In the last week both BBC London and the Evening Standard have run stories about passengers being charged £4.60 to walk through part of Paddington station. The reporter from the Evening Standard even phoned me up and talked through what was happening. I suggested to him that this was a simple Same Station Exit, but sadly that didn’t explicitly make it into the article. More alarmingly, TfL staff didn’t seem to know what was going on and promised to investigate what was happening. In an effort to understand the issue clearly I went to Paddington myself last Thursday evening.
Fortunately I had an Oyster card with just £2.50 on it which was enough for a zone 1-2 tube journey, but not a lot more. I touched in at the Praed Street entrance and it confirmed my balance and said Entry. So far so good. I then followed the signs for the Hammersmith and City line and sure enough they led me to the gateline at the exit to The Lawn on Paddington NR station. As I touched out the system told me I’d spent £4.60 and had a balance of -£2.10. Undetered I made my way to platforms 15 and 16. At the next gate it confirmed my balance at -£2.10 and beeped with a green light. Ignoring the negative balance I caught the next train to Whitechapel and went to touch out. Nervously I placed the card on the reader, fearing the worst. I needn’t have worried though, the system told me that my balance was 50p and I’d spent £2.00 on the journey. Magic!
So, what are the conclusions. On the plus-side it confirms that in the majority of cases you are not overcharged. There are two issues which cloud the picture though. If you take longer than 2 minutes to walk between Praed Street and The Lawn the charge becomes £2 which is not refunded. It does count towards the daily cap, so you still may not be overcharged, but there is a chance you might. Also, if you take longer than 45 minutes to get between The Lawn and the H&C gateline then the whole £4.60 (or £6.90 in the peak) will remain deducted and not count towards the daily cap. Ouch!
There are a number of things that TfL could do to alleviate this issue:
- Train their staff (and the Paddington FGW/NR staff) to properly explain what has happened. If the charge was a full £4.60 or £6.90 then they can re-assure passengers that it will be corrected at the next touch out. If the charge was £2.00 then they can suggest visiting the Underground ticket office for a refund if the passenger won’t reach the cap.
- Change the programming so that the second entry cancels the charge before displaying the balance. This would re-assure passengers sooner that there isn’t a problem.
- Longer term I believe that there should be a new facility at stations like Paddington and Waterloo where a touch out at a different gateline from the touch in incurs no charge as long as it happens within, say 5 minutes. This could also happen when people use the platforms at Blackfriars NR as a bridge across the river. There is a precedent where walking through Southwark station from Waterloo East to the street or vice versa does not incur a charge.
Hopefully the result of this story in the media will be some positive changes to the Oyster system, but I can’t help feeling sad that the lack of a clear explanation to the reporters has resulted in a very negative story which could damage the reputation of Oyster.