South London families lose out in Oyster upgrade

On Sunday, after over a decade of travelling on annual travelcards, my last one expired and I finally switched to Oyster pay-as-you-go. So I’ve been reading up on it a bit more closely, playing with the ticket machines, topping my card up, and getting set to finally spend three-year-old refunds for bad service on the Jubilee Line. And remembering to always touch out.

There’s one little detail that nobody seems to have noticed about the introduction of Oyster pay-as-you-go. We know it contains many serious flaws – it doesn’t make life much easier for people with travelcards who need to go somewhere unusual, and it won’t allow for the Gold Cards held by some of the railways’ best customers – despite allowing for senior citizens’ and young persons’ railcards.

But this little dodge is actually worse than that. It punishes children – well, their parents, really – for living in south London. How? Well, until now, a great chunk of north London’s railways, and all of west London’s lines, have been taking Oyster under the same conditions and fares as the Tube. From 2 January, much of this will stay the same – there’s no peak period if you’re travelling from London Fields to Cambridge Heath, for example, but there is from Greenwich to Deptford.

Confused? So am I. TfL’s Oyster fare finder has all the 2010 fares you’ll ever need if you want to know more.

One of those Tube conditions is free travel for under-10s, so long as the child has an Oyster photocard. It must be a real boon if you want to take the kids into town for the day. Will south Londoners get to take advantage of this?

Of course not. Here’s a map of London’s rail lines…

The bits in blue will, from 2 January, continue to allow under-10s on for free. The bits in red will charge for under-10s. Surprise surprise, almost the entire south London mainline network is red, along with lines through Romford and north/east London beyond the Victoria Line, and Thameslink north of West Hampstead. So families in west and inner north London will continue to enjoy free travel for their younger children, but much of London’s suburbs and almost all of south London will have to pay. Yes, the suburbs, the people who need incentives to use their cars less, like, say, free travel for their younger children.

Obviously, the poor hard-up train companies of south London need to keep their shareholders happy, but what of the mayor who trumpeted the Oyster deal as something that ended a “crackers” anomaly?

“Across London I’ve met people fed up with paying so much to City Hall and getting so little in return… I want to be a Mayor for all Londoners, from Zone 6 to Zone 1,”
Boris Johnson said when he became a mayoral candidate in 2008.

Clearly, though, those Londoners who pay so much to City Hall in Zone 6 places like Crayford, Orpington and Romford are still not getting very much out of City Hall, travel-wise. The shambolic way in which south London is finally getting Oyster cards shows Boris might some day come to regret that transport metaphor.

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