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London: Oyster and Contactless Card FAQ

Old Oct 6, 14, 3:31 am
FlyerTalk Forums Expert How-Tos and Guides
Last edit by: fluffymitten
Welcome to the Oyster/Contactless FAQ!

Q: So, what is an Oyster card?

A: It's a smart card that allows you to travel within Greater London, on the Underground, buses, trams, the DLR and trains within the validity area. As well as being convenient, it can be a lot cheaper than cash fares.

You can also pay for some river services, and the Emirates Air Line.

It has two modes: pay-as-you-go and zonal season tickets for 1 week or more. You can also use it as a hybrid - to use pay-as-you-go funds to travel outside of your season ticket zones.

To travel, you simply touch the card on the card reader.

Q: What about contactless?

A: As of September 2014, you can use contactless credit cards to travel within Greater London. This is on a pay-as-you-go basis - the fare for each journey you take will be debited from your account.

Daily and weekly limits apply to contactless travel, broadly equivalent to daily and weekly 'travelcards' (unlimited travel tickets). Once you reach these limits, no more funds will be debited from the card. In some circumstances, for journeys outside the zonal area (such as to or from Gatwick), contactless can be cheaper than Oyster.

As with Oyster, to travel, you simply touch the card on the card reader.

Q: Why all this fuss about 'card clash'?

A: If you take your card out of your wallet, and place it on your card reader, it pretty clear that you're using that card, whether Oyster or contactless, to travel.

However, the card reader can generally pick up cards inside a wallet, and people have got used to travelling simply by touching a wallet (or travel wallet) on the card reader.

However, now that contactless cards are being accepted for travel, and travel smart cards are becoming more popular, it's increasingly likely that people will have multiple cards in their wallet that could be accepted for travel. In this case, the card reader may not consistently pick up the card that the passenger wishes to use.

So you are being encouraged to ensure you are only placing a single card on/near the reader at any given time.

As you can register Oyster and contactless cards to an online account, TfL have said they will do their best to reconcile 'card clash' if you enter and exit with different cards, or use different cards within the same time period by accident, but this cannot be guaranteed.

Q: Why would I use Oyster over contactless?

A: Both Oyster and contactless cards have the same fares at present.

Oyster cards can have additional discounts loaded on to them if you have certain types of National Railcards (see below). This is not currently possible with contactless.

Contactless cards have a weekly fare cap, equivalent to the same weekly travelcard. This is not currently possible on Oyster - you'd be expected to load the weekly travelcard on in advance. However, Oyster weekly travelcards can be for any 7 consecutive days, whereas contactless capping runs from Mondays to Sundays only (otherwise there would be a never-ending recalculation cycle until one stopped travelling for >7 days).

Oyster cards allow you to load on monthly or longer travelcards.

Oyster cards allow you to use a hybrid mode, to use pay-as-you-go funds for occasional travel outside a travelcard's zone.

You can top up an Oyster at National Rail stations for any multiple of 5p, up to a maximum of 90 on the card, allowing you to manufacture spending.

If your non-UK card has a per-transaction foreign spending fee, then obviously it makes sense to pay this only once by preloading an Oyster.

If you lose your Oyster card (or it gets stolen) it's a lot less hassle, financially, than losing your credit card. You go online as soon as you can to register the loss and and register your replacement card, and you can transfer any balance over. This does assume that the 'finder' of your card doesn't use all your credit first...

Q: What is a contactless card? Will mine be accepted?

A: 'Contactless' refers to a method of payment on credit cards - and increasingly on mobile/cellphone and other decides. It's also known as EMV, NFC or by brand names such as PayWave, PayPass and ExpressPay.

If your credit card has it, it will have a symbol like this on it:

You may even have an app on your smartphone that allows you to use it.

It doesn't matter if your card isn't issued in the UK, but there are still some cards which don't currently work with the system. An up-to-date list is kept here: TfL Contactless Website.

Q: Why would I use a paper ticket?

A: For one-way fares on the Underground or DLR, paper tickets are poor value. They're really only good for very occasional travel, where you are not able to use Oyster or contactless.

Cash fares are not available on buses at all.

