Transport for London

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Public transport (Transport for London) is ridiculously expensive in London and there are plenty of ways to avoid paying for it (of course it's at your own risk!). Look out for the new bendy buses, where you don't have to pay the driver.

As for travelcards you can buy a child one for £3.20 (off-peak), which will get you through barriers on the tube. In the evenings, you can often pick them up off the floor outside stations or buy them from a tout for a pound or two. At British Rail stations you can often buy a 'permit to travel' for 5p when the ticket office is closed, which means if you get caught you will only be charged the fare of your journey and not fined (the penalty fare is a steep £80 at present - 2012). Though the price of transport in London gets similar to any other Continental European Metropolitan Standard when you use an Oyster Card.

Oyster card

The Transport for London's policy in the recent years has been the elimination of normal paper tickets ("cash single fares") and replacing them with so-called Oyster cards.

An Oyster card is a smart (RFID) card which you need to touch on the reader at the gates/station platform/bus when you travel. It can be charged with two types of tickets: a period travelcard (one week or more), or a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) balance. As a hitch-hiker, you are most likely to need the latter option.

The cash fares are now a lot more expensive than tickets on Oyster (a bus fare costs only £1.50 on Oyster, and buses no longer accept cash fares); the off-peak tube travel within the first six zones varies from £2.40 to £3.10 on Oyster, but is fixed at a steep £4.90 to £6 for a paper ticket).

In order to obtain an Oyster card or top it up, go to any London Underground ticket office or any ticket shop (most likely any corner shop near an underground station will do.) It costs £5 (refundable when you return the card to any London Underground ticket office). In London Underground you can also top-up using special machines.

An additional benefit of the Oyster card is the price capping: for example, a peak/off-peak one-day travelcard for zones 1-4 costs £12.10 whereas the daily peak/off-peak price cap with an Oyster card for zones 1-4 is £9.30.

The cheapest option of course remains using the bus. The Oyster stops charging you once you have reached £4.50 which is the equivalent of 3 bus rides. If you keep using the bus for the remainder of the day, the price for these journeys are not debited from your card once you touch in. (Note that a one-day paper bus pass costs £5). A week bus pass will cost you £21.20. All passes include unlimited bus travel.

If you plan on staying in London for a little while but do not necessarily live in Zone 1, one option can be to get a Zone 2-3 week pass instead. The Zone 2-3 weekly pass costs £24.30 and enables you to take all DLR/Overground/Underground within those zones; crossing or travelling through zone 1 can therefore be done by bus (or can by-passed by using the Overground)

Travelling by bus or tram

When travelling by bus, you usually touch the reader next to the driver at the start of your journey only (touch in). In bendy buses there are also readers by the middle and rear sets of doors - these are the most popular among people not paying for bus travel. In double-decker buses the middle doors are for exit only, and you won't be let in through them.

If you travel by tram, you need to touch in on the platform, except Wimbledon station which has gates. The ticket inspectors are not always present on trams.

The cheapest option of course remains using the bus. The Oyster stops charging you once you have reached £4.50 which is the equivalent of 3 bus rides. If you keep using the bus for the remainder of the day, these additional journeys are not debited from your card once you touch in. A week bus pass will cost you £21.20, note that every pass includes unlimited bus travel.

Travelling by Tube or DLR

When using Oyster PAYG, you need to touch in before travel - at the gates if they are present, or at the station platform if it does not have gates (Kensington Olympia, stations north of Queen's Park and most DLR stations). At the end of your journey you touch out, the system calculates how much you've travelled and charges you accordingly. If you do not touch out, you get charged a "maximum cash single fare" (also known as the Entry Charge), which was £8.40 in 2016.

You will be charged the Entry Charge if you do not touch out within 90 minutes of touching in, or you enter a station and exit the same station again without touching out elsewhere.

The DLR is regularly checked (hourly), either at station or at by the 'train staff' since the train is always manned. So even if it does look easy it might not be the best option to attempt.

Tube station are always manned with a guard in uniform at the gates being there to help, although they do have the right to stop you to request to see your ticket. Also, only a few stations don't have any gates, although before 6am and late at night (after 9pm) or late on Sunday (after 7pm), it may happen that several stations have their gates open but this is quite exclusively apply to any Tube station further Zone 2 or train stations. The Tube Train are seldom controlled although they can be controlled anytime by a Metropolitan Transport Controller in plain civilian clothes which can be of any style.

Travelling by National Rail/Overground Services

Please note that as of January 2008 very few National Rail stations accept Pay-as-you-go on Oyster. The full list can be found here.

If the station you are travelling to does not accept pay-as-you-go, it is likely that it has no ticket barriers either.

Most stations and trains within the Greater London boundary have a penalty fare policy, which means you cannot buy a tickets on the train, unless it was impossible to obtain a ticket prior to travel - i.e. the ticket office was closed (or absent), or the ticket machine was out of order. In these situations you must obtain a "Permit to travel" from a Permit to Travel machine - you can just throw a 5p coin into it and get this permit.

