Yesterday TfL suddenly announced that fares to Heathrow are increasing.
Previously if you made an off-peak journey from central London to one of the Heathrow stations you'd be charged an off-peak fare. As of today there is no off-peak fare and passengers pay the peak fare at all times. They really rushed that bad news out.
It's all part of the terms and conditions imposed by the Secretary of State for Transport in return for funding a bailout deal. It also has the hand of the Mayor upon it because a journey to Heathrow is less likely to be made by a struggling Londoner and more likely to be made by someone who doesn't live here.
The increase only applies to Crossrail and the Piccadilly line, not the Heathrow Express (which is quite expensive enough, thankyou). And it's a much bigger jump, price-wise and percentage-wise, on the tube rather the train.
Zone 1 to Heathrow
The off-peak Crossrail fare rises from £10.80 to £11.50, a mere 70p, but the off-peak Piccadilly line fare rises from £3.50 to £5.50, a considerably more significant 57% hike. Anyone heading abroad and considering an airside beverage before they fly can probably absorb this, but it's still a massive increase for a price rise snuck out with 24 hours notice.
Importantly the change only affects journeys starting in or travelling through zone 1. Restrict your journey to zones 2-6 and you'll continue to pay a reduced fare at off-peak times, which should ease the pain for those working at the airport. But it does introduce a huge cliff edge in fares on the edge of central London. For example Gloucester Road to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line will now cost £5.50 at all times, whereas from Earl's Court one stop away the off-peak fare will only be £1.90.
Also if you're getting excited about through trains on Crossrail starting 6th November, remember it'll always be more than twice as expensive to get to Heathrow on a purple train (£11.50) than on the tube (£5.50). Even travelling just one stop from Hayes and Harlington to Heathrow always costs at least £6.40 because a whopping premium is added to your fare as soon as you enter the airport tunnel. By contrast, Cockfosters to Heathrow by tube for £5.50 is a bargain.
It's long been possible to take any train between Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3, 4 and 5 and pay nothing. This makes flight transfers between terminals simpler and also supports airport staff in getting around. Today Hatton Cross joins the list of stations included in the Heathrow Free Travel Area, essentially to help employees working at bases on the eastern side of the airport, but anyone can now swipe in and out for nothing. You never know when this might be useful.
For example, you could now avoid the Heathrow off-peak fare hike by taking the tube to Hatton Cross, exiting the station, then touching back in and doing the last bit for nothing. Hatton Cross is in Zone 5 rather than Zone 6, so you save there, and it's still an off-peak fare even if you travel from central London. You'd have to exit the station for long enough to convince TfL's software you were making two journeys, or better still go straight back in using a different contactless card. But you'd be saving £2.10 by taking a break here, which in normal times might be deemed pennypinching but we no longer live in normal times.
At least there's a bit of good news in all this. But the Heathrow off-peak fare hike is very much the advance guard for a number of nastier decisions coming down the line - thanks Mr Shapps - so steel yourself for more unexpected and unwanted announcements coming all too soon.