Did Southeastern overcharge your Oyster at Blackheath fireworks?

An e-mail from Carys, who visited Blackheath fireworks with her partner two weeks ago – but found that, thanks to our favourite rail company, it cost them more than they bargained for…

Not sure if this is something you would cover and might be a bit after the event now but on Guy Fawkes my partner and I travelled to Blackheath from London Bridge for the firework display.

Apart from the shoddy service from Southeastern that saw far too short trains used for the event – resulting in small children getting crushed at London Bridge as people fought to get on trains – they also managed to con lots of Londoners out of cash.

I have Oyster PAYG. I touched in at London Bridge and tried to touch out at Blackheath, however the readers were taped over and marshals were stopping people using the readers claiming we would be charged a standard fee. Naively we didn’t argue but as you can imagine we have been charged for an incomplete journey.

I know a lot of people do not check their cards but I imagine a high number of people were also affected.

Not sure if it is something you would cover but thought I would let you know as I have read a number of articles of yours on Southeastern in the past.

Oh dear. So even if just 1,000 people were waved through at Blackheath a fortnight ago, that’s a cool £4,500 profit for Southeastern on this (the “maximum fare” is £6.50, and it’s £2 single from London Bridge to Blackheath).

Oyster overcharging’s been a hot political topic – in the year after the little blue cards became valid on mainline trains, the private companies which run them netted £26 million from people who either forgot to touch out, were unable to, or were caught in a delay which meant a maximum fare was unavailable. (My own tip – never touch in until you’re absolutely sure the train is coming.)

There is a system which allows for big events, so if you travel to station X and can’t touch out, but return via station X and touch in, it’ll simply auto-complete your journey so you don’t get overcharged. It’s used for big football matches – but seems not to have been used for an event which attracts 100,000 people.

But what was going on at Blackheath? Why were the Oyster readers taped over? Whose marshals were they at the station? (Southeastern? Lewisham Council?) And will Carys get her money back?

Now, of course, I could ring Southeastern to get their side of the story, but remember, they don’t “respond to blogs, etc”, so we’ll have to go without that. In the meantime, the best I can advise is to ring the Oyster helpline 0845 330 9876 to get it refunded, ask them to send you a statement of your recent Oyster usage, and then make your feelings very clear to Southeastern, London Travelwatch, the London Assembly member of your choice (who can raise it with the mayor) and Lewisham Council, which runs the display.

And, of course, let me know how you get on…


  1. I recently attended Disability Capital at the ExCel. None of the Oyster readers at Canning Town were working so everybody who came by DLR was unable to touch out. Not only was Boris Johnson consistently heckled by some of the audience for failing the disabled, he had to make an apology for his (“I am TfL”) Oyster readers, said that he would “sort it out” and we wouldn’t be charged the penalty fare. On my return to Waterloo, I checked my Oyster history on one of the ticket machines and it hadn’t been “sorted out”. When I went to the ticket window, I was obviously one of many who’d had the same problem and the bloke said it should’ve been adjusted automatically; he checked, it hadn’t.

  2. This happened to my step-mum. She asked staff(?) at Blackheath station what she should do and they said it would be fine when she tapped in on her return journey. Looking for somewhere to eat after the fireworks she ended up heading to Lewisham as Blackheath was so busy. When she tapped in at Lewisham station to go home, she was charged the penalty fare for an incomplete journey. She complained to Oyster and was refunded the extra amount without any argument. What irked my step-mum the most was that as her station (Bexleyheath) is often unstaffed in the evenings, she could have gotten away with not tapping in at all but being the honest person she is, she did. Let’s just hope TfL claim the money back from Southeastern!

  3. I’ve spoken to Transport For London who explained that according to their records nobody requested in advance of the event for the reader settings to be changed so that deductions would only be made for actual cost of the outward journey upon touching in for the return journey. It appears that Southeastern took the decision to block access to the readers on the day without contacting TFL beforehand, but I am waiting to hear Southeastern’s response to this and the issue of the inadequate train service on that day.

    I have also asked Lewisham’s community events team to give notice to both TFL and Southeastern of next year’s fireworks events (currently pencilled in for Saturday, 3 November 2012).

    In the meantime, TFL confirmed that Carys and others in her position should get a refund by calling 0845 330 9876 or email oysterenquiries@tfl.gov.uk This obviously should have been an unnecessary call on passengers’ and TFL’s time, so let’s hope there’s better foresight for next year.

  4. This happened to some friends who were coming down from a day out in central London to meet me at the event. They were told they would only be charged the normal fare and not to worry about touching-out. Having seen this I prompted them to check and they’d all been overcharged. Refunds are now on their way, I believe. Thanks for the info!

  5. This was exactly the same last year. Trains running upwards from Dartford were only of four carriages. By the time they got to Eltham nobody could get on. I contacted SouthEastern trains myself and they told my they “could not respond to local demands for one off events”.

  6. God Southeastern you really do excel yourself at times! What a robbing bunch of scheisters!

  7. OK so now I’ve got Southeastern’s take on what happened (or at least from a consultant working on their major event plans):

    “We did have an agreement with TfL that people would not be overcharged. This required TfL to run a process on the Monday to autocomplete all uncompleted journeys (i.e. ones which were not touched in/out at one end) to Blackheath. Unfortunately this did not happen until the Tuesday which means that anyone checking their balance on Monday will have seen a charge for the maximum amount for the journey. As far as I know the process ran on Tuesday and everything should have been corrected. If anyone still has an issue then they will need to take it up with TfL as unfortunately we have no access to the Oyster system.”

    So apparently all sorted by the Tuesday (though not clear where the cock-up came from). I suspect that may not be true for everyone affected, in which case I’m afraid it’s back to TFL (details in my earlier post). I’m also surprised the autocomplete couldn’t have been applied on the day. It’s not as if we get Oyster-free Sundays!

  8. If I can just take up that last point from Kevin and offer an explanation. The data from all the readers in the Oyster system is uploaded to the central database overnight. Only then can the system compare records of journeys made and decide whether it is likely that an incomplete journey is explained by an event issue. When it has decided that this is the case it then has to schedule a refund to go to your appropriate station. This is also an overnight process and occurs the following night. If the analysis of Oyster journeys takes a long time then it can be up to five days later before the refund is ready to be picked up.

    There is no communication between the central database and the station at the time of touch in or out because that would take far too long. The reader has to accomplish several tasks in the fracton of a second that the card is touched on it. There is no time to examine previous journeys or anything like that. At each touch in the reader checks the blacklist, applies any refunds queued, checks the balance, applies auto top-up if it is due, clears an incomplete journey from the latest slot or joins the previous journey if the touch in signals a continuation after out of station interchange or logs the start of the journey and decides what the appropriate entry charge to deduct is. At each touch out the reader applies any refunds queued, checks the time taken since the last touch in and calculates the correct journey charge taking account of routes, discounts and travel caps and applies the appropriate adjustment to the balance. There simply isn’t enough time to analyse anything else.

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