Capital. On these occasions, it's worth checking the comparative cost for the type of journey(s) within London you plan on making if you're in possession of an Oyster PAYG. Why? Well, the add-on Travelcard is an all-zones (1-6) example and costs less than the cost of an identical Travelcard when purchased within London.

A One Day Travelcard, covering Zones 1-6, off peak, costs £7.50, while its add-on equivalent from a commuter locality such as Reading costs as little as £4.50 when purchased with an Off Peak Return (£15). Ultimately, the number of journeys on TfL's network the user plans to make, the type and extent to which they will travel within London, also has a baring on whether the add-on is better. If, say, the traveller will only be making three or four bus journeys while in London, then Oyster PAYG will be the cheaper option, as these cost £1 each. Those who gain the most are those who plan on travelling into Zone 6 once within London, or making three or more Tube journeys.

From the north, Peterborough has its own version: an Off Peak Return to London is £26, though only £3.50 more with a One Day Travelcard added (£29.50). Oyster PAYG users should keep their card locked in their purses/wallets and purchase a One Day Travelcard add-on from Peterborough.

If you're planning on visiting London and have never heard of an Oyster card, then what you must do is simple: spend five minutes online searching for your desired ticket to/from the Capital, then do the same again but this time add a One Day Travelcard to your request and calculate the difference. The add-on version covers Zones 1-6, that would otherwise cost £7.50 when purchased in London or rung up using Oyster PAYG. Any amount less than this is almost certainly worth purchasing.

Off Peak Travelcard prices are shown below ('off peak' is regarded as post 0930 Mon-Fri and at any time during weekends):

Zones 1-2 - £5.60
Zones 1-4 - £6.30
Zones 1-6 - £7.50

Using the two examples above (Reading and Peterborough), the saving made on both occasions is greater than the cheapest (Zones 1-2) Travelcard so is almost certainly going to be cheaper. The One Day Travelcard, and its capped equivalent on Oyster PAYG, still remains excellent value for those who live further away from London than those who are classed as living within the Commuter Belt and thus entitled to a Travelcard add-on.

The second occasion where Oyster PAYG is not the cheapest option is when travelling with a National Railcard. Until recently, only holders of the Disabled and Senior versions could save, but now all classes benefit (Disabled, Senior, 16-25 and HM Forces). A reduced-rate One Day Travelcard is available to holders of a National Railcard provided they purchase this from a London Underground ticket kiosk, i.e. only the adult version is available as an add-on for purchases online or at stations offering this facility outside London.

Here, the One Day Travelcard, off peak, is a straightforward £5 and covers Zones 1-6 (i.e. the same as the add-on). These special reduced rates can be loaded onto an Oyster PAYG or printed onto a standard One Day Travelcard, but they can only be purchased by joining the queue to speak to a human at an Underground station.

While this reduced rate is more than purchasing an Adult add-on if travelling in from a locality classed as within the London Commuter Belt (£4.50 Reading, £3.50 Peterborough), the Railcard will have assisted the traveller in receiving up to 34% off the train fare in the first place, usually making it worthwhile to queue up once in London for your discounted One Day Travelcard.

In summary, despite TfL's claims that Oyster PAYG always charges the least amount, there are occasions when, for those living with London's Commuter Belt and who travel occasionally into the capital, this is not the case. Additionally, holders of ALL types of National Railcard benefit further with reductions for One Day Travelcards, which can be loaded onto Oyster PAYG if needed. (The Stig)