Reply To: Avoiding zone 1 via Primrose Hill

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Hi Michael,

I can understand your frustration, I really can. It’s good that you’ve raised an FOI request because that will either prove or disprove that lots of people are ‘overcharged’. If it turns out to be a potential problem then that may influence what happens next.

I think one of the issues is your understanding of the default route. It is a difficult concept because two very different criteria are at play. In the vast majority of cases the default route is the one most people are likely to use on any given day with normal services running. It also describes what will be charged however you travel if you don’t leave the system via a gateline (and don’t exceed the maximum journey time). The problem occurs when there is a potential route which doesn’t involve leaving the system which charges less than the most obvious route. An example of this might be Clapham Junction to Lewisham NR. Most people would choose to travel via Waterloo because there are plenty of trains on both legs, but you can change at Denmark Hill and stay in zone 2 if you don’t mind chancing the half hourly Victoria to Dartford service. Because that is cheaper and a significant minority of people use it, that has to be the default route. The more common route is detected by the gates between Waterloo and Waterloo East. I have had several people ask why they are overcharged when making the popular journey, especially in the days when the single fare finder didn’t display the alternate routes without you pressing another button.

The other things to note are that some journeys are charged via zone 1 regardless of the route taken. That is a fact regardless of how fair or otherwise it may seem. And when engineering work forces you to use a different (usually more expensive) route you are charged for what you do, rather than what you might have done without the diversion.

It is very rare that an engineering diversion using only trains will take you over a route which ought to be cheaper. In fact I can’t readily think of an example apart from the one you are talking about in this thread. As I’ve mentioned before, this is an unusual situation because trains travel over tracks which aren’t normally used for passenger services. The problem for TfL is that if they make the default route the one used on, say, 20 days in a year they will end up getting complaints from people who think they’ve been overcharged on the other 345 days.

Now, as I said at the start, if your FOI request shows that lots (hundreds per day) of people are making journeys which ought to be cheaper then it is just possible that TfL might consider changing the default route. However, hundreds per day is still only a very small percentage compared to the many thousands who will make journeys via zone 1 when the diversion isn’t in place. Therefore my considered opinion is that they are unlikely to make a change.

When you get the results of your FOI request back, I would recommend that you write to London Travelwatch if the figures suggest a big problem. They have in the past persuaded TfL to make adjustments where a cheaper route cannot be detected by the system. I must stress though that it is unlikely to be a quick fix even if LTW do manage to have a positive influence. The March faretables are already locked down and being tested, so a new permanent fare won’t appear until September at the earliest.