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

You should be able to use Oyster on trains north of Finsbury Park

Extending the use of Oyster to First Capital Connect’s overground train services running north out of Finsbury Park is the subject of my latest local column:

To us public transport users in London it seems as plain as the nose on our faces that Oyster should be extended to our local overground rail (and everywhere actually) – so we can go boldly and easily wherever we choose! But no – we still have to put up with a two-tier ticket system if we want to use our local overground stations like Alexandra Palace and Haringey.

We are stalled because First Capital Connect are holding back from extending Oyster north of Finsbury Park station. Having to get separate tickets to travel in the same city is akin to Soviet-style bureaucracy – not what you expect in a world-class city like London.

These days we’re no long train travellers but customers – but whatever then happened to putting the customer first? This sort of bureaucratic small mindedness does rather make a mockery of their slogan, “Your Journey, Your Choice, Your Railway” – but not “Your Convenience” or “Your choice of ticketing” it would seem.

Other train operators like First Great Western and South West Trains have already committed to making their passengers happy and will install the Oyster pay-as-you-go system in the next year – and they are putting First Capital Connect to shame.

Recently I met with the Oyster specialists Cubic – who delivered Oyster for our tubes and buses – at Alexandra Palace overground station and they are keen as mustard to get on with it. So I’ve written to First Capital Connect calling on them to get on with it – and you can too at Freepost RRBRREEJKTKY, First Capital Connect, Customer Relations Department, PO Box 443, Plymouth, PL4 6WP.

But before you do – you can read the rest of the piece here.

A quick round-up of press coverage

Hornsey Journal – have picked up the story of Mrs Kelly and the NHS’s failure to properly provide for her health care.

It’s also covered the Crouch End Fun Run and my calls for simpler ticket systems for local train travellers.

York Press – have covered my visit to York last Friday.

The Charities Aid Foundation have picked up on my comments about China’s response to its awful earthquake.

Should Oyster go national?

Met with Cubic – the company who deliver Oyster – yesterday. I met them at Alexandra Park Station where they said that Oyster compatibility for such train services would be coming to in mid 2009. Hurrah! Having a joined up system will bring much benefit to local travellers!

But their bigger quest is to get Oyster-compatible ticketing across the nation. Their problem – it is low on the Government’s priority list – and no one in the Government transport team seems to want to champion it, even though it would be cheaper and more effective in the long run to do it as a complete scheme now – rather than piecemeal as and when franchises come up.

Of course – Cubic have their own interests in seeing Oyster go national, but seeing the benefits it has brought to public transport use in London, it is in all our interests to see it spread.

Seeing the new Eurostar terminal

Visiting St Pancras Eurostar terminal with John LeechVisited St Pancras to see how the new Eurostar terminal is progressing.

LCR showed us the works. The opening is on November 14 – and I have to say, it is a very exciting new station. I love that they are using the high level standard and model of New York’s Grand Central.

So we will see a station the like of which we haven’t really seen before in this country. Proper boutique shops (like in airports), farmers’ market with fresh produce, eateries and the longest champagne bar. And trains!

Chelsfield's trains

All hell has broken loose in Chelsfield. Where’s Chelsfield? It’s a small rail station, just part Orpington – a commuter village where almost all the population rely on the train to link them to their work in Central London.

But the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has put out to consultation their plans to make the railways more “efficient”. In real terms they are proposing large cuts to the peak hour services.

As I travelled down to chair a meeting with local residents, I have to stand all the way. The driver announces that there are seats down the front of the train – so I make my way from the back towards the front. Three carriages on, I give up.

There are packed carriages with standing passengers everywhere and it is, in the end, impassable. If this is what it is like with 6 trains – no wonder life as Chelsfield has known it will end if they cut the numbers.

The meeting is packed with over 150 people. Simon Hughes (as LibDem spokesperson for London) is there, as is Chris Maines, the Leader of the Opposition on the local council, and Duncan Borrowman – the LibDem GLA candidate. We all agree, despite the fact that the LibDems have organised the meeting and form the panel – that all political parties need to act and stand together to fight these proposals.

A couple of hours later the meeting agrees to take it forward in a variety of ways. My role is to champion it at GLA level and respond to the SRA from the LibDem GLA group. There will be people counts at the station and representations at all levels.

The SRA are an outrageous body who seem to care nothing for regional needs and support unquestioningly the Train Operating Companies whose only interest is the profit from long-haul journeys. That’s why it is vital that London has its own Commuter Rail Authority. Peoples’ lives and life choices are based on the ability to travel into central London – but the SRA couldn’t care less. Given their constant failure to make any headway with our rail industry – their days must be numbered.

What’s more, Mayor Livingstone has singularly failed to get anything out of them with what powers he does have. We had all the players into a scrutiny of the Assembly Transport Committee last year and they assured us that the best way forward was to rely on the very good working relationship between the Mayor and the SRA.

But the ‘working relationship’ has delivered nothing but reduced rail services for London. Time the Mayor used his teeth and issued directions rather than guidance – which are the two powers he has under the GLA act – but he won’t!