However, with a paper travelcard (weekly or longer zoneal ticket) issued by a National Rail station, you can avail yourself of a number of very generous 2-for-1 offers for entry to some major London attractions.

For travel to/from Gatwick, there are a terrifyingly large number of fare options possible. In some circumstances (especially weekends) a paper ticket can be cheaper than oyster or contactless. Taking advantage of this requires careful research and detailed understanding of the fare options. For most passengers, oyster or contactless is the simple option and will always be a reasonable fare.

If you have a UK railcard, paper tickets on London heavy rail journeys in the afternoon peak period (1600-1900) can be cheaper than Oyster fares.

There is a maximum journey time on Oyster / contactless which means that if you want to roam around the rail network, or wait inside a station for a friend who is delayed, you run the risk of not having a validated ticket when you are checked.

Q: What is fare capping?

A: It's quite a user-friendly feature of Oyster and contactless payments. Rather than trying to figure out whether it's going to be cheaper to pay for individual journeys on the day, or buy a daily (or weekly, in the case of contactless) ticket in advance, the system will figure it out for you.

The actual fare structure is quite complex, and depends on peak and off-peak hours and different transport modes, but there is a handy calculator here: Single Fare Finder.

The capping rules and fares are here: Oyster Fare Capping and here: Contactless Fare Capping.

Note that contactless weekly fare capping runs Mon-Sun.

Q: How do I buy an Oyster card?

A: There's a whole number of places you can buy them, but the short answer is 'from rail and Underground stations'. Most Underground vending machines now sell them - and will accept credit cards (standard caveats for non-chip cards apply). Full details are here: Where to Buy Tickets.

Note that to obtain an Oyster card requires payment of a 5 non-refundable fee. (Older documents refer to a refundable deposit - that no longer applies to new cards. Holders of older cards can hand in the card and get the 5 deposit refunded if they no longer need the card). If the card is held for a calendar year, that 5 fee becomes available as useable credit against fares. If you want to use annual season tickets on them, you will have to register them online.

There's also a network of Oyster Ticket Stops around London, if a station isn't convenient for you, or an unmanned station machine won't accept your credit card.

You can also buy a Visitor Oyster Card prior to arrival. There's a minimum pre-load, and a 5 non-refundable fee, plus postage charges. As oyster cards as very easy to obtain on arrival, there is no benefit in buying the Visitor card in advance.

Q: Where can I use it?

A: Basically, anywhere in London. There are some exceptions. The best way to see if your destination is covered is to refer to the zonal map: TfL London Rail and Tube Map.

Note: Oyster is accepted on all trains/tubes/buses in London, except:
  • From 2019 onwards, it is accepted on Heathrow Express but at a premium rate other other modes
  • Accepted on tfl rail (formerly known as Connect) services.
  • Not accepted on sightseeing tour buses. These are not part of the public transport infrastructure within London.
  • (Paragraph about heritage routemaster buses on route 15 removed as this service has been permanently withdrawn).

There are limited fares available outside of London, as noted on the map above. This is constantly being expanded.

Oyster cards may additionally be used to travel on the Thames Clippers river services and the Emirates Air Line. These are PAYG services with a different fare structure from the rest of the transport network. Thus they are not subject to daily capping, however if you have a travelcard loaded onto your Oyster, there is a discount on the fare.

Q: How do I use it?

A: Look for this symbol:

To use your Oyster or contactless card, just touch it on the card reader bearing that symbol at the start of your journey ('touch in') and, depending on the journey mode, at the end ('touch out'). It's quite sensitive and quick to register.

A yellow light in the corner indicates it's ready to use. Touch the card on. When it turns green and beeps, it's registered positively. If it turns red and beeps, there's a problem (lack of funds or transmission problems). Try again if this happens, but bear in mind that Londoners can be an impatient bunch!

Tube and Train: In most cases, you'll go through ticket barriers, in which case the reader will be on top of the barrier body on the right hand side:

You need to touch in and touch out, and it's important to do so, even if the barriers are locked open.

On some occasions, smaller stations (or wide barriers) may have a standalone card reader like this:

which you can use instead.

