The familiar London Transport style payment for train fares, based on a PAYG model could be expanded to the rest of the South-East of England, under plans announced by the Department for Transport.

Although a number of railways that feed into London have their own smart ticketing systems, they are generally not compatible with TfL’s own service, and also the fares charged are usually fairly complicated.

The proposal is to review the ticket prices so that they can be charged pretty much at a flat rate while offering the same fare-capping that London has on daily and weekly journeys.

The Rail Minister, Andrew Jones MP noted in the documentation that “rail passengers across the country look upon the pay-as-you-go schemes that operate in London with envy.”

But he adds that what is often overlooked is that the way fares in London are structured has been designed to complement the pay-as-you-go model, and those changes bring benefits in their own right too.

Simply adding smart tickets to the mix doesn’t fully realise the benefits of London’s fare structure where you pay by zones and per journey — with a daily and weekly cap on how much you can pay.

At the moment, the different types of tickets on sale make it harder for passengers to mix-and-match peak and off-peak travel, and a season ticket costs a fixed price for a week, month or year, which can disadvantage those who travel part-time.

An example is where someone outside London might travel in the morning rush-hour, but return off-peak, but the fare structure requires paying for a peak hours return. A simpler fares model could see people use PAYG to pay for just the type of trip they want, when they want it.

And that is the core of the consultation – yes to smart tickets, but it’s really about changing what people pay for train journeys than how they pay for them.

However, the overall revenue raised by the railway has to remain the same – so while some people will evidently benefit from lower ticket prices, others may have to rise in compensation if simpler fares don’t lead to an increase in off-peak travel.

The ability to make off-peak travel more appealing is undoubtedly a key aim of the project, as well as reflecting, and encouraging more flexible working practices.

If people can see a financial benefit to working from home a couple of days per week, then it’s likely that more people would do that — which in turn results in less overcrowding on the trains. But at the moment, it’s often no cheaper to buy three peak rate returns than it is to buy a week’s worth.

They are also looking at how to deal with the situation where a journey can be taken on two rival rail operators — who charge different rates. The move to PAYG could see both companies forced to charge identical fares, further reducing the complexity of railways in the eyes of occasional travellers.

Another unstated aim in the consultation also has to be cost-cutting. As has been seen in London, if people don’t need to buy tickets as often, then the requirement for staffing ticket offices fades away. If the national railway were to go contactless, with a predictable and easy to understand fares structure, then they could also start to look at ticket offices as a redundant feature.

If the consultation turns into action, then the rollout of the PAYG model would be phased to cover a zone around London, although the consultation does look at extending it out to Brighton, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.

The map also includes the first wave of the extension of PAYG to National Rail stations on the Govia Thameslink Railway network, which is due to commence in early 2019 to Hertford North and Epsom, and to conclude with Luton Airport and Welwyn Garden City later in the year.

At the moment, the consultation is only looking at rail fares, but it could look at buses later on. That would deal with the oddity that exists in places such as Staines, where buses are part of TfL’s network, but the trains are not.

One thing that is certain though is that TfL’s Oyster system is unlikely to be the one used outside London. The system is not set up for the fare option needed, which is in part why TfL is pushing contactless card payments so heavily at the moment.

The consultation leans towards contactless bank cards, with paper tickets as a backup — and mobile barcodes for season tickets.

Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer at Transport for London said: “Pay as you go has helped revolutionise travel on Tube, rail and bus services across London, making them more convenient for all. We welcome this consultation into extending pay as you go across the rail network that surrounds London and continue to work with the DfT, South Western Railway and GTR to expand pay as you go to cover services to Epsom and Hertford North from early 2019.”

Reading the 47-page report and it’s clear that what sounds like a fairly dry attempt to expand the use of smart tickets could actually be a major shake-up of rail fares in the South-East of England, and a loss of autonomy over setting fares by the individual rail companies in favour of a regionally agreed set of prices which will remove odd vagaries in the system and make it much easier to understand.

That alone should make rail travel less daunting to people who make just occasional trips and worry about the complex fares structure in use today.

Dependent on the outcome of the consultation, by 2020, the government’s ambition is to see PAYG rolled out across more regional and urban commuter areas.

The consultation is open now, and closes on 1st May 2019.


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  1. Michael Nash says:

    It’s a bit odd that the map seems to show the Southminster branch line starting at Billericay, one of the few named stations, when in fact it begins at Wickford one stop further down the line.

