Oyster Oddities: How To Travel Through Zone 1 At No Extra Cost

Now that the southern section of the Overground network is open and we have a complete orange orbital, it’s possible to travel between Clapham Junction and Highbury & Islington in two different directions: go clockwise through Willesden Junction, a route entirely in Zone 2; or travel anti-clockwise up through Canada Water, a journey which is mostly in Zone 2, but briefly dips into Zone 1 when passing through Shoreditch High Street.

So…hang on – when you exit at Highbury, how does the Oyster system know which way round you’ve gone? Which journey fare does it deduct: all Zone 2, or Zones 1 +2?

A friendly email (or three, it took them a while to understand our question properly) to Transport for London prompted a reply that might surprise you.

TfL is kind enough to assume that you have been the ‘Zone 2 only’ way round. So whichever way you go , you’ll be charged just £1.50 (off-peak) instead of the £2.10 you’d expect to pay for travelling through Zone 1. Bizarrely, this means that it’s cheaper to travel through the 17 stations from Clapham Junction to Highbury, than it is to make the five stop journey from Shoreditch to Highbury along the same tracks.

This got us wondering…are there any other anomalies like this, with the Oyster and zonal fair system?

It also made us consider whether this is the furthest you can travel in London, on the lowest fare. Any off peak journey that doesn’t enter Zone 1 stays at just £1.50 – if you travel from a Zone 2 station to Zone 6, it’s that same ‘flat fare’ – it goes up to £1.60 if you venture into any zone beyond 6 from Zone 3 (a Zone 2 to 7, 8 or 9 becomes £2.70 for some reason).

So London…what’s the longest journey (in terms of distance) between two stations that you can make for the off-peak price of just £1.50? It’s most likely to be a Zone 2 to Zone 6 trip, but it might not be. 

Clapham Junction to Highbury & Islington (A Zone 2 to Zone 2 journey passing through 17 stations) as the crow flies is 6.4 miles – can you beat that?

By Geoff Marshall

See also:
Secrets of the Victoria Line
Secrets of the Northern Line 

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  • http://twitter.com/Mowlds Michael M

    yet another question to ponder. if you were to make the journey on the central line from Epping to west Ruislip (zone 6-6) but changing at stratford for the overground (and maybe Willesden Junction) and then Shepherds bush back to the central line. ultimately avoiding zone 1, would you get charged as if you went through zone 1?

    • MattFromLondonist

      Is this what those odd pink Oyster readers are for?…so you can tell it you’re avoiding zone 1.

      • Anon

        Yes, the pink readers simply prove that you have interchanged outside zone 1 so you get the right fare.

        • http://twitter.com/geofftech Geoff Marshall

          Matt, think we’re going to need an article of where/when and how to use all the pink Oyster pads!

        • Matemur

          Is there any scenario when it would be in your interest *not* to touch on a pink validator?

          • Joe Lynch

            If you’re on a z1-3 travelcard and go from, say, Turnham Green to Waterloo via Richmond you wouldn’t have to pay a single z4 journey unless you used the route validator.

          • http://twitter.com/Cogbat Paul Corfield

            Not really correct as the system differentiates between Waterloo LU and Waterloo NR. If you exit at Waterloo NR then you are deemed to have travelled via Richmond and there is no need to touch or avoid the route validator at Richmond. The fare on the tube to Waterloo LU is much lower as it assumes you travel via Z1-3 only.

          • iAMaLONDONERa729

            Although you could arguably have gone via WB/KO via EC to Clapham Junction but forgotten to use the pink validators..

          • Matemur

            Presumably this would be valid if you use PAYG as well? Any other routes that come to mind?

          • londona729

            Yes it would be for PAYG as well. There is Selhurst (z4) to London Bridge which is faster going to East Croydon (Z5) and getting FCC non-stop to London Bridge but no validators

          • londona729

            Here’s a good example! Hackney Wick to Bank with a Z1-2 Travelcard. Quickest route is via Stratford (Z3) and then Central line but you’d have to pay a Z1-3 fare extra compared to going the longer but cheaper route via H&I for Victoria line and changing at KGXSP for Northern line

          • Matemur

            It all makes sense indeed. Yet, has anyone actually tested both alternatives (whilst touching at Stratford, so playing by the rules) to see what *actually* happens? I ask because someone else commented that TfL promises pink validators will never make you pay *more*, but that they’re there only to help you *avoid* paying more.