DLR: Most DLR stations do not have barriers, so you need to explicitly remember to touch in and touch out, bearing in mind that the readers may not be in line of sight (London City Airport being the worst for this). The readers are normally standalone, looking something like this:

Bus and Tram: As buses and trams have a flat fare, you only need to touch in, not out. On most buses, there is a reader next to the driver, like this:

However, on rear-boarding buses, you may see standalone ones like this:

For trams, you touch in on the platform note that you should not touch out at the end of a tram journey (unless you are exiting Wimbledon Station):

When you touch in, a 'standard fare' is deducted from your card. The value of this varies according to the form of transport. The balance is refunded when you touch out. The result of this is that, if you touch out, you will not receive this balance, and be charged a more expensive fare for your journey.

Q: How much will it cost?

I'd love to be able to give a simple answer to this... However, it's not quite so simple. The easiest way is to use the Single Fare Finder and refer to the Daily Capping page (see FAQ section on what that means). Within the London zonal area, oyster (or contactless) will always be the cheapest option for a working age adult. (For children or holders of senior railcard, the cheapest may be different).

There are third-party sites and apps out there which can give a more user-friendly presentation of the same information (put them here if you find some good ones!)

Q: How do I top up the funds or renew a season ticket?

A: For contactless cards, you don't top up funds - they are simply debited from your account once per day, usually two days after you travel. You also can't load a travelcard. For Oyster, however, you have a number of options.
  • Ticket Machines - at Tube, Rail, DLR and Tram stations, ticket machines will let you top up your Oyster card by card. Just look for the Oyster symbol on the machine, touch your card on, and follow instructions. It is no longer possible to pay with cash at stations managed by tfl
  • Ticket Offices - you can also top up at ticket offices. Note, however, that 75% of Tube ticket offices have closed down - all will be closed soon, and they mandate a 5 minimum for cash top-ups.
  • Oyster Ticket Stops - just like buying the cards, you can top them up here.
  • Online - this is slightly more awkward than it sounds. You can register and top up funds or buy a season ticket online at the Oyster website. However, the process is quite convoluted. You specify what you want to load, but also have to specify a 'launch' station - a station you know you will be travelling through. You then have eight days starting with the day after you purchase to start or finish a journey at this station, and only at that point will the funds/travelcard be loaded.
  • Auto Top-Up - this is rather more convenient, especially for people with frequent but irregular travel in London. You leave credit card details, and when your card dips below a balance of 10, it will be automatically topped up with the amount you specify - and this doesn't have to be at a station. This can also be set up on the Oyster website.
Note that the Oyster website does not support non-UK billed cards. This is not to say they will be rejected outright, but if your foreign card isn't accepted, you'll have to put up with it.

Q: Can I get a refund when I'm finished with an Oyster card?

A: Yes you can. The easiest way is to take it to a Tube Ticket office (but only a tiny number of stations have a ticket office....). You will get the balance back, plus any refundable deposit. Or to go to any Tube station and get a refund from the larger Ticket Machines (Max 15 refund given, 5 Deposit + unto 10 PAYG Credit). You cannot get the deposit refunded if you still have an active travelcard loaded on the oyster (so if you buy a weekly travelcard but leave London on day 6, you cannot get the deposit refunded).

You can also apple for a refund online through the TfL website.

TfL also have a number of deposit boxes around, where you can post the card, with the funds being donated to charity.

Q: Can I use an Oyster card to/from airports?

Heathrow: Yes - all modes

Yes on Heathrow Express, but at Premium fare

Yes on Underground (Piccadilly Line).

Yes on TfL buses (i.e. red buses, which includes route 81 to Slough, but not National Express coaches or other local buses going outside of Greater London to Windsor, Oxford, etc, but there ). Note that the Heathrow free bus scheme has been withdrawn, there is no longer free travel in in the immediate vicinity of the airport are free. The "Hotel Hoppa" services are not part of the tfl network and are quite expensive.

Valid on the Elizabeth Line (formerly TfL Rail/Connect) to/from the airport.

London City: Yes.

Yes, valid on DLR. There are no gates to the platform, so remember to 'touch in' on the validators tucked away (not in your sight line) opposite the escalators to the platform or you are liable for a penalty fare.

