Don’t Re-zone Maryland Station: Pt. 2, Fare’s Unfair

In my last post, I asserted that re-zoning Maryland station was unfair because it spends public money in a way that benefits landowners and harms private renters, particularly poorer ones.

In this post I want to show how London has a very unfair ticketing system, and that Maryland overall gets a very good deal out of it.

Single Fares

Changing between bus and the train

If you live so far away from your nearest train station that you need to get the bus, you’ll pay through the nose. If you need to get one bus to the station in the morning and one bus back, that’s an extra £3, every day.

Residents of Maryland don’t need to get the bus to Stratford, because they have their own station. If they choose to use it, they only need to pay an extra 10p off peak, or 40p during rush hour. A bargain compared to £1.50 for the bus, if they don’t have time for the 10 minute walk.

You can be charged different amounts for rail journeys covering the same zones

It’s true! Maryland to Mile End, off peak, costs £1.50 on Oyster. Bellingham to Nunhead, £2.00! Both journeys only cover zones 2 and 3. What’s going on?

When Oyster was first introduced in 2003, it wasn’t valid on many National Rail train services. Most operators held out for 6 years, until 2009, before negotiating a deal that allowed them to charge higher fares than the London Underground.

If you do want to travel from Bellingham to Nunhead, there are only two trains an hour. Maryland gets six trains an hour at the moment, and will get 16 an hour once Crossrail arrives. The people of Bellingham pay 25% more for a service with three times fewer trains!

Re-zoning Maryland would take money that could be used for improving other services in London and put it in the pockets of travellers getting amongst the best services in the city.

Not everyone can avoid Zone 1, even if they don’t want to go there

I hope you all know that avoiding zone 1 can save you a fortune. Just knowing that can save you a lot more than having your local station’s zone changed.

Paying TfL fares any journey between zones 2 and 6 costs only £1.50 off-peak or £1.70 at rush hour. Because of the excellent London Overground services, it’s really easy to avoid Zone 1 from East London. Richmond, Watford or Hampstead Heath? No need to go through Zone 1 from Maryland.

Other parts of London, the South in particular, have much fewer options for going across London, meaning that users can face an expensive and inconvenient trip into town and then back out again. I once had to commute from Catford to Tolworth, there wasn’t a reasonable way to avoid zone 1, so I needed a zone 1-6 travelcard for a trip that could have only used zones 3-6 if there had been a direct route. Ouch.

Caps and Day Travelcards

Outer Londoners are Punished for Local Travel

For many years there used to be a Zone 2-6 day Travelcard and Oyster cap. This meant that people taking a lot of local journeys could get a reasonable, low priced fare for these travels. It was scrapped in 2010, leaving people at the mercy of caps that always included zone 1.

This means that people making a lot of local journeys are charged more the further away from zone 1 they live. If you spend all day travelling on trains in Zone 6, you will only benefit from the Zone 1-6 fare cap – which costs £11.80. If you spend all day travelling in zones 2 and 3, you’ll benefit from the Zone 1-3 cap, this costs £7.60.

This is doubly unfair, because outer London services are also likely to be less regular, more thinly spread and less interconnected than services further in. Not only do people get charged more for local journeys depending on where they live, those who get the worst service tend to be charged more.

Season Tickets

People who can pay up-front get charged much less

Some people can get an interest free season ticket loan from work, or have enough money sitting around to buy an annual travelcard. Others don’t. An annual travelcard is much cheaper than tickets covering shorter periods. The more money you can pay at once, the bigger the discount you get.

You could argue that paying for your fare up-front is a loan to TfL. If it is, it’s a very expensive one:

A year’s worth of weekly 1-3 Travelcards is about £1981.43, while an annual 1-3 Travelcard costs £1520. I make the ‘interest’ on that investment at just over 30% a year. Try getting that down the bank.

Conclusion: Looking out for Number One

I hope that this post has made the residents of Maryland feel a bit better. You’re benefiting from a massive public investment, and you really get a pretty good deal on the price, particularly if you’ve access to the money and stability needed to invest in an annual travelcard and live near enough the station not to need to take the bus to get there.

It is also clear that the fare system is horrifically broken, and the whole thing needs to be fixed. What won’t help is if, area by area, people campaign for their own self interest. Maybe Ellie Robinson can whisper in Sadiq Khan’s ear about just how good he could look if he fixed this mess.

I don’t know how this happened, and would love to read research about how it did, but I do have a theory:

Generation upon generation of politicians. As far as a ruthless politician is concerned, the fare system needs to do two things – get enough money coming in, and please enough of the right people without angering too many people who matter. Tiny change by tiny change, we end up with a fare system that rewards the strong and punishes the weak.

Remember that if a politician comes to your door promising to campaign to re-zone Maryland station.

Don’t re-zone Maryland: Part 1, Whose money is it?

Here’s a post that won’t make me popular. A lot of people, possibly well intentioned people, are campaigning to have Maryland Station moved from zone 3 to zone 2. The argument is one of fairness, why should people who live in one part of Stratford pay more for their transport than people in another, particularly when some of them are deprived? Because re-zoning would be deeply unfair, and hurt Maryland’s poorest residents the most.

Who gets whose money?

When you buy a travelcard, or use contactless or an oyster card to make a payment, your money goes to TfL, who then use that money to commission the services you use. That income from fares doesn’t cover TfL’s costs. If TfL had to live only on the money it got from fares and other operational income, like the congestion charge, it would be operating at a massive loss: £1489000000 in 2014/15 alone just to run services day-to-day.

The gap is made up by various grants from government. After these grants, it had a healthy surplus of £224 million in 2014/15, which it could plough back into the services it runs. The services that TfL runs are resolutely public, to help people live lives and conduct business in London. It has a moral duty to ensure that the services it runs serve the public good. Rezoning Maryland would not serve the public good, because it would give money to the people who least need it.

While there may be many deprived residents of Maryland right now, that could change very fast. Around 40% of residents who lived within walking distance of Maryland station rent privately. Private tenants have very little protection from rent rises, and can be booted out and replaced at two months notice. If TfL rezones Maryland Station, saving its users £224 a year, what’s to stop the landlord simply adding it on to the rent? Not much.

It’s worse than that, because a lot of people are under the impression that ‘Zone 2’ means a lot more than how much your fares cost. People post adverts looking for “a room in zone 2”. This was a big part of the reason why the stations serving E20 were rezoned, to absorb that cachet. The Centre For London Report which promped that decision stated that it’s Zone 3 status promoted the idea that Stratford was “suburban, distant and undesirable”. For this reason, I suspect that rezoning Maryland has the potential to increase rents by much more than the fare discount.

Let’s set aside how fair that decision was and restrict ourselves, for now, to the impact of a decision to re-zone Maryland. In a deprived area with a lot of private rent, increasing the overall rent burden beyond any fare saving is going to cause those people to leave or suffer. If they don’t work in Central London, they’re unlikely to even save anything in travel, given that outer london single fares are a flat £1.50.

Who gains? Property owners. If you have a property that you can rent our or sell for more you’re on to a winner. If you don’t intend to rent out or sell up, you still get a nice little fare discount … and maybe some nice trendy shops to appeal to all those people who can afford to live in Zone 2.

Fair? Hardly. Re-zoning Maryland would be a simple transfer of money from government grants and fares from other parts of London, into the pockets of people who own property near Maryland station.

In part two I’ll examine just how unfair the whole London fare system is, and how Maryland is actually doing pretty well on the deal.