Regular readers know that I've had a particular bug-bear with the fact that Pre Pay Oystercards currently aren't accepted on National Rail Stations in London. Even on a line like the North London Link or Silverlink or whatever it's called these days, which is wholly within zones 1-6 - you can't use Oystercard Pre Pay.
It means that people (like myself) who live in London but travel partly or wholly by National Rail, can't take advantage of the lowest fares, which Sheriff Ken uses to bribe people into using Pre-Pay. Yesterday "Transport for London agreed to pay for Oyster validation equipment to be provided for all London rail stations in Zones 1 - 6". This is going to cost TfL (or rather us, at the end of the day) £19million.
But why exactly has it taken so long? There have been all sorts of arguments surrounding the use of the pre-pay on National Rail. You might remember when TfL's "Faster, Smarter, Easier, Oystercard" ad campaign had to be pulled because it breached the advertising code. "The ASA pointed out that passengers would have to buy an extra ticket to travel on National Rail routes not covered by Oyster."
For quite some time Ken has claimed that he had offered to pay National Rail for the various readers required for Oystercards and that National rail turned the offer down. To me this made no sense. Firstly, because Oystercard readers already exist at a lot of National Rail stations, for non Pre Pay cards. Surely all that was needed was a slight change in the programming so the readers could be used for Pre-Pay?
Secondly, why on earth would National Rail turn down his offer? It means they get money up front from the pre-pay element (slightly less money admittedly - but if you balance that against the interest they would be making with these reserves in the bank, I reckon they'd be quids in).
There's a huge amount of spin in Ken's press release trumpeting the success of the "significant breakthrough", but not a lot of substance, and no explanation as to why this didn't happen before.
Here's the timing in a nutshell: "The introduction of Oyster technology could start this year at gated stations and once worked through with train operators, Oyster pay-as-you-go could be available at National Rail stations in London during 2008." Nice and specific then!
The release continues: "Currently there are only 60 London National Rail stations where passengers can use Pay-as-you-go. The total number of stations in London zones 1-6 is 310." Why is it being called 'Pay as you go' now and not 'Pre-Pay'?
"Transport for London introduced the Oyster card in 2003 to speed up passage through Tube gates and boarding buses. Oyster allows 40 people per minute to pass through gates, 15 more than those with magnetic stripe tickets."
I'm still amazed by these figures as I really can't see how paper travel cards are that much slower - well that's if you have your travel card ready. I know that Oystercards can apparently be read through pockets and bags, but I very, very, rarely see people using them this way. People seem to prefer to "touch in" by placing their cards directly onto the readers.
Anyway, they're my opinions and I'd be interested to hear yours. Hopefully, some of you will be able to take advantage of Pre-Pay, sorry Pay As You Go, when it eventually comes into force. Or perhaps you might think us partial National Rail users were making a fuss about nothing and resent the 19 million quid being spent on this.