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School Me: London Tube; Oyster card; Senior Railcard; and more


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#1 willem

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Posted 05 December 2017 - 06:54 PM

I read the thread that Ryan started two years ago (and shamelessly plagiarized his title). Since I'm less focused on regional rail and much less focused on travel to Scotland, I started a new thread.

 

Two of us, each over 60 (minimum age for the Senior Railcard), expect to fly into and out of Heathrow next year. We expect to spend a couple of weeks in London and a couple of weeks in England outside London. We expect to visit various cultural heritage sites, with points along Hadrian's Wall perhaps being some of the more remote.

 

On arrival, we plan to take the Piccadilly Line into London and then buy Senior Railcards, which I understand we cannot buy at Heathrow nor in advance for shipment to an ex-UK address. We also plan to buy pay as you go Oyster cards.

 

After using public transportation in London, we expect to rent a car to visit York, Newcastle upon Tyne, Swindon, Bath, Portsmouth, and many places on the way between those stops. We will each have an International Driver's Permit. We might want to take a train from Swindon to Bath and back because I understand that driving in Bath is an exercise in frustration.

 

Please point out errors in my plans and suggest ways to save money. Also, I have some more specific questions.

 

How do we link the Senior Railcard and the Oyster card so we get the discounted fares on the Tube? (I understand we cannot use the Senior Railcard during morning rush hour.) Is this the best plan for using the Tube in the London area? Can we and should we buy the Oyster cards now and have them shipped to a US address? Is there any way to get the discount associated with the Senior Railcard on the trip from Heathrow into London?

 

Is there any viable alternative to driving? In other words, I assume that taking the train to the various stops (including points between where we will spend nights) and trying to hire a driver just would not work.

 

Thanks for any help.



#2 caravanman

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 08:23 AM

Hi,

The senior railcard you mention is a card which is only valid on the main (non Underground) rail network, (think as similar to Amtrak.) You need to show proof of age to purchase, so your passport will be fine. You can buy these at any (non Underground) staffed rail station.

There is no way to use the senior pass on the London Underground system, it is a seperate item which would be of use only if you take trains to visit places of interest outside the London Underground area.

Sadly I have no experience of Oyster cards at all. I do know that one can use a debit card insted of an oyster card, to "touch on and touch off" at station barriers, and the fare is deducted automatically. I don't know if that would work with your USA cards, but I gather the fare is the same as with an Oyster card. I used my debit card to travel from Heathrow to St. Pancras on the piccadilly tube line a month or so back, and the cost was less than $4.50.

If you wish to take the train between cities, that would be an easy option, there are often very frequent train services. You can arrive in a city, sightsee next day, then move on again next morning, for example... a bit like the NE corridor in the USA...

What month do you intend to visit? I can give you more advice on obtaining the senior railcard discounts if you choose the train over the self drive option...

 

Ed.


Edited by caravanman, 06 December 2017 - 08:29 AM.


#3 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 08:34 AM

Just remember to only eat at Indian take outs. Genuine English food is completely inedible.
Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#4 caravanman

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 09:22 AM

Just remember to only eat at Indian take outs. Genuine English food is completely inedible.

 

Maybe that is why we live longer than Americans?

 

Ed.



#5 willem

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 10:10 AM

There is no way to use the senior pass on the London Underground system, it is a seperate item which would be of use only if you take trains to visit places of interest outside the London Underground area.


Thanks for the quick response, Ed. You would know better than I would, but let me cite what led me to believe it was good on the Underground. (I added the bold face to the existing text, and there are many more items on the linked page.)

 

Oyster Off-Peak pay as you go Daily Price Cap and Off-Peak pay as you go single fares for journeys on National Rail, London Underground and Docklands Light Railway - find out more about Railcard discounts with Oyster

 

If I misunderstood that quoted text, then I'm glad I asked and you answered. (Sad to say, that text "find out more about Railcard discounts with Oyster" is not a link.)



#6 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 11:11 AM


Just remember to only eat at Indian take outs. Genuine English food is completely inedible.

 
Maybe that is why we live longer than Americans?
 
Ed.

The majority of American food is tastier, but I personally think that the basis of being overweight is not the issue so much as the fact that most food Americans consume is full to the brim of GMOs, preservatives, and artificial flavorings that are banned in more civilized and advanced civilizations... Mexico, for instance.

