diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From 2016 all the stations in Stratford are to be re-zoned from 3 to 2/3. The plan is to extend the boundary of zone 2 to touch Stratford, Stratford International and Stratford High Street stations, which are currently only in zone 3, but in the future will be in both. You probably read the press release.
"The Mayor has also announced that to maximise the unique potential of the Olympicopolis initiative and wider strategic plans for regeneration and growth at Stratford, he has asked Transport for London to 're-zone' the three Stratford stations (Stratford, Stratford International and Stratford High Street) from zone 3 to zone 2/3 effective from January 2016, at a net cost to TfL of about £7m annually. The move will benefit commuters and visitors travelling to the stations at a lower cost, boosting the commercial attractiveness of the area for which the Mayor is responsible through the London Legacy Development Corporation, for workers, businesses and residents."
You probably read a cut and pasted version, because journalists these days tend not to add much of their own analysis when someone spoonfeeds them juicy copy. But I wondered what precisely all this might mean for the travelling public, and how much precisely we might save. Starting with an indicative map.

The yellow area is my representation of how the zones in east London will change, with a bump. At present, pretty much, all stations in Tower Hamlets are in zone 2 and all stations in Newham are in zone 3. There is already a boundary of 2/3 crossover, running approximately down the river Lea, and this includes Pudding Mill Lane, Bromley-by-Bow and East India. 2016's zonal extension will reach out to encompass the three Stratford stations too, increasing the size of the fuzzy zone where one zone merges with the other. Essentially the Olympic Park is being dragged, fares-wise, into inner London, while the rest of Newham remains where it's always been in zone 3. Geographically it's highly suspect. Economically it's an admission that the heart of London is edging further east.

Re-zoning is a rare event, not undertaken lightly, because it generally takes money out of TfL's coffers. In January 2007, for example, six Central line stations between Woodford and Newbury Park were shifted from zone 5 to zone 4. This placed the whole of the Hainault Loop in one zone and was meant to stimulate traffic on an underused part of the line, but also introduced the anomaly that you could catch the tube to Essex more cheaply than to Harrow. The following year Hampstead Heath was moved from zone 3 to zone 2 so as not to penalise passengers on the new London Overground who'd otherwise have been forced to pay a one-station premium for their orbital journey.
Shoreditch High Street's infamous fare problem isn't a re-zoning issue because the station was new. TfL's hands were tied by the Secretary of State for Transport who insisted that Shoreditch High Street be in zone 1 when all the stations to either side were in zone 2, purely for money-raising, funding-reduction reasons. The next fresh zoning decision will be on the Northern line extension, whose new stations at Battersea and Nine Elms will both be placed in zone 1 because that'll make the power station development sound more important. But this outward extension of zone 1 means that Kennington station will have to be re-zoned at the same time, from 2 to 1/2, to give potential apartment owners a clear run into the West End.

There are two reasons why Stratford is gaining admittance into zone 2, one financial but the other purely psychological. When people are making decisions about places, like whether to visit or whether to settle there, which zone it's in can be important. Tourists think twice before going to zone 3, apparently, because it sounds a long way out, whereas when the V&A opens its Stratford outpost in zone 2 they'll come flocking. Estate agents will have a field day too. TfL's fare system creates an unintended desirability hierarchy for housing, with a Zone Four flat capable of commanding a higher price than a mere Zone Five. By upping the whole of the Olympic Park by one transportational notch, the collective property value of the E20 postcode will rise by far more than TfL's annual £7m loss on fares.

As for what the switch to zones 2 and 3 means financially, for those in Outer London it'll make no difference whatsoever. Anyone travelling to Stratford from zones 3, 4, 5 or 6 will see no change in ticket prices because Stratford remains firmly in zone 3. Instead it's those with journeys from zones 1 who'll see the difference, and it works both ways. Travel from your Mayfair hotel to the Olympic Park and your fare will cost less. Commute from Stratford into the West End and your annual travelcard becomes less of a drain. Like so.

By tube from zone 1 (eg Oxford Circus) to Stratford  
Cash fare£4.70£4.70-
Oyster single (peak)£3.20£2.8040p
Oyster single (off-peak)£2.70£2.2050p
7 day Travelcard£36.80£31.40£5.40
Monthly Travelcard £141.40  £120.60  £20.80 
Annual Travelcard£1472£1256£216

Of course by January 2016 fares will have gone up twice, so these won't be the actual prices, they're merely indicative of the differential. It's not a bad little saving, though, I think you'll agree. But the next table, showing the intended savings from zone 2 to Stratford, may surprise you.

By tube from zone 2 (eg Canary Wharf) to Stratford  
Cash fare£4.70£4.70-
Oyster single (peak)£1.60£1.60-
Oyster single (off-peak)£1.50£1.50-
7 day Travelcard£23.60£23.60-
Monthly Travelcard £90.70  £90.70  - 
Annual Travelcard£944£944-

Yes, that's right. When Stratford moves into zone 2, passengers starting their journeys in zone 2 will see absolutely no financial benefit whatsoever. And that's because TfL's fare structure is currently set up so that fares for journeys in zone 2 are identical to journeys covering both zones 2 and 3. There are slight differences to price caps and One Day Travelcards, but apart from these the two rows in TfL's fare table are exactly the same. Travellers from Canary Wharf to Stratford, or Mile End to Stratford, or Highbury & Islington to Stratford, will be making no savings at all, they'll just think they are.

Nevertheless, because Stratford is a mega-interchange, a large number of journeys into zone 1 are going to benefit. Taking the Central line into town, cheaper. Taking the DLR to Bank, cheaper. Taking the Jubilee line to the West End, cheaper (even though the line passes through a bit of zone 3 round Canning Town, presumably TfL will have to charge you the cheaper via-zone-2 fare). Taking the above ground Greater Anglia service into Liverpool Street, cheaper. And in five years time, taking Crossrail all the way to Paddington, relatively cheaper. This is good news, not just for passengers to/from Stratford but for businesses who are there already. Indeed one unintended consequence of re-zoning is that it'll bring both Westfields into zone 2... its shareholders must be hugging themselves with delight.

And yet there is one glaring black hole in the re-zoning plan which everyone's been keeping mighty quiet about, and that's at Stratford International. Dragging this station into zone 2 will only affect the DLR, which is an indirect branch line that goes nowhere near zone 1. The real prize ought to be the High Speed station, the concrete chasm where Eurostar trains were supposed to stop but never have. Southeastern's 'Javelin' trains connect Stratford International to St Pancras in seven minutes flat, which is already the futuristic proximal connection that Boris and the Mayor of Newham dream of. Except that Oyster isn't valid on High Speed trains, you have to pay £5.90 on top of any other ticket you might have, and that's enough to put anyone off using it.

If there was truly a desire to connect Stratford more cheaply to the heart of London, Southeastern's High Speed service would be at the heart of it. Instead the smallprint in their franchise maintains artificially high fares on a line which, for most of the week, transfers empty seats at high speed under Hackney. So hurrah for Stratford's re-zoning, which'll bring benefits to millions when it kicks in in 2016. But it's not quite as great as the journalists who cut and pasted the press release suggested it was, and for many it brings no improvements at all.

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