The Overground Train is the most recent service development (based on old infrastructure) which is helping creating a quick by-pass around Central London (although South London is not yet connected). The majority of the service is in Zone 2 connecting from Richmond/Wimbledon northwards to Willesden Junction eastwards to Camden/Hackney and then southwards again to the DLR and New Cross/Croydon. Oyster 'Pay as you go' are accepted on these services.

One bus away from ...

It is often possible to travel within one bus ride from most major area of Central London to your destination in another part of the city or sometimes even Greater London. This section is more meant for those trying to keep a budget at minimum and eventually not minding the time spent in transportation (bus takes longer) or not minding walking a few minutes to reach your destination. Note that there is hardly any bus going through Central London.

Many buses run 24h, some of them runs a longer services during the night as matter to completed some destinations serviced only during the day. Such night buses are usually coupled with the letter 'N' before the service number. Buses running normal service usually resume around midnight.

West End/West London

From Victoria
  • 170 to Battersea/Clapham Junction/Wandsworth/Putney/Roehampton
  • 38 to Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road/Finsbury/Islington/Hackney/Clapton (24h) to (Leyton/Walthamstow)
From Marble Arch/Hyde Park Corner
From Hammersmith
From Paddington
Main West London Lines

Centre to West or North-South in the West

  • 6 between Aldwych and Willesden (Piccadilly/Oxford Circus/Marble Arch/Edgware Road/Kensal Rise)
  • 7/N7 between Russel Square and East Acton (Tottenham Court Road/Marble Arch/Paddington) 24h (Acton/Ealing/Northolt)
  • 9/N9 between Aldwych and Hammersmith (Piccadilly/Hyde Park Corner/Knightsbridge) 24h (Turnham Green/Isleworth/Hounslow/Heathrow Airport)
  • 10/N10 between King's Cross and Hammersmith (Warren Street/Oxford Street/Marble Arch/Hyde Park Corner/Knightsbridge) 24h (Putney/Richmond)
  • 11/N11 between Liverpool Street and Fulham (Bank/Aldwych/Trafalgar/Victoria/Chelsea) 24h (Hammersmith/Turnham Green/Acton/West Ealing/Perivale/Wembley)
  • 28/N28 between Wandsworth and Kensal Rise (Fulham/Kensington/Notting Hill) 24h (Kilburn/Swiss Cottage/Camden Town)
  • 14 between Putney Heath and Euston (Fulham/Kensington/Hyde Park Corner/Piccadilly Circus/Tottenham Court Road) 24h
  • 74 between Putney and Baker Street (Fulham/Earl's Court/Knightsbridge/Marble Arch) 24h
  • 220 between Willesden Junction and Wandsworth (Harlesden/White City/Sheperds Bush/Hammersmith/Putney) 24h

Central

From Aldwych
From Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Circus
From Waterloo/Charing Cross
From Trafalgar/Piccadilly
  • 6 towards Aldwych or Willesden (Oxford Circus/Marble Arch/Edgware Road/Kensal Rise) 24h
  • 12 towards Dulwich or Oxford Circus 24h
  • 14 towards Putney Heath or Euston (Putney/Fulham/Kensington/Hyde Park Corner/Tottenham Court Road) 24h
  • 23 towards Liverpool Street or Westbourne Park 24h

East End

From Liverpool Street
Main East London Lines

Centre to East or North-South in the East

  • 15 between Paddington and Blackwall (Marble Arch/Oxford Circus/Piccadilly/Aldwych/St. Pauls Cathedral/Tower Hill)

North London

From Euston/King's Cross-St.Pancras
Main North London Lines

Centre to North or East-West in the North

  • 8 between Victoria and Bow (Hyde Park Corner/Oxford Circus/Holborn/Liverpool Street)
  • 13 between Aldwych and Golders Green (Piccadilly/Oxford Circus/Baker Street)
  • 24 between Pimlico/Vauxhall to Hampstead Heath (Victoria/Trafalgar/Tottenham Court Road/Euston/Camden Town)
  • 38 between Victoria and Hackney (Tottenham Court Road/Islington/Clapton (24h) (Leyton/Walthamstow)
  • 43 Between London Bridge and Barnet (Bank/Old Street/Islington)
  • 73 between Victoria and Seven Sisters (Hyde Park Corner/Marble Arch/Tottenham Court Road/King's Cross/Islington)
  • 139 between Waterloo and West Hampstead (Aldwych/Piccadilly/Oxford Circus/Baker Street)
  • 390 between Notting Hill and Archway (Marble Arch/Tottenham Court Road/Euston)


South Thames

From Vauxhall
From London Bridge
From Elephant&Castle
Main South London Lines

Centre to South or East-West in the South

  • 12 between Oxford Circus and Dulwich (Piccadilly/Westminster/Elephant&Castle)
  • 37 between Peckham and Putney Heath (Southwark/Brixton/Clapham/Wandsworth) 24h
  • 85 between Kingston and Putney (Roehampton) 24h
  • 159 between Marble Arch and Streatham (Oxford Circus/Piccadilly/Westminster/Kennington)
  • 188 between Russel Square and North Greenwich (Holborn/Aldwych/Waterloo/Elephant&Castle/Tower Bridge Road)
  • 453 between Marylebone and Deptford (Baker Street/Oxford Circus/Piccadilly/Westminster/Elephant&Castle)