Yes, valid on TfL buses. (There are limited local bus routes from LCY, and bus is rarely a wise choice for visitors).

Gatwick: Yes, but higher fares are charged for trains branded "express" (which are not discernibly quicker than ordinary services). Note that as part of Covid changes, the services branded express have been withdrawn, it is not clear when these will be reinstated.

Oyster was extended to Gatwick in early 2016. Southern Railway have their own smartcard, but take up is poor - not useful for visitors.

Luton: Complicated. Oyster is not valid. However, contactless is valid to Luton Airport Parkway station. If using contactless, you pay a separate fare (Amex not accepted) on the connecting shuttle bus.

Stansted: No, not valid.

Southend: No, not valid.

Q: What if I'm travelling outside Greater London? How do I know where this is?

A: The following map shows the Oyster zones: Oyster Rail Map.

Broadly, this is inside Greater London, but there are some locations outside, and these are being added to. You can also use Oyster on any TfL (Transport for London) sponsored bus, regardless of location.

If you want to travel outside of London, you will need a paper ticket (or an alternative smartcard valid for your journey where applicable).

However, if you have a travelcard (zonal season ticket) loaded on to your Oyster card, you can purchase a single ticket from the last station inside your Zones to your destination. If you do this, the train you take must pass the station, but does not have to stop at it.

There may be a choice of routes, for example, trains from London to Stevenage may go via Hadley Wood or Crews Hill (the last stations within Zone 6). You could also buy a "Boundary Zone" ticket from BZ6 to Stevenage. In conjunction with your travelcard

These tickets can only be bought from a manned counter, though some tickets are available from the Ticket Machines.

Q: What are 'pink readers'?

This is TfL recognising that there are multiple routes that you could take because of the complexity of the network.

London fare zones are concentric, due to the primary nature of travel in the city. However, there are often multiple routes from A-B - often including cheaper, but less convenient journeys avoiding Zone 1 (which has a fare premium compared to other zones). In order to obtain this cheaper fare, you must prove that you have taken the more circuitous route by touching your card on a pink-coloured Oyster reader at an intermediate station. These are just like other Oyster readers, but typically located along a platform at an exchange station.

Say you're travelling from Highbury & Islington to Canary Wharf. The quickest routes involve travel via Zone 1 (Overground to Shadwell then change to DLR, or Victoria Line to Green Park and change to Jubilee Line). Including Zone 1 in your journey would result in a higher Zone 1-2 fare.

To save money, you could take the Overground to Stratford, and change to the DLR there directly to Canary Wharf. That would not travel via Zone 1, and so the cost would be the lower Zone 2-3 fare (Zone 3 is included because Stratford is in Zone 3). So how do you prove you went this way? When changing at Stratford, touch your Oyster or Contactless card on a pink Oyster Validator - doing this will clarify your route to the system and charge you the lower non-Zone 1 fare.

You can use the Single Fare Finder to be clear as to which stations you must touch a pink reader at to obtain a particular fareyou may encounter more than one station with pink readers on your journey but you need only touch the ones indicated by the Single Fare Finder. It is necessary to touch the pink readers if you have a travelcard that is not valid for the zones you are avoiding.

Q: Are any discounts available?

Railcards are available for people aged 16-25, over 60, disabled, people travelling with children, and any two people travelling together. This includes tourists if you can provide a passport photo and proof of age. If you have a sole person railcard, you can load this onto your registered Oyster at most TfL stations. This will give you 34% off off-peak fares.

In the afternoon peak on National Rail services within London, it may still be cheaper to buy a paper ticket than use Oyster as you get a railcard discount on the paper ticket but not the Oyster PAYG fare.

London students (e.g. university, exchange) can get 30% off travelcards by applying for an 18+ Oyster through their university.

Q: Can I get a receipt?

A: Yes, but if you are using a machine, you need to press a button if you want a receipt as the default is to not issue one.

You can also visit the Oyster Website or Contactless Website, which allow you to print off a journey and charging history.

Q: What is the difference between a Travelcard and an Oyster Card (or a Contactless Card)?

