Oyster Cards Come to the South East

Public transport in South East London is pretty good, but it is not as good as the rest of London. The peoples of South East London have long suffered this inferior treatment under the all-pervasive Transport for London (TfL). Our grievances are:

Lack of underground trains – The only part of the network which reaches the South East is the DLR. One solitary line is poor in comparison to North London. Although it is balanced out by the overland trains operated by South Eastern. However the second grievance is:

The inability to use pay-as-you-go Oyster Cards on said trains – The Oyster card is a great boon for Londoners. It allows for cheap and convenient travel on all forms of transport – except for trains in the South East. You either have to queue for a ticket or get a Travelcard (for unlimited use during the day / week / month). This is fine if you made a lot of journeys, but annoying for one-off trips.

The situation is more confusing for visitors and tourists. There are already enough lines, ticket types and zones without the added confusion of not being able to use your Oyster card on certain parts of the network. It an unnecessary hindrance and disincentive to those wanting to visit.

Oyster Redemption

However, on 04 January 2009 the Oyster Card situation was remedied. Pay-as-you-go is now available on South Eastern trains! The people would have rejoiced in the streets – except most had to return to work after Christmas and they would have slipped on the ice anyway.

A New Dilemma

There is a dilemma for those travellers who don’t commute every day. It is the choice between a using a pay-as-you-go Oyster or a Travelcard (£25.70 a week). If you want to save money by not buying a Travelcard, you have to spend less than £3.67 a day. However, there are situations where this may not be the case:

  • Unplanned and unexpected journeys – making a few unplanned journeys in a week will wipe out the savings from using pay-as-you-go.
  • Forgetting to touch out the Oyster Card – will cost you £4 straight away. You could phone up TfL to get a refund, but they are unsympathetic and assume that you were out to cheat the system.

All Londoners face the dilemma of capping their transport costs but forgoing a potential (but risky) gain. Interestingly, the very same kind of choice has been studied extensively in Economics, look up “risk premium” and “certainty equivalence”. In short, most people are risk adverse and will pay a premium to get rid of risk. In this case, that means getting a Travelcard.

Unintended Consequences

The station I use most for getting into central London is New Cross. It takes just 15 minutes and there are many trains per hour. An entirely un-noteworthy station, but to me it means that I’m not too far from home.

If you arrive late in the evening, you will see one of two men who stand outside the station who offer £1 to buy back your day Travelcard. The trade benefits all parties, except for TfL. However, the introduction of Oyster pay-as-you-go has removed any incentive to buy a one-day Travelcard.

Two men have been deprived of their livelihood. Is there not a moral duty for TfL / the government / society to compensate these men?


Photo of New Cross Station taken by chrisphin

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