London Travelcards (and the National Rail add-on)
Why they should be retained – and how they should evolve

Railfuture sets out its views on why removing the London Travelcard product, and, in all likelihood, the related National Rail Travelcard add-on product is a very bad idea, and recommends action you can take.

The full detail is set out in our briefing paper, available on our website (in browser | download).

GPH:2023.05.11 - Harpenden to London Travelcard and Contactless We think that replacing a simple product with a more complex one that, as yet, is not fit for purpose as a substitute for many important features of the Travelcard, such as easy to use for families will result in less rail travel and less income for National Rail and TfL (despite fare increases) and be bad for London’s visitor economy as there will be fewer visitors.

We think that insisting on Contactless as a replacement for Travelcards means:

  • Replacing a simple, well understood product that can be purchased ahead for everyone. Whilst many are familiar with it, there are significant numbers who are unfamiliar and nervous about it and do not understand it.  The price ranges shown in the table will substantially increase nervousness and uncertainty. It’s easy to think it is widely used in London, so everyone understands use on public transport well, but this isn’t true – it’s only widely used outside London on buses, these bus services are often very limited, and the experience is much more akin to other small purchases – no account, no capping etc.
  • A substantial increase in costs for many using standard contactless, most notably families, all travellers on the cheaper off-peak National Rail fares and (for now) Railcard holders.
  • That some, but not all of the cost increases can be mitigated; for families in particular, doing so is tedious, has a cost and requires 4 weeks’ prior notice (need to organise an Oyster Zip card).
  • That families, the disabled, army veterans and the financially and digitally excluded will all suffer, including those without bank cards (or available funds on them) who may need to pay for the much higher fares at Ticket Vending machines (this could apply to families as well, if they don’t have enough bank cards for every member).
  • That these increased travel costs (and the noticeable tedium and prior planning required to mitigate) are likely to result in many decisions not to travel, so we expect this to a pyrrhic “victory” – fewer visitors to London, so less money for the visitor economy and TfL.
  • Damage to the Contactless “Brand” as this will be seen by many as a significant breach of any promise, implied or not, that there is Price Parity between Contactless and other options to travel; combined with the continued lack of Railcard discounts, this will cause people to label Contactless as the “expensive option”.

Why the alternative isn’t fit for purpose

The suggestion is that a Contactless bank card for payment is a suitable alternative.  And that’s true for many, but critically, not everybody.  At present TfL’s Contactless product:

  1. Requires you to both qualify for a card – and to have available funds on it.  Oyster is a partial solution, but coverage is substantially less than for Contactless. Oyster is a partial solution for this
  2. Is a product for individuals, not for families and groups.  A Travelcard is priced and sold to a family – multiple tickets from a single transaction. No known plan to address this.
  3. Doesn’t support Railcards, resulting in substantial increases in cost. Apparently in progress.
  4. Doesn’t support all National Rail fare types – for instance, for Thameslink North the 2 fares offered on Contactless (Peak and Off-Peak) match to the National Rail fares on Mondays to Fridays, but not to the weekend fare. No known plan to address this.
  5. Contactless through ticketing from stations outside London is very limited, with a limited increase expected by the end of the year (when Travelcards could disappear), and no plans to deploy to all stations where Travelcards can be purchased. Limited progress expected.

Once a solution for all of the above is in place, the disincentives to travel to London might be reduced enough, and it starts to make commercial sense (as measured by received revenue across all operators) to cease the paper Travelcard product (we think an e-Travelcard needs investigate – pre-purchase (via an Account) and that discounts the post-pay element of in-scope journeys to £0.

We also recognise that for some stations and some fares (eg weekend fares) are a real bargain, priced significantly less than from other stations, and we accept that TfL’s need for revenue is such that some form of normalisation of fares is sensible.  Whilst we wouldn’t support it, we could tolerate it if the Travelcard Add-on switched to two standard prices – Peak and Off-Peak.

What should I do about this?

Write to your local MP (and, if in London, TfL and your Local Assembly member) to complain.  Personalise your complaint with your circumstances.  Use your local TOC’s website or for National Rail prices and TfL’s Single Fare Finder and Contactless Caps pages for costs on TfL.  If you have children under 16, see TfL’s free & discounted travel pages to check the process, evidence requirement and cost for reduced rate travel.