Having lived in London for the past seven years, I think I’m finally starting to understand the overly complex nature by which one is charged for use of the transportation system here. Below, I’ve included some tips for using transport in London. These will be useful whether you’ve just arrived in the big smoke or you’ve been living here for some time already. Wish I’d known about these when I arrived!
Young Person’s Railcard:
If you’re aged between 16-25, buy a 16-25 railcard. This gives you discounts of up to 1/3 on many train journeys up and down the country and 1/3 off off-peak travel when using the Tube or the London Overground. In other words, you’ll save on most off-peak journeys you take.
Cards currently cost £2.50 a month and you can purchase these online 16-25railcard.co.uk or from some Overground train stations. Once you receive the physical card you will need to present it along with your Oyster card at any London Underground tube station to be ‘electronically attached’. You will then be able to take discounted Tube and Overground journeys.
It is worth noting that you can even apply for a three-year card prior to turning 24. If you are over 25 and are in full time study, you may also qualify.
Off-Peak vs Peak:
Depending on the time you start your journey, this will make a huge difference to the cost. Whether you travel during ‘peak’ times or ‘off peak’ times, the system calculates the fare according to the time you ‘touch in’ (the action required to open the ticket gate at your first station). Peak times for individual journeys are 6.30am – 9.30am and 4pm – 7pm.
All other times, 24/7 on the weekend and Public / Bank holidays are classed as ‘off peak’. If you travel on the Tube from outside Zone 1 into Zone 1 during the afternoon peak period of 4pm – 7pm you will actually only be charged for an off peak journey (odd, I know).
The London Overground is a fantastic service. Not to be confused with National Rail, the London Overground is the above-ground train service owned by Transport for London (the same company who own the Tube and London buses). It’s the orange line on the Tube map. The trains are generally pretty clean and have heating and air conditioning.
In addition, the fares are usually cheaper than using the Tube. The main reason for this is when using the service you generally always avoid travelling into or through Zone 1. Travelling into or through (i.e.you don’t even leave the train) Zone 1 will be considerably more expensive than if you avoid it.
Avoiding it will depend obviously on where you leave from and intend to travel to, however, as an example, from Willesden Green Overground station you can reach both Westfield shopping malls (Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush), Heathrow and Clapham Junction all without crossing through Zone 1. The exception to the rule is Shoreditch High Street station, which is the only station on the Overground Network in Zone 1.
Another tip is to look at the fare finder tool on the TFL website. Once you put your journey in, click ‘Show alternative routes’ and it should show you the options to avoid Zone 1, if there are any.
You can actually take a combination of Tubes and London Overground trains whilst only being charged the one fare. However, it’s important that you touch out after completing the first journey and then touch in again within a few minutes at the next station you are looking to board a train from. If you don’t touch in, in time, the system will class the journey as two separate ones, effectively charging you twice. Also, keep in mind that the total journey time you can take from start to finish is also limited to keep within the one charged fare amount and the times are published on the TfL website.
Registering your Oyster card:
Be sure to register your Oyster card as soon as you get one. This can be done through a paper form from an Underground station, but it’s better to do it online, as you then have an online ‘account’ and can access your journey history and other thrilling (but occasionally useful) things.
Delays and disruptions:
If your Tube journey is delayed for longer than 15 minutes for reasons such as a signal failure (adverse weather conditions or someone jumping onto the track don’t count), you can claim a refund on the cost of the journey. The easiest way to do this is online from the TFL website.
The way in which Transport for London calculates the cost of your journey is down to you correctly ‘touching in’ and ‘touching out’ on the yellow readers. If you forget to touch out, you will be charged the maximium fare which some would compare to the cost of a small house. Whilst you can get this corrected at a later date, it is time consuming and an annoyance. Remember, some stations (including those on the DLR network) do not have entry/exit gates, just tap in/out posts – making it easy to forget to tap in/out. Equally as important are the pink validators you may sometimes see. Use these when changing trains to advise the system you have taken the route you have, to avoid Zone 1, and therefore be charged accordingly. Some say locating the pink validators can be a similar experience to finding Wally.
Beat the system:
At football matches and other large events, such as the Notting Hill Carnival, station staff and police will often leave the gates open due to the large footfall, and prevent you from technically ‘touching out’. They will often inform you the system will automatically end your journey (and charge you the correct amount), yet in my experience this has never happened and I’ve been charged the maximium fare (around £8.00). Why they say this, I’m unsure, as the system couldn’t possibly calculate the correct fare without knowing your final destination. Anyway, just beware, and if you can’t see a way to touch out, ask a member of TfL staff for help.