You Are Leaving Zone 2: Please Have Your Exit Visa Ready

The long promised extension of Oyster onto National Rail services, may be due on 2 January 2010: cue Boris tapping in at Clapham Junction photo-op. However, London Reconnections reports the changes include a new element to the Oyster scheme that prevents the ‘turn up and go’ dream from becoming a reality: Oyster Extension Permits (OEP).

The OEP, as we understand it, is essentially an exit visa for your travelcard zones. When you plan to start your journey within your zones and end it outside, and at any point wish to use National Rail, you need to find a Ticket Stop or Oyster equipped ticket office or machine and load on this free digital permit-to-travel before you start your journey. Then, when you touch in the computer knows to treat you as a wayward and dishonest PAYG user and charge you for your journey in advance, rather than sending you on your way like the trusted season ticket holder you once were. If you’re not carrying this electronic paperwork, and one of the revenue enforcement teams spot you, you are outside your permitted zones without a valid ticket and thus deserving of a penalty fare.

The fear is that people with travelcards, each of whom have coughed up upwards of £664 a year for the privilege, will touch in and then disappear out of some distant and un-gated national rail station without touching out, denying the train operators their rightful dues.

In our humble opinion this is quite the most impressively ill-thought piece of stupidity to emerge from London’s transport providers in some time (exact blame for this remains unplaced, but the buzz on the forums is that the National Rail companies insisted on it). The disregard it shows for the whole point of Oyster is only exceeded in folly by the fact it targets travelcard holders, surely London’s most rule abiding transport users.

Right now as a travelcard holder you can buy an extension to your zones. Do this often? We don’t. As with OEPs, you have to find an open ticket office and queue up. Frankly it’s almost embarrassing the steps we’ll go to to avoid going outside our zones or using paper-ticket-encumbered national rail because we don’t like to interrupt our journey and queue. We think most Londoners would agree.

The huge success of the Woolwich branch of the DLR and the people streaming off buses onto the Jubilee line at North Greenwich are testimony to the fact that passengers vote with their feet and want to stay on the PAYG system, even if that means a few minutes more travel or an illogical journey. OEPs shift the billing onto your Oyster account, but otherwise ensure that the interface between TfL services and National Rail for Travelcard holders remains as unhelpful and inconvenient as it ever was.

With this and the addition of differential pricing on the Tube and National Rail, pink intermediate journey readers and the addition of Zones 7, 8, 9, W & G – it seems that the clarity of the Oyster idea is being lost through a creep of over-complication and web of confusing exceptions.

London has been waiting for integrated ticketing for many years. We deserve better.

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  • http://undefined cobo04

    From London Connections site is also says the the OEP is only for travel cards and is a one off useage. It doesn’t go further and say that you’ll need another one to get home.

    so scenario – go out for the evening to somewhere outside your travalcard/oystercard zone, get an OEP. Arrive, have good time, now it’s after midnight, where to get another OEP to get home?

    Not sure this is how it may work but until further info is got, then this is how it looks.

    Also I didn’t think that PAYG Oystercard had zones on it, only travelcard versions. So OEPs don’t apply to PAYG.

    • http://londona729.blogspot.co.uk/ londona729

      You only needed them if you began your journey with the Zones of your travelcard..

  • http://undefined jamesu

    As we understand, you don’t need one to get home hence the ‘exit visa’ similarity. If you start outside your zones then then the sytem treats you as a PAYG user from the beginning.

    Yes, this is for people using PAYG extensions to their travel card.

  • http://undefined John Bull

    jamesu is reading it right – you won’t need an OEP if you’re outside your zones already, because then it’ll KNOW you’re going to PAYG the journey (and deduct impressive amounts of cash when you tap in).

    And yes – this is at the National Rail Operators’ insistences.

  • markle

    Hear hear, completely agree! There are many times where I’ve taken a slightly less logical route, taking maybe 10 extra minutes, to avoid having to use National Rail. Vauxhall Station comes out for special mention, for making you wait ten minutes in the morning peak to buy a £2 single for a three minute journey to Waterloo. What’s the point when there’s a bus that takes 15 minutes and is cheaper?

    I can *almost* understand the rationale of National Rail companies – if season ticket holders go out-of-zone, and forget to touch out, under the current processs, they don’t have any ‘maximum fare’ charged to their card. So travelcard holders could go out of zone, go for their whole journey without seeing a ticket inspector, and when they get to their home station, walk out without touching out.

