While answering questions on this site, several regular queries crop up time and again. In an effort to improve the response time for these queries I am gathering the answers together here. There are also some general tips towards the end of the page.
I’m only travelling through zone 1, do I have to pay? Yes. The system knows which route is likely to have been taken and the zones crossed. If you travel from Balham LU (zone 3) to Camden Town (zone 2) you cannot use a zone 2-3 travelcard alone. If the travelcard is on your Oyster then the system will deduct a zone 1 single fare when you touch out. The same applies to a journey from say Streatham Common (zone 3) to Twickenham (zone 5). You’ll need a zone 2-5 travelcard as the journey requires you to change at Clapham Junction.
I had a problem topping up, have I been charged twice? No. Top ups and purchases of travelcards at ticket machines are a two stage process. First you put your Oyster card on the reader and select the product to buy. Then you pay using whatever method you desire. Finally you put your Oyster card back on the reader and the product is added to it. When you pay by credit or debit card the machine will authorise the transaction with your bank. Your bank earmarks the money so it can’t be used again. After the transaction has completed the payment will be requested from your bank. If something goes wrong (e.g. you forget to touch your Oyster for the second time) the payment will not be requested. Unfortunately the authorisation will remain on your account for a few days (typically 2-3 business days). Some online banking systems will show these pending transactions and/or your balance may have been reduced by the value. The key thing is that it is NOT an actual transaction yet, and if it isn’t requested it will drop off after the few days.
I have a travelcard for a few zones, can I use any TfL bus? Yes you can? Buses don’t operate in zones because you only touch in and the system won’t know where you get off. Therefore you can use any TfL bus with any travelcard, even one which goes outside the zonal area.
How accurate are the clocks when switching between off-peak and peak? They are pretty accurate, but to make absolutely sure, TfL do not switch over on the actual time. Peak is turned on 5 minutes* after the advertised start times and turned off 3 minutes* before the advertised end times. This is an un-advertised bonus designed to ensure that very few complaints are received about the station clock showing the wrong time. If one day you get charged peak when on others you are still charged off-peak then you have no cause for complaint because the charge is correct. You’ve actually gained on days you were charged off-peak.
*Grace periods confirmed in response to an FOI request, October 2017
Always Touch In and Touch Out
When using Oyster pay-as-you-go on tubes, national rail and DLR, the single most important rule is to remember to touch in and touch out wherever you go. If you forget to do it then you will be charged a maximum fare for that journey and it won’t count towards any price cap for that day.
Register your card and Top-up online
When you get an oyster card it is highly recommended that you register it. This can be done at the same time by filling in a form and handing it to the vendor. Part of the registration process involves setting a password which can then be used to prove your identity when asking for a refund of any pay-as-you-go balance in the event of loss or damage to your card. You’ll also need it to set up an account on the TfL website. Using that account you can order top-up and optionally set up auto top-up.
Check your Journey History regularly
The oyster system is incredibly complex, and the addition of national rail has added yet more complexity on top. There are different price caps for buses and trams, peak and off-peak travel as well as different routes for many journeys on national rail. If you regularly check your journey history you can spot if any errors have been made. You’ll also see whether you have been charged any maximum fares and can work out why. If there is a good reason you can ask for an adjustment to be made.