  2. Melvyn says:

    It’s worth remembering that when Ken Livingstone first introduced zonal fares to replace graduated fares based on distance he cut fares under his ‘ fares fair’ plan as he acknowledged that switching to zonal fares would increase fares if you were on the wrong side of a zonal boundary.

    As for different fares on similar routes well passengers from Southend pay higher fares on the Liverpool Street route compared to Fenchurch route but that’s because Liverpool Street route is longer combined with fares on Fenchurch Street route having been tied to TFL / London Transport due to close working with District Line at London end . Something Elizabeth Line and Overground might now create on Liverpool Street routes ?

    As for contactless payments we need to remember many users hold cards like the National Disabled Railcard which gives a third off ticket for both user and a second person . Something that’s straightforward now where you show card at a booking office and discount is applied when tickets issued . So how would this work with contactless payments?

    This emphasis on GTN makes one wonder if transfer of Great Northern and Thameslink services to TFL is being planned !

    • katie says:

      oh, i just made a new comment instead of hitting reply. sorry! it was meant to be a reply to you.

    • MikeP says:

      Oyster, of course, does allow National Railcards to be loaded (except Network SouthEast, because the minimum fare on NSE railcards is incompatible with Oyster). Which is the sole reason why (with a Senior Railcard) I don’t use contactless on TfL – though of course that’s contingent on me not hitting weekly capping (unlikely as only in London 3.5 days/wk)

      Much like Oyster/Contactless on TfL, I foresee a lot of edge cases like this happening here, meaning peeps still having to think about which payment method to use for the best fare. There is, of course, no technical reason why a contactless card can’t be linked to a national railcard. It’s just political/organisational barriers – which is why ITSO sat there unloved and unused for so many, many years.

      And, of course, if this works, it could be rolled out nationally in short order, couldn’t it ?? 🙂

  3. katie says:

    melvyn – you raise a great point.
    i live in glasgow which has some contactless options for the subway and the scotrail services, but if you’ve got a disability railcard or the national entitlement card (the bus pass, albeit souped up) you cannot use those services.
    you have to go up to the ticket office and show your stuff and everything, which really adds a lot of time spent in the station.
    instead of one minute in the station concourse it can be ten, a 1000% time sink.
    they’ve been saying they want to work on ways to integrate the smart cards for years now but there’s been no real progress.
    i dislike using paper tickets so much too when i already have a smartphone and the NEC can load tickets onto it, as it does with the buses. but right now that’s the only option.
    it seems quite silly indeed. on oyster you can load railcards into the oyster, which is useful, but i don’t think it allows the plus one (although of course i hope it does, the plus one is a very important part of my railcard travel for me.)

  4. Andrew Gwilt says:

    What about extending it to Canterbury, Maidstone, Newbury, Reading, Portsmouth, Folkestone, Southampton, Poole, Dover, Seafood, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Littlehampton, Kings Lynn, Braintree Colchester and Aylesbury as Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Brighton and Oxford as you have mentioned.

    • Ben Fisher says:

      No! Extend the Oyster boundary to include Paris, then Berlin… Eventually Tokyo will be in an oyster zone, just to satisfy the insatiable lust for simplified, cheaper fares structure. If you have the boundary at Tonbridge say, someone in Marden is bound to moan.

    • Andrew Gwilt says:

      Fair enough.

  5. Charles Miller says:

    Glad to see that Basingstoke is safe for now! Simpler fares will disadvantage anyone who takes advantage of how the old system works; at the moment I can travel into London after 9 on an off peak ticket and get the advantage of returning in the evening peak if I want to, but that might cost more under the new system. And that’s before the possible loss of network railcard discounts if they can’t integrate them properly.

  6. Terence H says:

    Years ago there was talk of having a 3 day / weekly ticket as some people work from home a couple of days a week

  7. Gerry says:

    First you have to get rid of Failing Grayling, who vetoed Rail Devolution of the Southeastern Metro because he didn’t want it ‘to fall into the clutches of a future Labour mayor’…

    We’d now have Oyster out to Sevenoaks if TfL had taken over as had previously been agreed by all parties.

    Instead we have The Key, which doesn’t offer PAYG, can’t be used to buy day tickets online, and can’t even be used for travel to Gatwick because it’s incompatible with Southern’s version of The Key.

  8. Tom says:

    Is there any update on oyster extending down to Sevenoaks? ….Seems crazy that Knockholt & Swanley are both run by Sevenoaks district council and are counted as zone 6-7 and yet doesn’t include Sevenoaks.

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