          • londona729

            I haven’t personally as I wouldn’t want to risk it but remember Boris tried to make the abolition of the daily Z2-3+ Travelcard sound like a decrease!(http://www.boriswatch.co.uk/2012/04/28/zones-2-6-daily-oyster-cap-in-outer-london-up-an-average-of-83-under-boris-johnson/) and note how TfL stops handing out fare booklets to customers!

          • Matemur

            If this was a journey you made regularly, it would be worth the “risk” of doing it once so that you know in the future how it works. It’s sadly not a journey I ever need to do, or I’d test it, to put this issue to bed once for all. The price difference is probably around £1 — hardly a “risk”.

          • londona729

            Lol! If you’re on a budget £1 can make a lot of difference. Especially as an oyster with a negative balance is utterly useless till you top it up.

          • londona729

            On second thoughts by going to Zone 1 you’re defeating the purpose of the pink validators. But you the principle is still there I think..Maybe going from Greenwhich (Z3) to Tottenham Hale on a Z3-5 Travelcard .

            If you scan at Canada Water you’ve admitted to going into Zone 2. You’d have to prove that you didn’t go into Zone 2(or 1 for that matter) to avoid excess fare

          • Matemur

            Right, I think we’re wasting time here and this discussion has run its course. It’s very simple: some contributors have posited that TfL promises that validators will never increase what you pay, but might decrease what you might have otherwise paid. You have raised some good scenarios that would test these assumptions, at a one-off cost of £1 assuming one doesn’t have a negative balance which one shouldn’t have anyway. Simples. So, since TfL doesn’t disclose the inner workings of their pricing, either people who actually do these routes are willing to test it, or they’re not. Again, simples. Everything else is intellectual masturbation about how it may or may not work. Good luck.

          • londona729

            You get a negative balance whenever you make a journey that costs more than you have credit on your oyster.

            Nevertheless the theory is important-you don’t need to be run over by a car to make a theory that it would harm you!

            Nevertheless Good day Sir!

          • Anon

            No, TfL say that touching a pink validator will never raise your fare.

      • Anon
    • http://twitter.com/geofftech Geoff Marshall

      uuh, that’s good. i hadn’t thought of that one. it /should/ be £1.50, right? but there’s only truly one way to find out!!

    • Anon

      The actual answer to this is: no, because you’ve made an Out of Station interchange at Shepherds Bush, Oyster knows you must have interchanged onto the Central line at Shepherds Bush, and therefore must have come from round the West and North London lines. There’s also a pink validator at Stratford and Willesden which you probably need to tap. The single fare finder says that the fare is £2.70 versus the £5 via zone 1.

    • Charl

      I think we should campaign for Shoreditch High Street to be a dual zone or a border station (treated as both Zone I and 2, like some other stations which are in two zones). This will safe travellers loads of time and money.

  • Andrew

    You can do Clapham Junction to Barking, at 11.9 miles, for £1.50 if you take an “avoiding zone 1″ route (e.g. change at Whitechapel, or go the long way round entirely on the Overground via Gospel Oak.)

    • Andrew

      Or, indeed, carry on past Barking to the end of the line Upminster, still for £1.50, which is 19.3 miles.

      Or even, Hatch End to Upminster is 26.8 miles and shows a £1.50 fare if you avoid zone.

    • Andrew

      Or carry on past Barking to Upminster, still £1.50 & 19.2 miles.

      Or even, Hatch End to Upminster, which is 26.8 miles (longer than a marathon!) and still £1.50 if you avoid zone 1.

  • http://twitter.com/Cogbat Paul Corfield

    There are loads and loads of “cheap” fares if you use the pink route validators. Beckton to Richmond, for example, is £1.50 off peak if you touch on the route validator at Stratford. Ditto Upminster to Richmond if you zap at Stratford or at Gospel Oak (change at Barking). Going north – south the default off peak PAYG fare (no need to find a route validator) for South Kenton – Peckham Rye is £1.50 (assumes travelling via West London Line and Clapham Junction). Upminster to West Croydon also has a default off peak fare of £1.50 (changing at Whitechapel or West Ham / Canada Water).

