Londoners are beginning to get used to the Oyster card. It took some time to digest the idea of "topping up" your little slip of plastic with weekly or monthly travelcards and what the hell Pre-pay is supposed to be, but with not too much fuss, the Oyster card has been absorbed into the London Underground fare system and is as much part of the system as the zones, delays on the Northern Line, "unavailability of staff" and quite interesting advertising.
However... very few of us understand how it works when trying to get a National Rail overground train across London because, let's face it, everyone has to do it at some point and getting stranded at Cricklewood, Alexandra Palace, Herne Hill or Barnes Bridge with the wrong ticket again and yet another threat to be fined to hell and back is not an uncommon feature of London travel. London TravelWatch chairman Brian Cooke has given it straight to the Commons:
"We tried to stress to the committee two main points: firstly, rail fares are extremely confusing and far too complicated, particularly in London, and secondly, the huge incompatibility of fare prices for very similar rail journeys."
In addition to confusing and conflicting train fares, National Rail still refuses to accept Oyster Pre-pay on all of its routes, which is such a total pain in the arse when trying, for example, to go that one stop from Victoria to Clapham Junction, crossing from London Underground Zone 1 to Zone 2. With Oyster Pre-pay that journey should cost £2.30 only and should require just a quick swipe over the Oyster card readers. With the involvement of a National Rail journey it would cost you the price of getting to Victoria then joining the queue to buy an extra ticket for £1.90 for the 5 minute trip to Clapham Junction.
Brian Cooke sums it up nicely:
"Passengers are thoroughly confused at the moment, which puts them off travelling. Passengers understand the simple zonal fares system on the Tube. If this was extended to National Rail services in London it would be much easier for all. It is not rocket science."
London TravelWatch will be discussing the Oystercard issue with senior representatives of Transport for London (TfL) and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) at a public meeting, next Tuesday, December 6, at Ealing Town Hall.