A: The travelcard has been around for years. It is a ticket that allows unlimited travel for a period of a day, week, month or longer, within the travelcard zones here: TfL Zone Map. Different combinations of zones are available, as well as tickets that include journeys from destinations outsize the zones (the unlimited travel then being within the zones, and between the zone bounday and the ticket origin).

For daily travelcards, there is a distinction between peak and off-peak hours.

Traditionally, it is a paper ticket. However, weekly or longer inboundary travelcards (i.e. those which are wholly within the travelcard zones) can also be loaded on to Oyster Cards. This means that the Oyster card will simply validate that you have a valid travelcard season ticket, and not deduct any balance. Rather usefully, if you need to go to a travelcard zone not covered by your season ticket, the Oyster Card will automatically deduct the excess fare.

But why isn't a daily travelcard included? Well, that's because of price capping. If you use an Oyster card several times in a day, it will cap the amount you are charged in a day to a value that is slightly less than the equivalent paper travelcards, calculated based on the zones you've travelled in and the time of day (to determine peak/off-peak).

And contactless? That will do the same capping, but for weekly as well as daily.

If you have an outboundary travelcard (i.e. from outside the zones in the map, e.g. Gatwick Airport or Biggleswade) then it will have to be a paper ticket or other Rail Company Smart Card (e.g. Southern's 'The Key'). And if you have an annual one, you may need a second mortgage...

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London: Oyster and Contactless Card FAQ

Old Oct 6, 14, 3:29 am
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London: Oyster and Contactless Card FAQ

All - after a couple of requests, a number of recent questions, and the recent addition of contactless cards to allow you to travel in London, it seems a good idea to create an Oyster FAQ. I've made this a wikipost, so everbody can contribute - I'll add it to the official FAQ once it gets into a usable state. Please help if you can!
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Old Oct 6, 14, 6:59 am
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Q: What is a contactless card? Will mine be accepted?
A contactless card is a debit or credit card containing an embedded RFID tag. This allows the card to be used for low value transactions without need for PIN or signature.
TFL say all RFID cards issued by Banks in the UK will work. Cards issued abroad may work, but they're not guaranteeing that.
Note that before your RFID card can be used on the tfl network, it must have been used for at 'contactless' payment at a 'normal' merchant (such as a shop). If you attempt to use your card and it has never been used in 'contact less' mode before, it will be rejected by tfl.
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Old Oct 6, 14, 7:54 am
Join Date: Sep 2007
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Can I use Oyster OAYG or Contactless card to/from the airport.

Heathrow. Sometimes, valid on some but not all modes
Yes on Piccadilly Line.
Yes on tfl buses. (Remember tfl buses in the immediate vicinity of the airport are free).
Not valid on Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect.

London City. Yes
Yes, valid on DLR. There are no gates to the platform, so remember to beep in on the validators tucked away (not in your sight line) opposite the escalators to the platform.
Yes, valid on tfl buses. (There are limited bus routes from LCY, and bus is rarely a wise choice).

Gatwick. No, not valid.
The rail operator has expressed a desire to extend use of Oyster to Gatwick, but at the moment its not accepted.

Luton. No, not valid.

Stansted. No, not valid.

Southend. No, not valid.
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Old Oct 6, 14, 8:08 am
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Thanks! Have put in - but feel free to edit the wikipost directly.

Last edited by stut; Oct 6, 14 at 8:16 am
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Old Oct 6, 14, 8:16 am
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Where can I use Oyster or Contactless.

Not quite true, but close enough for most times the question is asked, the answer can be summarised as “anywhere in London”.
For a more accurate answer, refer to this map

Note. Oyster is accepted on all trains / tubes / buses in London, except.
  • Not accepted on Heathrow Express
  • Not accepted on Heathrow Connect services on the section of the journey into the airport – but is valid between intermediate stations on Connect before reaching the airport. This is because this piece of rail line was privately funded by the owners of the airport, and they seek to recoup their investment by charging premium fares.
  • Not accepted on the “SouthEastern High Speed” service between St Pancras and Stratford International. Because someone in the Department of Transport said no, and nobody else in the UK can understand why.
  • Not accepted on sightseeing tour buses. These are not part of the public transport infrastructure within London.
  • Contactless is not accepted on the small number of “heritage routemaster” buses which operate on part of bus route 15 between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill. Oyster is accepted. The restriction on Contactless is because the ticket equipment used by the conductors hasn’t been upgraded to handle contactless.
Other buses on route 15 (modern ones, not heritage routemasters) are OK.
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Old Oct 9, 14, 5:16 am
formerly known as ravishah
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Sorry not sure how to edit the wiki but here are some responses

Q: Are any discounts available?

