Thursday, November 15, 2007

So can Transport for London get even more complicated?

This week saw the launch of London Overground, by which Transport for London has taken over what used to be the Silverlink services, including the Watford DC Line, the North London Line, the West London Line and the Gospel Oak to Barking Line. The last, known as the "GOBLIN", runs right through Forest Gate (the station is called "Wanstead Park" but is so far from Wanstead Park it could have been named by RyanAir!) so I do often use the network to get to North London. Oyster "Pay As You Go" has been introduced on the lines.

So all joy you'd think? But no, there are some major problems created by these developments and I have to wonder how they were thought through.

The first is that there's already a lot of very confused terminology for public transport in London. "Oyster card" is often used interchangeably with "Pay As You Go", even though the former is the mechanism and the latter only one of the products As I've written before in The Oyster Card is a mess, this results in a lot of confusion for users. Of particular confusion is just where "Oyster cards can be used" on the railways.

This is only going to be compounded as "Overground" already has two other meanings in London. One is for all the overground private Train Operating Companies railways, which TfL seems to call "National Rail" in announcements (another potential point of confusion as technically "London Overground" is a TOC itself and so technically a "National Rail" service). So what does "Oyster Pay As You Go can be used on London Overground" say to the public at large? There's also the "Overground Network", a past attempt to encourage the public to uses trains in south London in a metro fashion. This has formally ceased but a number of stations still have the branding. So once again there is something called "Overground" that isn't what TfL is using the term for.

And here's another farce. The Watford DC lines go all the way to Watford Junction, several stops outside of the Travelcard zones. The line between Watford Junction and Wembley Central parallels services run by both Southern (from Clapham Junction) and London Midland. Southern are accepting Oyster PAYG on the relevant services from Watford Junction. London Midland won't accept it north of Harrow & Wealdstone. So the passenger now has to know how to distinguish between the two train companies and to understand why if a Southern service is delayed they are not allowed to travel on the London Midland service, when they could on a paper ticket.

I'm all for ways of improving ticketing both to give the passenger value for money and to speed up the flow of passenger traffic. But it's not a terribly good state of affairs where a new product is introduced that turns the clock back on interchangeable usage. Nor is it good to have a situation where the terminology used can be deeply confusing for the passenger and liable to result in many falling foul of the system and incurring fines and penalty fares simply through confusion. Something needs to be done to make the Oyster system much more user friendly.

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