The London Underground - Why everyone needs an Oyster card

kev By kev, 10th Feb 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Europe>England>London & Around

The London Underground is a great way to get around but using cash to pay for it can damage your finances. Find out how the Oyster card will save you money, plus, what to do if it doesn't work!

A bad experience.

As an occasional visitor to London, I was horrified to find myself paying £4.00 for a single short journey on the tube last year. I noticed other passengers tapping a yellow circle on the ticket gate with, what looked like, a credit card and the gate would open. What was going on?

A good experience.

Upon returning home, I visited the Transport for London website and discovered the Oyster card. With this, you charge it up with cash on a pay as you go basis, in advance of travel. This can be done online with your credit/debit card after a simple registration procedure - the card is posted to you.

Upon my next visit to London, I paid only £1.60 per journey. Avoiding the queues at the ticket machines, I almost felt like a local, as I tapped my Oyster card on the, now familiar, yellow card reader and sailed throught the gate.

A mixed experience.

Flushed with the success of my first Oyster card experience, I duly charged up my card with some cash, in advance of my third visit. The Oyster website told me that the top up would be activated upon entry at my designated ticket gate by tapping the yellow card reader.

Then horrors - my card worked but my wife's didn't. The station gate staff said I would have to phone the Oyster helpline to sort the problem. So there was I on the exit side of the gate, my wife on the entry side, and with the prospect of have to pay £4.00 per journey.

All's well that ends well.

I suggested to the tube station gate staff that we try topping up our Oyster cards at the nearby machine - this was duly organised for me and the rest of our Underground travels went - mostly - without incident. We had the occasional stubborn gate that wouldn't open but just tried a different one with success.

Once home again, I phoned the TFL helpline and they could see from our records that the designated gate did not activate our top ups. (My card had a small balance on it from my previous visit, hence the gate let me through, but my wife had no balance and was therefore blocked).

The Oyster helpline lady was most apologetic and said that refunds would be made soon. The fault was probably to do with the line to the gate.

My blood pressure is now back to normal.

Having carefully planned and read all the small print on the Oyster website, I was quite angry about the technical failure and the lack a solution from the station staff. But I would still recommend the Oyster card to anyone for the considerable savings to be made. At a whopping £4.00 for tickets bought with cash, the current price of £1.80 per journey for Oyster card payments is quite a bargain.

p.s. Longer journeys at peak times can cost more e.g. £4.50 cash anytime £4.20 Oyster peak £2.40 Oyster off peak - check the website. It's also a good idea to check the journey planner for planned engineering works.

p.p.s. There is a special card for overseas visitors.


England, London, London Underground, Oyster, Oyster Card, Tfl, Transport For London, Travel, Travel Tips, Tube

Meet the author

author avatar kev
I'll try not to make my writing too cathartic but it does you good to get things off your chest. I was lucky enough to retire early. I like preservation railways & books.

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author avatar Kev
12th Feb 2010 (#)

My love affair with the Oyster card caused me to forget to mention the Day Travelcard which may suit some people better in some circumstances - see the website.

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author avatar Retired
26th Jul 2010 (#)

Thanks for sharing

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