And of course the majority of overweight Americans eat even more of that scheisse. Actually, I sort of like some English cuisine. But I also know the flavors I like from it are abhorrent to Americans raised on mostly flavor free meat.
Travelled: Broadway Limited (1), Lake Shore Limited (6), Capitol Limited (7), Empire Builder (1), Southwest Chief (2), Sunset Limited (1), California Zephyr (3), Coast Starlight (2), Silver Meteor (5), Silver Star (5), Silver Palm (2), Crescent (1), Cardinal (4), Auto Train (4), Pennsylvanian (2), Palmetto (1), Acela Express (1), Empire Service (1), Northeast Regional (11), Keystone Service (1) --- Total Miles: 50,144 --- Total Trains: 61
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#7 jis

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 12:02 PM

Hi,

The senior railcard you mention is a card which is only valid on the main (non Underground) rail network, (think as similar to Amtrak.) You need to show proof of age to purchase, so your passport will be fine. You can buy these at any (non Underground) staffed rail station.

There is no way to use the senior pass on the London Underground system, it is a seperate item which would be of use only if you take trains to visit places of interest outside the London Underground area.

Sadly I have no experience of Oyster cards at all. I do know that one can use a debit card insted of an oyster card, to "touch on and touch off" at station barriers, and the fare is deducted automatically. I don't know if that would work with your USA cards, but I gather the fare is the same as with an Oyster card. I used my debit card to travel from Heathrow to St. Pancras on the piccadilly tube line a month or so back, and the cost was less than $4.50.

Willem,

 

I would suggest that you purchase an Oyster Card at Heathrow Underground Station (or from RailEurope before leaving the US), put sufficient credit on it for a couple of Underground rides (say something like 10 pounds), and use it to get to wherever in London to at least get the Oyster discount on the Underground.

 

Then after you have obtained your Senior Railcard, go to any Underground Station ticket office, present you Oyster Card and your Senior Railcard and ask them to "Please load my Railcard on to my Oyster." Once that is done, tapping the Oyster Card as usual will automatically give you the 1/3rd discount in the eligible hours and also cap at the proper discounted amount as long as it is not used in the ineligible hours during the day. You could get hit with a double whammy if you use it in ineligible hours. First you don't get the discount in the cap, and second the cap is based on the higher fare of the ineligible hours rather than the lower off peak fares.

 

Of course do remember to add adequate credit to the Oyster to cover the trips in the London area. Oyster is the universal fare instrument for all public transport in London (Underground, Buses, Trams, Ferries and London Overground trains + suburban trains in the TfL area).

 

While I have been eligible for the Senior Card for many years, I have never bothered with it, since for mainline I typically use a Britrail Pass of some variety purchased using a senior rate, and it would take a heck of a lot of traveling on TfL service to recoup the cost of the Railcard, that I would never get around to doing over the typical periods that I am in the London area. Each individual's usage and travel patterns would dictate what is appropriate for them.

 

Hope that helps.


Edited by jis, 06 December 2017 - 02:55 PM.


#8 Bob Dylan

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 12:11 PM


Just remember to only eat at Indian take outs. Genuine English food is completely inedible.

 
Maybe that is why we live longer than Americans?
 
Ed.
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Edited by Bob Dylan, 06 December 2017 - 12:13 PM.

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#9 caravanman

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 12:22 PM

It seems that I must bow to the superior knowledge and experience of Jis! Damn, I thought for once I would know the facts!  :D

 

In my defence, I don't live in London, and don't use Oyster cards. I use my Senior railpass to obtain 1/3 off all national rail fares, no restrictions on travel times from Nottingham.

 

One tip, if you do want to use the national rail network instead of driving: You can book your train tickets several months in advance, select senior rail card for passenger type, and you pay the discounted fare. You win by booking early for a discount, and get the senior discount too. You only need to carry your railcard and show it along with the ticket when you travel.

To put it another way, you can prebook and get discounted tickets before you arrive, just buy the railcard before the date of the first journey. Two people will need two railcards...

 

Sorry for the earlier errors on my part!

 

Ed.


Edited by caravanman, 06 December 2017 - 12:22 PM.


#10 cirdan

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 01:03 PM

I concur with waht the others say.

 

When travelling in London, be aware of the following.

 

All the underground, stations have automatic ticket barriers. You need to tap with the oyster card to enter and tap again when leaving. So Oyster will automatically deduct the correct fare (this is based on the number of zones you travel in. If you do only central London. which is where 99% of London's tourist attractions are located, there is only one zone, so every jopurney costs the same)

 

On buses, you need to tap in when boarding. You don't need to tap out when leaving the bus. In fact there is no Oyster reader by the exit door. This confuses some people, but don't worry. The Oyster charges a flat fare on buses so it doesn't matter how far you travel.

