Yesterday TfLannounced that one part of Crossrail will be on time... they will be taking over the line from Paddington to Reading on 15th December 2019. It'll still be branded TfL Rail, because best not attach the Queen's name to an engineering fiasco, but the acquisition will add welcome fares income to the Mayor's coffers.
Not only will this bring central Berkshire onto the tube map, it'll also increase the number of stations Londoners can travel to using Pay As You Go. However, Oyster users will be missing out, as fares to the eight stations from Iver to Reading will be payable by contactless only. It's part of a fresh innovation introduced just four weeks ago, as a National Rail station in Hertfordshire became the first addition to the Contactless-But-Not-Oyster list.
Things were simpler in 2003 when Oyster was introduced. Every London station fell somewhere in zones 1 to 6, and the Herts/Bucks end of the Metropolitan line used zones A, B, C and D, making a total of ten. Those who programmed the system allocated four bits of electronic storage, which in hexadecimal would allow a maximum of 15 zones, hoping that this might be sufficient for the future. It was not. Hence the latest fare zone extension has had to be contactless only, because contactless fares are totted up by TfL overnight so the system can cope with pretty much anything.
Here's a list of all the PAYG stations in all the extra zones currently in use, above and beyond the original 1-6.
Zone 7: Croxley, Watford, Rickmansworth, Chorleywood; Carpenders Park; Theobalds Grove; Waltham Cross Zone 8: Chalfont & Latimer; Bushey, Watford High Street; Cheshunt; Dartford, Swanley Zone 9: Amersham, Chesham; Brentwood; Epsom; Cuffley Zone W: Watford Junction Zone G: Purfleet, Grays, Chafford Hundred, Ockendon Zone B: Broxbourne, Rye House, St Margarets, Ware, Hertford East; Potters Bar, Radlett; Bayford, Hertford North Zone C: Shenfield Zone D: Merstham, Redhill, Earlswood, Salfords, Horley Zone E: Gatwick Airport
You won't see Epsom in zone 9 on public-facing rail maps, because a fare anomaly means its actually cheaper to buy a ticket than use Oyster. Neither will you see any of these lettered zones on the tube map, where they tend to be labelled 'Special fares apply' (or left blank). But they do appear on TfL's in-house PAYG map, the May 2019 version of which is available via an FoI request here.
Officially zone W (Watford) and zone G (Grays) are both part of zone A, creating a proper alphabetical sequence from A to E. Meanwhile the underlying electronics assumes that zone A is 10, zone B is 11, zone C is 12, zone D is 13 and zone E is 14, creating a proper hexadecimal sequence from 1 to E.
There is space on an Oyster card for one more zone - that's zone 15, or zone F. It was TfL's intention to reserve this zone for Crossrail stations out to Reading. They said so in an internal ticketing newsletter circulated this time last year (see pages 10 and 11 for lots more background information), but a later edition suggested this might no longer be the case (page 2), and now we know it won't.
Which brings us to TfL's most recent innovation, stations which aren't in any specific zone because you can't use Oyster, only contactless. The first of these was Brookmans Park on 29th August 2019. Radlett and Potters Bar were added to the PAYG list on the same day, Oyster included, but Brookmans Park (one stop beyond Potters Bar) got to be contactless only. TfL would much rather passengers used contactless than Oyster anyway, because the electronic transaction costs them less, so expect this to be the future direction of travel.
St Albans, Harpenden and Luton Airport Parkway have been lined up to go contactless before the end of the year, maybe in October, followed by Welham Green, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City in November, although no dates have yet been confirmed. It's long been suggested that Kempton Park, Sunbury, Upper Halliford and Shepperton should be included, being only just outside Greater London, and Reigate too, given that Redhill is already included.
There's substantial scope to extend Contactless Only to other Home Counties stations, if only rail operators were interested and willing. But for now it's only Brookmans Park in the Contactless Only zone, then a few more Hertfordshire stations, and from 2nd January eight Crossrail stations out to Reading. Get ready, those purple trains really are coming. Just don't take your Oyster with you.
Stations outside Greater London but accessible by PAYG (by county)