London’s ‘tap and go’ ticketing system to be rolled out across south east England
Rail commuters across the South-East are set to benefit from cheaper travel under a “smart ticketing” revolution being introduced across the suburbs.
Passengers travelling in and out of the capital will be able to use pay-as-you-go at more than 230 stations – meaning they will automatically benefit from daily and weekly fares capping.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper says the new system will be “hassle free” and tackle the biggest concern of passengers – whether they are getting value for money.
Transport for London has been awarded an initial £68.7m by the Department for Transport to expand the electronic ticketing system already in use in the capital.
This will allow passengers to use bank cards or smartphones to pay for their journey rather than having to buy paper tickets or electronic tickets in advance.
An initial 52 suburban stations in the Home Counties are due to be converted by the end of the year, primarily on Chiltern, London Northwestern and C2C railways.
On Chiltern, this will benefit stations between TfL’s nine-zone network – which currently extends to Amersham and West Ruislip - and the branches north to Aylesbury and High Wycombe.
On London Northwestern, it would include stations north of Watford Junction, such as Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring.
On C2C, this would include stations from the Greater London boundary towards Southend and Shoeburyness.
A further 181 stations across the wider South-East rail network should be connected by March 2025.
The Department for Transport is due to confirm the names of the first 52 stations later this year. But TfL has begun work to upgrade the ticket barriers, under the “Project Oval” initiative.
TfL was chosen because of its work to expand smart ticketing to stations such as Reading on the Elizabeth line, and to Epsom and Luton Airport Parkway.
The DfT said the roll-out of pay-as-you-go would “improve thousands of daily commutes” and ensure passengers were charged “the best price on the day”.
With the national railways only at about 75 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership, there is also the hope that the system will encourage more weekday commuters.
Sources said the cost of pay-as-you-go would be similar to using a Travelcard for journeys on national rail from outside the capital.
At present, such passengers effectively pay for a return ticket to and from the zones 1-9 boundary, plus the cost of an all-zones Oyster card - and then enjoy unlimited travel within the capital.
Under the new system, capping would ensure the total amount they paid for their daily or weekly travel would be broadly equivalent – but with added convenience and speed.
This will also benefit passengers who pay separately for National Rail and Tube or bus tickets.
However rail chiefs admit they are facing a logistical headache to avoid creating many “winners or losers” from the new fares system.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, told the Standard: “You have got to find a way of implementing this which either doesn’t result in loads and loads of losers, which makes it politically unacceptable, or loads and loads of winners, which means it’s financially not viable.
“What Transport for London has learned is: if you are clear with people what you are going to charge them, and they have confidence that if things go wrong the system is going to sort that out for itself, that is the biggest step to take.”
Train firms would also benefit from more precise passenger data, with the “real time” ticket information allowing them to spot changes in demand.
A second phase of Project Oval will enable passengers to travel with discounted tickets, such as a young person’s railcard.
It is “still to be resolved” whether a wider zonal system should be introduced across suburban services in the South-East to ensure passengers pay similar amounts per mile travelled, regardless of which railway they use.
There are no plans for pay-as-you go on long-distance trains. Instead, the priority is to scrap return tickets by expanding single-leg pricing, as successfully trialled on London North Eastern Railway, and to trial “airline-style” prices that vary according to demand.