    A far easier process would be to agree that all travelcard holders *must* touch in and touch out, and if they don’t, they will pay a maximum fare. Far, far, simpler than this mucking around with exit visas, to be honest.

  • http://undefined jamesu

    Thanks John – indebted to your analysis.

    I think the Journey I would make but never do is the SE service from London Bridge to Charing Cross. I often go down to Kennington and back up via the Northern Line or walk all the way (which only take a few more minutes that that out of the way journey) rather than queue for a ticket…

    Anyone else got one?

    • http://londona729.blogspot.co.uk/ londona729

      It would be much faster to take the Jubilee line and change at Waterloo.

      Or take walk to Monument for the 15

  • http://undefined Mr Thant

    The situation exists because Travelcard users have the privilege of not being charged when they touch in (in their zones) and therefore no penalty for not touching out. You can close the loophole by either taking away this privilege or introducing an OEP-like system; or leave the loophole open and raise fares to cover the cost. Which would you prefer?

    So travelcard holders could go out of zone, go for their whole journey without seeing a ticket inspector

    Ah, no. The problem is, an on-train ticket inspector has no way to tell they weren’t planning to touch out at the end of the journey. The evasion is pretty much completely undetectable without gating far more stations than are ever likely to be (or one of the three solutions I mention above).

    • http://twitter.com/bagelmouse RachelH

      The situation exists because Travelcard users have the privilege of not being charged when they touch in

      I don’t use PAYG much because I have a Travelcard, so I might be being completely dense here… (*prepares for the deluge of people correcting me*) but when I go out of my zones on the tube, the cost of the extension is just deducted from the little bit of PAYG cash I always make sure I have on the card. Even if I’m starting somewhere without a gate, I make sure I touch in so the end gate doesn’t either overcharge me or go crazy with beeping and denying exit. For stations without a gate, surely people who wouldn’t tap out anyway will also not bother getting an OEP, and take their chances with the non-existent ticket inspectors.

      This is pointless faff, and I’ll just carry on getting buses if I want to go beyond zone 3… Mind you, did we really expect anything else from the TOCs who brought us some of the most complicated ticketing arrangements in the world?

      • http://undefined Mr Thant

        You’d be surprised how many people are being kept honest solely by the threat (real or imagined) of ticket inspectors. I count myself among that number.

        And remember that most of the train companies have no obligation whatsoever to accept PAYG. It’s a commercial decision, and there was no chance they’d sign up a system with such a large loophole unfilled and unenforceable.

  • http://undefined jamesu

    Back in the day, if I recall the early days of oyster correctly, when you had an unresolved journey you would get a ‘seek assistance notice’ on your next touch in and have to go to the ticket office to resolve it.

    Strikes me, without thinking about it in detail, that you make touching in an out a requirement for everyone and then do the above. Travelcard users who don’t touch out have a stop on their oyster card until they visit a ticket office/call a hotline to say where they completed their journey. The inconvenience of that would be the deterrent to playing the system. Make it an 0845 number and it’ll pay for itself.

    Alternatively, why not abolish travelcards all together and introduce weekly, monthly and annual caps? Again everyone touches in and out. If you want a zone 3-4 travel card then load your £664 on a the beginning of the year and you’ll be taping in and out till New Years with no discernable difference to the current service.

    I’m sure there are other – better – ideas, but I’m convinced this is not the best we can do.

    • http://londona729.blogspot.co.uk/ londona729

      Oysters have a maximum of £90 balance, Also removing travelcards would lose TfL the large wave of cash that helps cash flow in January.

  • http://undefined Pgd

    How silly. I’ve been looking forward to using PAYG on NR all year, and now it turns out there’s no real advantage over buying a zone extension. If only the OEPs were easier to come by, I might not mind so much. I might try having a topped-up PAYG card in reserve for making these kinds of journeys; then if there are long queues for ticket machines, or no newsagents nearby, I could still board the train.

  • http://undefined purpaboo

    Just make all tube journeys free, and raise corporation tax by the amount needed to cover them.

    Anyone with me?

    • http://undefined jamesu

      It’d probably get a bit overcrowded…

      • http://londona729.blogspot.co.uk/ londona729

        It already is lol!

    • http://londona729.blogspot.co.uk/ londona729

      What would we do if tax evasion rose so the net increase was very small?