    All this info is on the TfL Fares Finder.

  • http://twitter.com/geofftech Geoff Marshall

    Hang on.. i think i just found a ’30 miler’ !

    Heathrow to Upminster. As long as you change at Acton Town, Rayners Lane, West Hampstead, Gospel Oak, Barking you’d get to Upminster never having been into Zone 1.

    i bet this also takes longer than 2 hours, which is pass the ‘valid’ time limit that you have on an Oyster Card journey. Who wants to try it?!?

    • http://twitter.com/Cogbat Paul Corfield

      This would not work as it is not a recognised route in the fares finder. You can go via Turnham Green / Gunnersbury (RV) / Stratford (RV) / West Ham or Earls Ct / West Brompton (RV) / Willesden Jnc / Stratford (RV) / West Ham. You have to use the route validators (RV) at the given locations for the “cheap” fares calculation to work. If you have a non Z1 travelcard you MUST also touch your travelcard on the route validators in order not to be charged a fare via Zone 1. I used a Z23 Travelcard for a year and became very adept at working out when to validate my Oyster card in order to avoid non Z1 fares (I was also travelling via non Z1 routes so no fare dodging!).

      Although I have no personal link to the website can I also recommend the Oyster-Rail.org.uk website if you want the mysteries of TfL ticketing de-mystified.

      • http://twitter.com/geofftech Geoff Marshall

        thanks Paul .. are you affiliated with TfL at all in anyway though? i’m mystified then as to what constitutes a ‘recognised route in the fares finder’ and who stipulates this in the first place!

        going ‘my way’ from Heathrow to Upminster is just as convoluted as yours, so why isn’t it valid?

        • http://twitter.com/Cogbat Paul Corfield

          I worked for TfL but no longer do. What I have learnt about route validators has been through use of them and researching the fares finder and reading the Oyster-rail website. I understand that TfL define a “default” route and then “alternative” routes. There is quite a wide variation in how many alternatives are offered – some origin / destination pairs may have no alternatives (typically where one / both of the pair are in Z1 or where the faster, logical route is via Z1) and others may have up to 7 (I think that’s the most I’ve ever seen). Alternative routes do evolve – that has certainly happened with the opening of the new Overground route via the SLL because journey patterns have changed and people have queried PAYG fares being charged. The Oyster-rail website cites some examples where new alternative routes have been created by TfL.

          • http://twitter.com/johnnyfoxlondon JohnnyFox

            Could you explain to me why TfL finds it necessary to charge you for two journeys if you intersect between tube and Overground at a station with a street between the two parts (Limehouse) but not where it’s all in the same building (Canada Water). If I go from my home station Pontoon Dock to Shoreditch High Street, it’s twice the price if I change at Limehouse than if I do so at Canada Water, which is a longer mileage.

          • Joe Lynch

            Are you touching out at Limehouse and then walking to Shadwell overground? If so that’s not a valid interchange which is why you’re being charged two journeys. Touching out at Shadwell DLR and back in at Shadwell overground would be an interchange and not a new journey.

          • http://www.facebook.com/mjj12 Michael Jennings

            There is something called an “Out of Station interchange”. If a combination of stations are designated as allowing an out of station interchange, then you get charged for a single journey. If no such designation exists, you get charged for two journeys. (There is also a time limit for the interchange, which varies depending on the distance you have to walk and/or the frequency of the services). Nobody seems to know exactly how and why it is decided that specific interchanges are allowed and others aren’t.

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

            Why did you leave TfL, if you don’t mind me asking?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mechanozoid Craig Bauer Melson

    erm….168 bus, 292, 148 cover about 10 miles each and cost less than 1.50

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      Don’t forget N9 or X26

      • Rory S. Winchester

        I’m late for the party, but one of my local buses is 113 and the route is 11 miles long.

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

          The N
          N9 route is over 16 miles long

  • http://www.facebook.com/mechanozoid Craig Bauer Melson

    also, a great anaomoly is getting the train and transferring. when i tap in at borehamwood (z6), i tap out at west hampstesd tlink, tap back in at west htd tube before completing my journey at Westminster- at £6.90 cost.

    however, if you top up your oyster card before transferring, or wait 15 mins, it treats the 2 legs as separate journeys, saving about £3 a journey- 0r £6 a day.

