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Travel offpeak in London? 2.5% fare increase? Double it, then double it again. Still not close.

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travel tickets and paper calculations

Off-peak – not a thing anymore

Welcome to 2015!

I don’t normally write about topics which appear everywhere else in the mainstream news, but here’s something that I can’t understand isn’t a bigger story, judging by the comments I’ve seen online today.

The news in London, and across much of England is that with today being the first work day of the year for many, it now it costs on average 2.5% more for the train or bus to work.

Here’s the headline you haven’t seen:

Price of off-peak travel in London leaps 38%

You read that correctly. If you, like many, like the cost-saving and lack of crush of travelling after 0930, then you just got what must be the largest fare increase in the country.

In 2014 an offpeak travelcard for zones 1-6 cost:    £8.90

In 2015 an offpeak travelcard for zones 1-6 is now £12.00, a rise of 34.8%.

There are some other interesting changes.

The Anytime Travelcard is now also £12 for zones 1-4. There seems to be no incentive at all to travel offpeak anymore with this type of ticket.  Live further out? Your fare jumps another 40% higher:

Buy a travelcard at 8am in Oakleigh Park – £12.  Buy it at New Barnet about a mile further up the road, and you’ll pay £17. My advice, walk the mile! (Does TFL have a secret pact with the NHS to encourage pedestrians?)

Price capping

It gets even more interesting when you look at what’s happened to the price caps.  This is the maximum possible you will pay in a day if you use an Oyster card, or a contactless payment card.

In 2014 the offpeak price cap for zones 1-6 was: £8.50

In 2015 the offpeak price cap for zones 1-6 is    : £11.70, an increase of 38%

And in these zones, TFL have effectively abolished offpeak fares. The peak and the offpeak caps are the same.

Where this does make a difference is outside zone 6.  Let’s stay with north London for a price example:

Use Oyster at Enfield Lock at 8am on a weekday and you won’t pay more than £11.70 for the entire day. Do the same at Waltham Cross, again about a mile further away and you will pay a whopping 70% more! The peak cap in zone 7 is £20.

Now let’s compare last year’s peaktime price caps, because in 2014, there was a significant premium for travelling with the herd.

In 2014 the peak price cap for zones 1-2 was: £8.40.   It’s now £6.40, a fall of 23%.

In 2014 the peak price cap for zones 1-3 was: £10.60. It’s now £7.50, a fall of 29%.

In 2014 the peak price cap for zones 1-4 was: £10.60. It’s now £9.20, a fall of 13%.

In 2014 the peak price cap for zones 1-6 was: £15.80. It’s now £11.70, a fall of 26%.

It seems if you live in zones 4 or 5, you’re not seeing your fair share of reduction, and those living in zone 1 (possibly those who can afford high prices the most) also see a significant reduction.

Silver lining

There’s one upside however, if you’re not travelling through zone 1. The price of a single between zones 2-6 is still £1.50.  After 0930 you can travel from Hammersmith to Heathrow, or from Mile End all the way to Epping for just £1.50.  That’s a bargain, a weird sort of bargain, but a bargain nonetheless.

Getting rid of paper

For the last few years, we’ve had a significant additional cost to buying a single paper ticket with cash, now that’s grown to day travelcards as well, with the cost of the paper travelcard being well above the price caps, both peak and off peak. Here’s an expensive example:

Travelling from Sidcup in SE London before 0930 an Anytime travelcard is £17, but the peak price cap is £10.90 so you’ll pay 55% more for that paper ticket.

I can see how the cost of dealing with paper tickets must have increased proportionally as usage of them has dropped. After all, they still need to keep all the gates taking paper, and offices and machines issuing them. But has the dropoff in the use of paper tickets in the last few years really brought us to the point where the cost is 55% more?

And with 2015’s fare regime it looks like off-peak travellers are being massively penalised. And penalised for what exactly? For waiting a bit longer, thus allowing more space for people who don’t have a choice about when to travel?

There isn’t a financial incentive any more if you live within zones 1-4. Just crush onto the trains with everyone else, because with the price-caps the same, you’re not going to pay any more than they are.

By travelling off-peak in 2015 you’re now paying more, not less. While those travelling at peak times can pay less, not more. That’s a strategy I don’t understand.

If you do understand … or you have a sensible comment, let me know.


Written by Robert

5 January, 2015 at 5:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I agree the changes are very odd but it all stems from a political imperative to “do something” for part time workers who travel in the AM peak. Rather than do the logical thing of a new product they’ve botched the all day caps to be proportional over a 5 day working week. As they couldn’t ramp up the 7 day Travelcard price to avoid reductions in the all day cap they’ve had to compensate for the revenue loss by pricing up off peak travel. Removing the obvious incentive to travel at less crowded times is completely counter intuitive when the transport network is seriously overloaded in the AM peak in particular. TfL don’t believe there will be a material impact.

    There are technological issues in play too – the mag stripe system cannot cope with a PM peak period so you can’t introduce a proper off peak product which prevents PM peak travel. Oyster and Contactless Payment Cards can cope with this but you’d inevitably get a challenge from someone who’s stuck with paper ticketing as well as perverse pricing consequences for the TOCs on cross boundary pricing. The further technological restriction is that Oyster is not as flexible as the “TfL back room system” used to calculate daily and 7 day caps for Contactless Payment Cards. TfL and the Mayor seem prepared to weather the political flak over Oyster offering less than CPCs for the time being.

    I think TfL and the next Mayor may come to rue the introduction of these inflated off peak prices and lack of restraint on peak time travel. While the economy has a huge influence on the levels of peak time travel I suspect the off peak price increases will reduce discretionary travel to a considerable degree and that will pull down revenue and overall patronage. TfL are tied in to an agreement to keep the income of the TOCs “whole” in the event that there is a revenue shortfall – this was mentioned in the published papers that accompanied the Mayoral Decision.

    It is possible technology may eventually provide a way out when TfL swap Oyster to work on the same technological platform as CPCs. There may then be far more flexibility to create proper part time and peak / off peak day and / or season tickets. This would allow more nuanced pricing decisions but it will be down to the Mayor as to whether to add more “subsidy” into the fares package if prices fell for some people. The only lingering problem is the need to keep the TOCs “financially whole” because of the revenue projections in the franchise agreements. Shifting all commuter routes to TfL control and with TfL taking revenue risk would largely decouple that risk but we’re a decade away from achieving that even if the political hurdles with central government could be overcome. I think the effect of this fares package will be felt for many years to come.

    Paul Corfield (@Cogbat)

    5 January, 2015 at 9:09 pm

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