Last month (April 20th) TfL quietly switched on capping for contactless only stations. I say quietly because with only essential travel being undertaken at the moment it is unlikely that anyone is actually reaching the caps. They also confirmed that since January 2nd 2020 anyone who exceeded the relevant caps from those stations will have received an automatic refund.
Before going into the details it’s important to understand who is making the decisions. These contactless only extensions are actually a part of the Rail Delivery Group project to facilitate contactless PAYG throughout the wider area of the South East outside London. Destinations potentially include Rainham (Kent), Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead, Gatwick Airport, Dorking, Guildford, Aldershot, Reading, Aylesbury, Tring, Luton, Stevenage, Stansted Airport, Witham and Southend. Using the transit mode of contactless payments you can only have one system at any given station (unless you want separate readers), so the TfL system already in use in London has to be used for processing the transactions. However, decisons as to the fares and caps from any station beyond the zonal area are down to the relevant TOC, not TfL. Even though TfL Rail serve the line to Reading, the fares are set in conjunction with GWR who run the major stations.
So, what are the caps which have been introduced? The Anytime daily cap is the same as the Anytime day travelcard from each station to zones 1-6. For travel after 0930 and at weekends/bank holidays the off-peak cap is the same as the off-peak day travelcard to zones 1-6. There is currently no equivalent daily cap to match the super off-peak travelcards which are available from some stations at weekends or at very restricted times on weekdays. There is a table at the end of this article listing all the new caps.
There is also a weekly cap applicable to any Monday to Sunday period set at the price of the 7-day travelcard to zones 1-6. This is my first disappointment because it means that people who don’t travel into zone 1 probably shouldn’t be using contactless for commuting. Most of the stations involved have 7-day travelcards available to any of zones 1-6, 2-6, 3-6, 4-6 and 5-6. If their commute involves a bus or tube to their final destination then it’s likely that a travelcard is worthwhile and they will overpay if they use contactless.
What about if I use more than one extension, what will the cap be then? For example, what happens if I travel from Reading to Shenfield and back with some other travel in London. This is where the clever calculations of contactless come into play. The system will work out the cheapest combination of a cap and extension fares. So you will either pay for a Reading to zones 1-6 cap plus extension fares between zone 6 and Shenfield, or a Shenfield to zones 1-6 cap plus extension fares between zone 6 and Reading.
Are there any other problems? Sadly, yes. The Oyster extensions to Radlett and Potters Bar required the use of caps which didn’t really match the prices of travelcards from those stations. In fact my belief is that GTR didn’t actually want to extend Oyster to Radlett because of the problems it causes. Pressure from the local MP sought the kudos of Oyster being accepted in spite of the problems it would cause. At Potters Bar both the daily caps are more than the matching day travelcard prices from Brookmans Park one station further out. Thus if you use contactless PAYG from Potters Bar you will now pay less if you cap than a person making the same journeys using Oyster. Radlett is even worse. Off-peak the contactless cap is also cheaper than the Oyster cap, but if you travel before 0930 weekdays it’s the other way round.
Let that sink in a moment. You might pay more for your daily travel using contactless from Radlett than you would if you used Oyster. As an example, touch in at Radlett at 0900 and travel to Oxford Circus (single fare £11.00). Then make a couple of zone 1 tube journeys during the day (£2.40 each). Finally, touch in at Knightsbridge at 1800 and return to Radlett again (£11.00). The total of those fares is £26.80. If you use contactless it will be capped at £25.80 but use Oyster and it will only be £25.30.
Daily Capping with Oyster (mainly zone 1-2)
|10:10||Upminster (6)||Tower Hill (1)||£3.30||£3.30|
|12:15||Aldgate (1)||Baker Street (1)||£2.40||£5.70|
|13:02||Baker Street (1)||Oxford Circus (1)||£2.40||£8.10|
|14:28||Bond Street (1)||Camden Town (2)||£2.40||£10.50|
|16:30||Camden Town (2)||Upminster (6)||£3.00||£13.50||Zone 1-6 daily cap reached|