Mind the gap: Southeastern passengers lose out again as fare rises outstrip TfL’s

Woolwich Elizabeth Line station
Elizabeth Line services from Woolwich are cheaper, faster and more frequent than the Southeastern services nearby

Passengers using the slow and infrequent Southeastern services from Woolwich Arsenal in rush hour will be paying 50p per trip more than those using the new Elizabeth Line from March, City Hall documents reveal.

Both TfL and National Rail fares will increase by 5.9 per cent on average from March 5. But the rises are being implemented differently across the two networks.

The pain will hit hardest of all in zone 6 stations like Erith, where it will be cheaper to take a bus to Abbey Wood and use the Elizabeth Line rather than use the rush-hour Southeastern service.

Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, announced the TfL increase earlier this month, but the full package was not signed off until last Thursday, as spotted by veteran London blogger Diamond Geezer.

The changes mean peak single Oyster and contactless fares will reach nearly £5 from stations including Plumstead, Eltham, Mottingham and New Eltham, as well as many trips from Abbey Wood.

Details of the peak-time fares (taken from this document)

Peak-time zone 1-4 fares will go up by 10p to £4.40 on TfL services – such as the Elizabeth Line from Woolwich or Abbey Wood, or DLR from Woolwich Arsenal. But National Rail services will go up 20p over the same distance, meaning Southeastern and Thameslink users from Woolwich Arsenal will be charged £4.90.

Off-peak fares are also going up 10p on TfL services, but by 20p on National Rail services; so Elizabeth Line users will pay £3.20 but Southeastern passengers will have to find £3.60 for their travel.

Southeastern, which is owned by the Westminster government, recently cut back its services through Woolwich. Together with Thameslink, it now offers just six trains per hour at an uneven frequency and no longer offers direct trains to Charing Cross.

By contrast, the cheaper Elizabeth Line not only offers eight trains per hour – due to increase to a maximum of 12 from May – but it is also quicker, taking just 20 minutes to reach the heart of the West End at Tottenham Court Road. Southeastern trains take half an hour to get to Cannon Street.

Woolwich Arsenal station
Woolwich Arsenal recently suffered a cut in its National Rail services

When Oyster was extended to London’s National Rail system in 2010, the fares were slightly lower than those charged on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway to account for the inferior service.

But years of fare rises imposed by the Westminster government meant the position was quickly reversed – a situation exacerbated by four years of fare freezes from Khan, who chairs TfL as mayor – and it is now almost always cheaper to take the Tube, DLR, London Overground or Elizabeth Line.

While Khan has chosen to implement larger fare rises in zones 1 and 2, TfL rises beyond the centre have mostly been held down to 10p. But National Rail fares within London are going up by as much as 40p in peak times.

Zone 1-3 National Rail fares – paid by passengers in Charlton, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Lee, among other stations – will also be 50p more expensive than their TfL equivalents at peak times (£4.20 vs £3.70), but the difference narrows to 10p in zone 2 (Greenwich, Deptford, Lewisham, New Cross).

For passengers in zone 6 Erith, it will actually be cheaper to catch a bus to Erith to use the Elizabeth Line from Abbey Wood in rush hour. Zone 1-6 National Rail peak fares will leap to £7.70, compared with the combined £6.15 cost of travelling via Abbey Wood. Passengers at an equivalent zone 6 TfL station – such as Uxbridge, in Boris Johnson’s constituency – will be expected to pay £5.60 for a similar trip into zone 1.

The yawning difference in fares risks tipping National Rail services into a spiral of decline in areas where passengers can reach alternative TfL services that offer a better service for a keener price.

Off-peak fare details (taken from this document)

Travellers using National Rail who switch to the Tube in zone 1 also effectively end up paying twice for their trip, as they are charged a “through fare” which can add up to £2.20 to their costs.

In 2016, Transport for London said that these factors were putting pressure on its own services – including the Jubilee Line from North Greenwich – when it lobbied to take over National Rail services within the capital.

“The suburban rail network is potentially underutilised and could deliver far more for passengers if major changes were made,” TfL said in its submission to Chris Grayling, then the Conservative transport secretary.

Grayling rejected the proposals out of hand. It later emerged that some years earlier, he had objected to putting rail services “in the clutches of a Labour mayor”. The proposals have not been revived since then.

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