diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fancy cheaper tube fares? They're yours if you have a Gold Card. That's the special bonus bit of cardboard given to everyone in London and the southeast who buys an annual travelcard for their train journeys. A Gold Card saves one-third off all off-peak fares on National Rail (mine saves me a packet every time I head out of town to the seaside or somewhere). And now, as of this month, it saves one-third off all off-peak fares on London Underground too. Who knew?
(Tom Edwards knew. He's BBC London’s Transport correspondent, and he pointed out these extended savings last week both on local news and on his blog. Thanks Tom)

The extension of Gold Card discounts hasn't been widely advertised. It's not mentioned on the flimsy 2-page fare leaflet available in stations, nor in the 20-page Getting around with Oyster booklet. It's not signposted on the incredibly complex fares page on the TfL website, nor is it listed as one of the Discounts for adults alongside. You'll only find mention of Railcard discounts if you check out the Fare changes for 2011 page, down at the bottom, like so.
If you have a you can get:
• 34 per cent off off-peak pay as you go single fares on Tube, DLR, London Overground and National Rail (previously was just National Rail and London Overground)
• 34 per cent off off-peak Daily price caps on the Tube, DLR, London Overground and National Rail
This is excellent. It means one-third off the normal fares whenever you travel outside the zones on your travelcard - daytimes, evenings and weekends. Travel a lot and the one-day price cap kicks in one-third quicker. Even if your annual travelcard doesn't include any underground at all, the one-third discount will still apply whenever you use Oyster pay as you go off-peak. Brilliant. But only so long as your Gold Card is registered on your Oyster account. And it almost certainly isn't.

I buy an annual travelcard every year, and it's automatically uploaded onto my Oyster Card. Unfortunately nothing tells my Oyster Card that I also have a Gold Card, despite the fact that the season ticket and Gold Card are inextricably linked. Nobody's set up the software to do this automatically, because that would be too sensible. Instead the connection has to be made physically, by going along to a ticket office and getting them to change the "Discount" flag on your card's profile. So I thought I'd give it a try. And sheesh, it was like pulling teeth.
At station 1, the bloke in the ticket office refused to believe me. He told me point blank that my annual season ticket was already registered, and that maybe I should go away and buy a cut-price One Day Travelcard instead. I tried to explain about the Gold Card discount, and how he needed to tweak my Oyster to set it up, but he wasn't listening. Over the course of our conversation he became increasingly patronising and sent me on my way feeling like a idiot. [Customer service - truculent]

At station 2, the bloke in the ticket office didn't believe me either. He'd never heard of a Gold Card discount, but was at least willing to listen to me trying to explain my case. To prove his point he printed out an Oyster card receipt (they're about half a metre long) and underlined the bit that said "Registered - Yes". Look, he said, it's already on there. He was talking rubbish, because the line underneath said "Discount - None", but at least he was politely incompetent. [Customer service - ineffective]

At station 3, the bloke in the ticket office was equally baffled. He'd never heard of a Gold Card discount, and neither had his colleague at the window alongside. Nevertheless he duly swiped my card and tapped in my season ticket's expiry date, before handing it back apologetically. I assumed that nothing useful had happened, but requested an Oyster Card receipt anyway. And this half-metre printout was different. It now said "Discount - NR Railcard" where previously I'd had nothing. The ticket clerk didn't seem to think he'd added my Gold Card, but maybe he had. [Customer service - perhaps]
So I went on a tube journey to find out if I was now Gold-Card-enabled. I went one stop outside the zones loaded on my travelcard, which is just far enough for Oyster pay as you go to kick in. The journey usually costs me £1.30, so I waited to see what would flash up on the exit gate as I swiped through. Ooh, 85p! A grand saving of 35% off the usual fare, which is even better than the promised third. Result! And this should apply on every single out-of-zone off-peak tube journey I make, be that a hop to Barking or all the way out to Chesham. Right up until my annual season ticket expires, that is, after which I'll have to go back to a ticket office and get the new one registered from scratch. I hope that won't be hellishy difficult again, but I bet it will be.

If you have a Gold Card you want to attach to your Oyster, there's useful independent advice and instructions here. And get down to your local ticket office quick. TfL are slashing opening hours across the network from next Sunday (there should be a poster in every affected ticket hall listing the new restricted hours). It's ironic that ticket office hours are being cut because of the success of automated ticketing, but the Gold Card discount can't be added to your Oyster unless a ticket office is open. Ironic, and bloody stupid. I hope you have more luck than I did.

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