diamond geezer

 Friday, November 13, 2015

TfL's annual fare rise was announced yesterday, and for a change there was little new to be annoyed by.

This year's average price rise is only 1.0%, which is much lower than last year's 2.5%, the previous year's 3.1%, and the 7% increase imposed four years ago. Low inflation is in part to thank, along with political caution the year before the next Mayoral election.

Here are some of 2016's fares in historical perspective, with Ken's years in red and Boris's in blue.

Cost of a single central London tube journey

The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare rises 4.3% in January to a new high of £2.40. Pessimists will note that this is 60% higher than when Boris came to power. Optimists will note that the extra 90p is helping to pay for better services, greater capacity and an extended network. Meanwhile anyone still paying by cash continues to pay significantly more, as TfL try ever harder to persuade people to switch to contactless.

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
Oyster (peak)£3.50£3.80£4.20£4.50£4.80£5.00£5.00£5.10£5.10
Oyster (off-peak)£2.00£2.20£2.40£2.70£2.90£3.00£3.00£3.10£3.10

Oyster fares for London tube journeys outside Zone 1 aren't rising at all, apart from off-peak journeys in zones 1 and 2 which increase by 10p. Meanwhile all off-peak London tube journeys avoiding zone 1 remain at the rock-bottom fare of £1.50, which isn't bad at all.

Cost of a single central London bus journey

The pay-as-you-go bus fare also remains unchanged in January, still £1.50. There's a specific reason for this, which is that demand for bus travel has unexpectedly fallen and TfL revenue is suffering. Passenger numbers on the tube may be at record levels, but bus usage has weakened "as a result of road conditions caused by major development happening across London", and customers need to be encouraged back on board.

The biggest headline-grabber affects (accompanied) children under the age of 11. Currently they travel free on TfL services, and certain National Rail lines with a specific agreement. From January they'll be able to travel free on all National Rail services in London, a decision which will bring benefits particularly to south London where tube lines are sparse. But free travel won't apply to any child - they'll need to have a 'Zip' Oyster photocard to qualify. This concession is expected to cost TfL half a million pounds a year (that's the equivalent of 200 Z1-6 annual travelcards, or 5% of a Garden Bridge).

A couple of interesting facts are hidden away in this year's 'Advice to the Mayor' briefing note.
• One relates to the proportion of passengers who ride for free. Only 67% of bus users pay fares, while one in three don't, generally those over 60 or under 11. Meanwhile as many as 95% of Tube users pay fares, with only one in twenty travelling for nothing. This big difference might be because unaccompanied children aren't allowed on the tube without a card, or maybe it's because older Londoners tend to live in the suburbs and don't need to commute.
• Meanwhile a recent trend in fare announcements has been TfL's relentless desire to kill off the One Day Travelcard. There used to be six different types, reduced last year to just two with a corresponding hike in cost. Success. Apparently One Day Travelcard sales have roughly halved since last January, with regular users taking advantage of daily capping and switching to pay as you go instead.

The other big headline isn't new, it was announced in July last year. Stratford's currently in zone 3, but from January it's to be reclassified as boundary zone 2/3, specifically to reflect the eastward shift in London's centre of gravity. Being added to zone 2 means it'll be cheaper to get there from central London. The saving on an Oxford Circus to Stratford tube journey will be 40p (potentially £4 per week for a commuter, or £180 a year), whereas remaining in zone 3 means travelling from outer London will cost the same. TfL doesn't make changes like this lightly, it'll lose them millions in income. But homeowners and developers in E15 and E20 will be delighted, as the perceived value of their property elevates overnight.

And it's not just Stratford. Stratford International and Stratford High Street stations will also be included in the rezoning, because it would be awkward were they not. What's changed is that TfL have thought further about the implications of all this since last year and decided to drag four further stations into the boundary zone as well. Had they not, a Jubilee line journey from Waterloo to Stratford would have entered zone 3 before returning to zone 2, which wouldn't have saved passengers any money at all (and would have been damned awkward to program). So West Ham and Canning Town are also joining the Z2/3 beanfeast, as well as the intermediate DLR stations at Abbey Road and Star Lane. The Lower Lea Valley is a post-Olympic development hotspot and one of the Mayor's priority housing areas, so rezoning creates a simple and effective boost to the area's potential.

But how's the tube map going to change?

Adding seven new stations to the zone 2/3 boundary should simply mean the grey shading of zone 2 edges outwards. Previously the boundary was to the west of the River Lea whereas now it'll be to the east, specifically coinciding with the DLR and Jubilee line. But what happens to the three stations that formerly formed the zone 2/3 boundary, that's Pudding Mill Lane, Bromley-by-Bow and East India? They're definitely not changing zones, otherwise the Mayoral Decision would have said so, which means they'll continue to be in zones 2 and 3 despite not being on the boundary. Will TfL's graphic designers attempt to draw a contorted and rather messy line linking all ten boundary stations, or will they be forced to introduce a transition zone approximately equivalent to the orange area above? Whichever they choose, it'll likely not look lovely, potentially adding yet more clutter to this busy corner of the tube map.

And a footnote. This is Boris's final fare settlement, with next year's due to be implemented by his successor. And whereas Boris has been happy to raise fares to protect investment, at least one of his potential replacements wants a fare freeze for the duration of his four year term. That'd be great for passengers' pockets but less so for the the wider network, as upgrades, expansion and staffing would falter. What's more the government is intent on slashing TfL's funding grant over the same period, if yesterday's reports are to be believed, from £700m per year to zero by the end of the decade. If fares don't rise, several unpalatable choices will have to be made regarding cuts, contraction and commercial activities. Indeed come 2020 we may look back at Boris's reign over the TFL budget as some kind of golden age.

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