Oyster Pay As You Go finally comes to Alexandra Palace Station

Finally, after a long campaign to get Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) to work from tube to overground trains – we have lift off. To test the reality of Oyster being extended on Haringey’s train services, I went to Alexandra Palace Station to have a go (before the snow!). It worked – I tapped in and I tapped out! Here’s the clip:

(Also on YouTube here.)

So that’s the very good news at long last. However, the bad news is that if you have a Travelcard with limited zones and you want to go beyond them, you will need another electronic card – an Oyster Extension Permit.

This is unnecessarily complicated and First Capital Connect should have been able to come up with another solution. But given it is the system – and whilst I don’t wish to be overtly rude – First Capital Connect must be mad. You have to purchase an Oyster Extension Permit, but they are not going to be sold from ticket offices at overland stations!

Yes, that’s right – if you want this sort of ticket to use the trains, the train company won’t sell it to you.

Instead you will have to buy them at tube stations or at corner shops which carry the Oyster sign. It’s as if First Capital Connect doesn’t actually want people to get hold of the card!

Anyway it’s a New Year, and this is basically a good news story, so I will temporarily stop railing at First Capital Connect and end on that bad pun.

Liberal Democrats welcome news of Oyster Pay As You Go on trains from January

After a long-running campaign to enable local residents to use their Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) cards on overland trains in Haringey, local Liberal Democrats have welcomed the news that the scheme will finally go live from the 2nd January 2010.

Although welcoming the long-awaited news, local MP Lynne Featherstone has today raised concern over the complicated details of the scheme. From January travelcard holders will need to get an extra electronic permit if travelling outside their travelcard zone making the scheme “unwieldy and overcomplicated” Lib Dems say.

The Oyster Extension Permit (OEP) system means that any residents with an Oyster travelcard, who need to travel outside their travelcard zone, will have to obtain an OEP before travelling to avoid having to pay a penalty fare. The OEP will not be available at train stations, but only from Oyster card retailers, like local shops, and from the ticket office at tube station.

The Hornsey and Wood Green MP has written to the London Mayor, Transport for London and First Capital Connect, to demand that the OEP system be dropped and for a simpler system to be introduced.

Lynne Featherstone MP comments:

“It’s great that we will finally be able to swipe in with Oyster Pay As You Go from January. This is long-awaited news and will make it easier for residents to use the trains.

“But sadly the system that the Mayor has negotiated with the train companies is unwieldy, confusing and overcomplicated. The idea of this Oyster Extension Permit is frankly ludicrous.

“I have raised this issue with the Mayor, TfL and the train company. Hopefully this absurd idea can be dropped.”

Cllr Martin Newton, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, adds:

“If you have to travel outside the zones paid for with your Oyster travel-card, you first need to go to a shop or a tube station to get this electronic permit. That means an extra trip and extra complication, and goes against the logic of using Oyster – which is meant to provide easier ticketing.”

Gissa Ticket!

YouTube film screenshot - Lynne FeatherstoneHere’s my latest Ham & High column:

A few days ago I met the new CEO of First Capital Connect, the train company which services much of Haringey. I talked to Jim Morgan in particular about the issues arising from their cut backs to ticket office opening hours at Hornsey, Bowes Park, Alexandra Palace and Harringay stations.

Although the previous campaigning by myself and residents helped reduce the extent of the cuts, the opening hours have still been severely reduced. A local resident contacted me about long queues at ticket machines when the ticket offices are closed. Imagine how cross it makes you when you are running for a train – and you have to miss it because of even one or two people buying tickets at the machine. Mind you, that is when the ticket machines are working – and as if on cue when I turned up to film a clip for YouTube about the problems, the ticket machine at Harringay was out of order and the ticket office closed!

When the machine is out of order you’re forced to travel without a ticket which means at best having to explain at the other end that the machine is not working and at worst that they try and give you a penalty fare. It’s a far too common bane of contemporary life – people who want to obey the law find obstacles put in their way because the authorities (rail company in this case) doesn’t do its end of the deal.

Please watch the YouTube clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWMbZAxF4U8 – it really demonstrates the problem. In it I also highlight the problems with signs at Alexandra Palace Station. At both Alexandra Palace Station and at Harringay station there aren’t signs in the places that you need them to tell you where to buy a ticket – whether from the ticket office or machines. If you know the stations and know where to go, that is fine. But woe betide the irregular or new traveller, particularly in the dark. You can be left hunting around, up stair and down stair, over platform and along platform for the place to hand over your money – with buggy, children, luggage. How helpful is that?

Imagine a shop behaving like that – hiding away without signs where you pay your money!

So – one message to Mr Morgan was to get the signs improved. On the reliability of the ticket machines – he told me that they were very expensive and didn’t break down very often. Given my visit to film the YouTube video found that the only machine was indeed ‘out of service’ I have asked him to supply me with figures for numbers of hours / days when the Harringay Station ticket machine has been out of service over the last year. We will see whether I just had bad luck or whether ‘not very often’ is actually rather often!

More positively on the signs, for Alexandra Palace Station he agreed with me about the problem and is going to investigate what can be done – including repairing the only sign that is easily visible from one direction – but points completely the wrong way! On the Harringay signs – well, that is really a symptom of the ticket machine being on one platform and so out of the way for people using the other platform. So he’s going to first look at the location of that machine.

When First Capital Connect reduced the opening hours of the ticket offices, they agreed to monitor how the changes at the stations in Hornsey & Wood Green were affected during an eight week period. That time is now up – and I asked Mr Morgan for the results of that monitoring. He did not have the figures to hand but said that they had ‘monitored’ queuing times and volume of sales were still in steady decline. However he said they would not be reducing the hours any further. I should hope not! He said the report would be finalised by the end of next month.

Finally, of course I asked him how Oyster Pay-As-You-Go was going. We’ve been long promised that it would be made available for the train services that serve these stations – but we’re still waiting. Jim Morgan told me, “I am very optimistic that the Train Operating Companies will start accepting Oyster PAYG early in the New Year”. Let’s hope his ‘optimism’ is well founded – but I will be nagging between now and then to make sure that doesn’t change! We’ve waited (as have the installed machines) far too long for TfLand First Capital Connect to get their act together on making life easier for us passengers.

If you’ve got any views on these issues – or other ones related to those train stations – do let me know, particularly as I will be regularly checking with Jim Morgan to make sure the promised progress happened. You can email lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org or write to me at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Travel watchdog backs campaign against station cuts

Update on the dreadful threat from First Capital Connect to cut the hours that ticket offices are open at Hornsey, Alexandra, Bowes Park and Harringay stations (amongst others). Haringey’s stations in total, if First Capital’s plans were to go forward, would see a reduction of 112 hours.

So many of you (and thank you) made representations to TravelWatch and Passenger Focus that Travelwatch (representing both these travel watchdogs) has now sent formal objections to First Capital Connect. Hornsey station was one of the ones that received the largest amount of objections out of the 49 stations that First Capital Connect are targeting.

First Capital Connect, who runs the line north of Finsbury Park, will now consider the objections and respond to the watchdog with an amended proposal.

We need more staff and more hours – not less. Our local stations were designed in a different era. They have long platforms that curve and make sight lines very difficult. And whilst there are CCTV cameras – they don’t really deter and they certainly don’t come to your aid if you are in trouble. It is human beings that can do that!

I just hope that First Capital Connect will now take the strong local objections on board, and drop the proposal:

[Direct YouTube link here – where you can also comment on and rate the clip.]