London zones 2 and 3

22 January 2012

For my sins, I live on the edge of zone 3 in London, frustratingly close to zone 2. To explain zones in this context: roughly speaking, London is divided, for transport purposes, into concentric circles, with the centre being zone 1, and then the next doughnut surrounding zone 1 being zone 2, etc. These zones really apply to modes of transport that run on rails, that is to say mainly the London Underground (tube) and the train. London’s buses are not really part of the zonal system, as will be explained later.

For a long time, I have been using the tube without thinking much, until I looked up the Transport for London fare system in some detail. I found out, to my surprise, that in terms of the cost of the travel cards, which give unlimited travel within the purchased zone(s) for a certain duration, there were no differences in the prices charged between zone 1 alone and zones 1 and 2. However, travel tickets for zones 1 to 3 are more expensive than for zone 1 and zones 1 and 2. For example, a weekly travel card costs £29.20 for zone 1 only or for zones 1 and 2, whereas it costs £34.20 for zones 1 to 3. Similar differences exist for monthly and annual travel cards.

A similar observation applies to Oyster pay as you go as well, in that the maximum charge per day, during the off-peak period amounts to £7.00 for zone 1 and zones 1 and 2, but £7.70 for zones 1 to 3. 70 pence may not be much, but it is still a 10% difference, and it can add up quite quickly.

In other words, I’m better off taking the bus to the nearest zone 2 tube or train station, than taking the underground from the nearest station in zone 3. This applies if I have a travel card, or if I am making more than 3 tube or train journeys on Oyster pay as you go. Bus journeys are not priced zonally: if there is a valid travel card for any zone, then it’s possible to board on any London bus in any zone, and they do not influence the daily capping on Oyster pay as you go in terms of the applicable zones, since that is determined by tube or train journeys.

I have started to take the bus and then get on the tube. It saves money, and as the bus stop is right next to where I live, it is very convenient. Depending on the destination and the time of the day, it doesn’t add much on the journey time, so it is all quite positive.