No, as Oyster and Contactless is seen as a discount from buying paper tickets - which do cost more. However with fare capping if you go Pay-As-you-Go the maximum you will pay is the cost of a travel card unless you get a bus first as for some reason that does not seem to count, not sure if this has been fixed recently.

Q: Can I get a receipt?

If you buy from a counter or machine you can request a receipt.


If you are buying an over ground ticket but also need to use the tube it is often cheaper to get one that includes a travelcard for example from Slough to London return is about 17 however with travelcard it only adds up to 21 which is cheaper than using contactless.

Also if you are getting overground tickets and know what you are doing you can get something called boundary zone tickets which may be cheaper. This is because you buy travel cards for a zone not a station so it is in effect an imaginary point on the track. A situation where this maybe useful is if you have a multi-day travel card but decide to go out to the countryside you can use the travelcard to get to the edge of the boundary zone and then only pay from there to your destination. you can only get these from ticket offices the person there will usually know what to do.
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Old Oct 9, 14, 12:11 pm
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I have changed the information on BZ tickets as it was incorrect - with a season and a single the train does not have to stop at, only pass, the changeover point. A BZ ticket will usually be more expensive as it is more flexible, allowing you to use any route from the edge of your zones

This is also true (but counterintuitive) for a season and several connecting singles, though you will generally have a fight on your hands if you try to do this

If you have multiple season tickets the train must stop at the changeover point between them
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Old Oct 10, 14, 2:51 am
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Thanks everyone! As this is now complete and usable, am going to link it to the dashboard. Great how we can get this done so quickly...
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Old Oct 10, 14, 3:18 am
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Originally Posted by stut
Thanks everyone! As this is now complete and usable, am going to link it to the dashboard. Great how we can get this done so quickly...
Travelcard (zonal season ticket) is mentioned several times, but what is it?
Can some please explain what a travelcard is, how is it different to oyster and where you use / cannot use it?
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Old Oct 10, 14, 4:10 am
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Have added that to the FAQ - let me know if it makes sense.
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Old Oct 10, 14, 5:42 am
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"All buses, not just TfL, in the immediate vicinity of the airport are free"
That's not quite right, is it? Hotel hoppa buses aren't free, in fact they're distinctly expensive in comparison to the 1.45 stardard tfl bus fare...
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Old Oct 11, 14, 11:27 am
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Originally Posted by rcspeirs
"All buses, not just TfL, in the immediate vicinity of the airport are free"
That's not quite right, is it? Hotel hoppa buses aren't free, in fact they're distinctly expensive in comparison to the 1.45 stardard tfl bus fare...
Quite so. But non-TfL public bus routes are.
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Old Nov 10, 14, 10:46 am
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How does the free bus zone around LHR work exactly? You don't need an Oyster card or travelcard at all? Can you just simply board the bus and tell the driver you are getting off within the free zone?
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Old Nov 10, 14, 10:50 am
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Originally Posted by Dadaluma83
How does the free bus zone around LHR work exactly? You don't need an Oyster card or travelcard at all? Can you just simply board the bus and tell the driver you are getting off within the free zone?
Exactly that - just get on and say "Hatton Cross" or wherever.
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Old Nov 11, 14, 12:06 am
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Great guide stut, just one point which I think you should correct.

The journey to Whitechapel using the pink readers must be via Stratford, this is because the old East London Line goes via Shoreditch high Street which is in zone 1.

I have been caught out by this myself when I used to travel from Camden to Angel. Going from Kentish Town West via Highbury and Islington made no difference to the fare. I am not sure why they put Shoreditch High Street in Zone 1, but it has been suggested to me that it is to discourage those in the south from travelling to the north, but suspect the real reason is to maximise revenue for TfL.
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