TfL fares are bloody complicated. What with zones, caps, Pay As You Go, Travelcards, peak, off-peak and cash fares, plus the annoying niggle that some lines cost more than others, it's a wonder anyone knows how much a journey's going to cost.
Indeed, TfL no longer explicitly state what their fare structure is, preferring to focus solely on capping instead. They used to publish leaflets, and embed fare tables on the website, but these days there isn't even a pdf to show how much a single journey costs. Instead there's a Single Fare Finder online, where you type in where you're going and it tells you the price, but if you want the overall picture of what's going on, that's all concealed. The only place such information ever crops up is on the Mayor's website, hidden in an appendix to the annual fare increase announcement, and which daily traveller is ever going to think to look there?
So I thought I'd unpick the fare for a single tube journey, given that TfL won't, and show how simple things are underneath.
n.b. I'm only considering journeys within zones 1-6, paid for with Oyster or contactless
n.b. This also includes the DLR, and most of the Overground (apart from the lines out of Liverpool Street)
Tube, zone 1 only
So that's easy. If your tube journey is only in zone 1, it always costs £2.40.
Tube (peak), journey includes Z1
And that's very much what you'd expect. If your peak time journey includes zone 1, it costs more for every extra zone it extends into. Generally it costs about 40p-50p extra, although there's a 60p leap from Z3 to Z4, and an 80p leap from Z4 to Z5. Commuters from zone 5, sorry, you're the losers here.
Tube (off-peak), journey includes Z1
That may be simpler than you expected. This is because, off-peak, there are only three fare bands. A Z1-2 journey costs the same as a Z1 journey, a Z1-4 journey costs the same as a Z1-3 journey, and a Z1-6 journey costs the same as a Z1-5 journey. Essentially, you're getting an extension into the even-numbered zones for free.
For example, if you travel from King's Cross to Acton Town (Z3) on the Piccadilly line, it won't cost you a penny extra to continue to Hounslow Central (Z4). For another example, if you get on the tube at Covent Garden and go one stop to Leicester Square, that's always going to cost you £2.40. But off-peak you could have gone all the way to Stratford for £2.40, or Hammersmith, or Hampstead, or Brixton, at no additional cost.
Tube (peak), journey does not include Z1
1 or 2 zones
4 or 5 zones
Journeys which stay outside zone 1 cost less. Even at peak times, a two-zone journey (e.g. Z4-5) costs only £1.70, and a five-zone journey (i.e. Z2-6) costs only £2.80. That's a bargain, relatively speaking. As an example, if you were heading in from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line in the rush hour, then getting off at Earl's Court would only cost you £2.80, but staying on one more stop to Gloucester Road would set you back £5.10 (a whole £2.30 extra). I wonder how many travellers realise the cliff edge is that steep.
Tube (off-peak), journey does not include Z1
And this is the tube's biggest bargain. Any off-peak journey which stays outside zone 1 only ever costs £1.50. This includes hundreds of different possible journeys around the London suburbs. This is excellent.
This is also why it's important to swipe the pink readers if you're making a journey around London, to tell TfL that you didn't go anywhere near the centre, and should therefore only pay £1.50. Not swiping pink, where appropriate, can be an expensive error. As Geoff recently demonstrated, even a journey from Heathrow to Upminster only costs £1.50 if you're willing to go the long way round.
...and that's it. That's the full extent of tube fare structures within zones 1-6. There are only a dozen different basic fares, and none of them will be changing before 2020. Simple.
It stops being simple as soon as you nudge into zone 7, or get the Overground out of Liverpool Street, or use TfL Rail, or catch a 'train' rather than a tube. I believe it's also simple if you make a return journey - it's always double the fare shown here. But once you make several journeys, or throw in a bus ride, then daily caps start kicking in and it gets much more complex. Let's not go there today.
Fares shouldn't need to be hidden, just because some of them are complicated. But because not all single journeys are this straight-forward, it seems TfL prefers to reveal nothing at all.