    • Joe Lynch

      Have you complained to TfL about that? I think there’s an obligation to sell the cheapest possible fare and here it does seem to be the case that the NR z2-6 fare plus the tube z1-2 fare is cheaper than the through z1-6 fare, both peak and off peak.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mechanozoid Craig Bauer Melson

        no i havent! will do though (but not sure of the mechanism). maybe the issue is because the train company is first capital connect?

        • Anon

          You could always have two separate Oyster cards…

          • iAMaLONDONERa729

            But that would require an additional £5 deposit..

          • Matemur

            If you were a daily commuter on the route, is the £5 additional deposit a problem? Seriously? And even if you did this journey ONCE, if the saving is £6 per journey, the “cost” of the additional deposit would not only be amortised but would yield a £1 “profit” instantly. (I use quotation marks because, of course, since it’s a refundable deposit it’s not a real cost)

          • londona729

            It’s an initial cost which would lose you money due to inflation-i,e £5 in 2013 will be worth more than £5 in 2016!

            Don’t forget the cap would kick in reducing the saving.

            To break the journey the best way would be to top up a nominal sum of 5p (at a LO /NR ticket machine- i.e NOT a LU one)

          • Matemur

            Please, be serious. The inflation impact on a £5 Oyster card is negligible. UK inflation is a bit over 2.5%. What’s your alternative for the additional £5 “investment” (that could save you *pounds* on a *daily* basis even after price capping) — to put it in the bank? Have you any idea how much money in interest you’d make in a UK high street bank on £5 over 3 years? You’d make nothing.

          • londona729

            I get 5% interest from NW thank you very much!
            The saving isn’t that much when you consider the daily cap.
            Still if he really wanted to save money he’d buy a monthly(or yearly) Travelcard either Z2-6 or Z1-6

      • iAMaLONDONERa729

        No there isn’t (or it’s regularly broken by TfL staff) as many tourists are sold paper tickets for single journeys rather than oyster cards (where the deposit can be refunded when they are going to leave London)

  • Joe Lynch

    In terms of track distance I think that Earl’s Court to Uxbridge on the Piccadilly line is the winner for a continuous single journey, although it’s a close call between that, Richmond to Stratford and Epping to Bethnal Green. It’s certainly between those 3 though.

  • http://jamiedrew.tumblr.com Jamie Drew

    I did this literally just last night, from Clapham Junction to Highbury & Islington, and when this article arrived on my twitter feed I was Googling this very question! SYNCHRONICITY.

  • http://www.richspalding.com RichSpalding

    I actually have the opposite to a money saving experience. A trip from Hayes & Harlington to Clapham North can be fully within Zones 5 to 2. The journey is below, but the Oyster system charges £2.10 for the privilege. TfL say “The journey between Hayes and Harlington and Clapham North stations has one default fare set for the route. Therefore if you make this journey with a Travelcard an extension fare is applicable.”

    TOUCH IN: Hayes & Harlington to Ealing Broadway (Zone 5 to 3)
    TOUCH OUT: Shepherds Bush Overground (Zone 2)
    TOUCH IN: Shepherds Bush Underground (Zone 2)
    TOUCH OUT: Balham Station (Zone 3)
    TOUCH IN: Balham Underground (Zone 3)
    TOUCH OUT: Clapham North (Zone 2)

    By over charging for this legitimate route is a con. But it seems my complaints go no further than a CSR.

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      Hayes &Harlington is a rail+TfL route so it should cost more than a plain Z2-5 TfL rail journey

  • martin stein

    my mates used to travel from Walthamstow Central to Wembley (Victoria line via Euston and then Metropolitan) and Oyster would count it as changing at Highbury for overground to West Hampstead. Cheaper and about 30 mins quicker! :D

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      Must be a glitch as you have to scan in and out at West Hampstead and walk at street level

  • Ya

    it didn’t work that way few years ago, which was a buzzard for me. I have talked to the staff at London Bridge station previously, but none could offer me any solution and so I simply don’t think it that way at all. I used to travel from Shepherd Bush (Overground) to Clapham Junction to catch the train from London Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace, and get off at Brockley with my Z1-2 Travel Card on Oyster, and they charged extra a few time, claiming that I have passed though Z3, so they may sometimes do realise it!

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      I think they might use journey time to catch you out. Though why didn’t you just go to London Bridge and get the train directly?

  • http://twitter.com/Rubble2012 Mark Speight

    Okay, its not zone 1 but I regularly travel to see my friend in Amersham from Walthamstow. 3.70! What a bargain. One side of London to the other.

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      Lol Amersham is Buckinghamshire not London! You left London once you passed through Moor Park!

  • Holly D

    I attached my young persons railcard to my oyster so every off peak journey I make is max £1.40 to zone 1 ;)

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      I do the same!

  • Miss Tash

    In late 2011, I used to commute from Bermondsey to Uxbridge, i.e. zone 2 to 6, but travelled via zone 1 on the Jubilee and Metropolitan Lines. I didn’t bother with a Travelcard as sometimes worked from home or in central London. I paid 4.50 each way in peak times. However, if I started or ended the journey at London Bridge (Jubilee), I only paid 2.70 each way. I was told that if I didn’t take the quickest route, I wouldn’t be charged the premium to travel through zone 1 and would only be charged a zone 2-6 fare. After 4 months of fares of 9 pounds per day, I moved to West London and straddle zones 2-3!

  • Gina Ribena

    I travel from Hainault to Island Gardens via Bank in Zone 1. But I am charged as if I have travelled via Stratford – therefore only £1.50.

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      It assumes you went the direct route by changing at Stratford for the DLR

  • Tyrone Shoelaces

    I have nothing to add except that it’s nice to see the small town in which I was brought up, Hatch End, getting some kudos beyond being the birthplace of the late Richard Wright and the abode of Barry Cryer.

  • curran00

    Please any1 wi a bit of advice?? I travel from archway (zone 2) to Northolt (zone 5) for work everyday but in order to do this I have to take the Northern line to Tottenham Court Road (zone 1) to get the central line to Northolt. A 7 day travelcard from zone 2 to zone 5 costs £30 whereas a 7 day travelcard from zone 1 to zone 5 costs £51.80. Would I be able to travel on the zone 2-5 travel card on this journey even though I pass through zone 1? is there anyway I can be caught out? Any help please as my travel costs will be nearly halfed

    • Katerina

      I also beg for a good piece of advice. I am coming to Londond as a tourist. Which zone area is best to book a room and use public transport for sightseeing?

      • iAMaLONDONERa729

        Zone 2 for example Elephant & Castle which has many buses which take less than 20 minutes to get you into Z1

    • Garuuuu

      It could be possible by taking the Overground for part of your journey, but it would add a five minute walk to Upper Holloway, then to Gospel Oak (or maybe take a bus to Gospel Oak), then to Shepherd’s Bush on the Clapham Junction Overground line, then over the road to the Central Line. It might take a little longer, though, and will come less frequently.

      Does anyone know if that would work?

      • iAMaLONDONERa729

        Yes it would work as long as he scanned in at the purple validators at Gospel Oak ( he could take the C11 from Archway to Gospel Oak).

    • iAMaLONDONERa729

      If you are going via Zone 1 it would be slightly faster to change at Euston and get the Victoria line to Oxford Circus and catch the Central line there.

  • londona729

    I love this website!

  • David

    Hi anyone! Mine is a travelcard 2-3. I usually buy the 1-3 but i thought to try this as part of an attempt to save money.

    After work I tapped in: Canary Wharf (Zone 2)
    Tapped out at Highbury & Islington (Zone 2)
    Was disappointed to find I was charged £2.20!!
    I asked one of the TFL workers and he said it was because I went past Shoreditch High Street (Zone 1) on the overground. I told him ‘yes I went past Shoreditch on the train, but never left the train or even set foot on that station’. His response was it doesn’t matter it works like the congestion charge. I must say this bizarre! Any comments would be appreciated as I feel I have been conned £2.20. I only left tapped at Highbury for a burger.

  • Ben @ TDF

    Is there a more complicated charging system on this fair earth?

  • naveen gupta

    I travel from hounslow central(Z4) to canary wharf(Z1) but my journey passes through the Z1 although I dont touch the card in Zone 1.
    I would need the monthly pass for Z1-Z4 or Z2-Z4?