 

On rail services (including the Docklands Light Railway) not all stations have ticket barriers. If there isn't one you need to tap in at an oyster reader on the platform or by the station entrance. If your destination station doesn't have barriers, you need to tap out similarly. If you tap in but fail to tap out, Oyster will charge the highest fare, assuming you made the longest possible journey. This is annoying.

 

You can check out the credit on your Oyster at Oyster machines located at stations, and load extra credit at any time.

 

If you are catching a train going outside the Oyster area, you need to buy a regular ticket, either at a ticket office of from a machine or online. Do not attempt to use Oyster for this. If in doubt check validity maps or ask a member of staff. For longer and more expensive journeys on intercity trains, you can often save money if you buy online and in advance.



#11 PerRock

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 01:54 PM

I concur with waht the others say.

 

When travelling in London, be aware of the following.

 

All the underground, stations have automatic ticket barriers. You need to tap with the oyster card to enter and tap again when leaving. So Oyster will automatically deduct the correct fare (this is based on the number of zones you travel in. If you do only central London. which is where 99% of London's tourist attractions are located, there is only one zone, so every jopurney costs the same)

 

There are a few underground stations (mainly out in Z3-4, but some in Z1) that don't have barriers at all the entrances. They usually have an Oyster reader by the entrance to tap on.

 

If you see a pink oyster reader (the normal ones are orange/yellow) when changing trains tap on it to be charged the right fare.

 

TfL fares are done based on what zones you travel thru not your start/stop locations. So it may save you money to take a moment to find a route to where you want to go that avoids passing thru multiple zones.

 

Londonist has some great videos about the TfL (Transit for London) services. https://www.youtube...._QUoGsoRRHyZGAQ

 

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#12 greatwestern

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 02:49 PM

Just be aware that if you do book (rail) tickets in advance to get the (often significantly) cheaper fares you will be restricted to the service actually booked. If you use an earlier or later service you will be liable to pay the full walk up fare for the service that you have boarded. There is no flexibility on "advance type" fares which can only be used on the date and time booked. The ticket will normally have a seat reservation associated with it defining the date and service time.



#13 jis

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 03:08 PM

It seems that I must bow to the superior knowledge and experience of Jis! Damn, I thought for once I would know the facts!  :D

:D My memory is fresh since I spent five days in the London area as base over the Thanksgiving weekend.

 

I exercised almost every possible combination of Oyster and Britrail Pass, and even did a day trip to Paris by Eurostar, for which I was fortunate enough to get a Siemens e320 (Class 374) on the way out and an original GEC/Alstom Class 373 on the way back. I thought the new e320s were way more noisier than the old Alstom sets.

 

In Paris it was the usual riding around on RER and Banlieu services. Found that RER-C was out for maintenance between Champ de Mars and Versailles, so hoofed it over to Montparnasse by M4 ( the new consists with full width inter-car vestibules are beautiful) and rode the Rambouillet Translien service through Versailles to St. Quentin en Yvelines and back. The took M6 to Bercy to transfer to the new automatic M14 and rode its entire length, finally transferring to an RER E at St. Lazare to Magenta and walked back to Gare du nord for the return trip to London.

 

Oh, and BTW, if one is going to ride a lot of trains, a Mobilis Pass covering the appropriate zones is the best thing to use. Do remember to write your name and date of travel on the Mobilis before any random fare inspector catches you, or you may face a hefty fine. In general it is a POP system which is ticket barrier protected except in outer suburban stations out in the sticks in Zone 6.

 

The other trips were on Chitern Railway express (pulled by a class 68 no less!) from Merylebone to Birmingham Moore Street, then Midlands Service to Lymington Spa, followed by Virgin X-Country to Reading (via Oxford) and finally Southwest to Waterloo via Ascot. Reading Station has changed so much in the last ten years that it is virtually unrecognizable, what with fresh new catenary for the Great Western electrification and all that.

 

Another day was a trip by VTEC from Kings X to Edinburgh, then a quick round trip on the newly restored Borders Railway to Tweedbank (ScotRail service) and then back to London Kings X.

 

And on the last day a round trip to Cambridge on the superb one hour non stop service from Kings X to Cambridge, which runs every hour on weekends, to spend an afternoon with friends who live there, and then back to Kings X. Got to ride on the grade separated northbound connection from the ECML to the Cambridge Line at Hitchin for the first time.

 

Coming to think of it, this post has slowly grown to something that should probably go to some trip report forum or something like that :P


Edited by jis, 06 December 2017 - 05:57 PM.


#14 caravanman

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 05:40 PM

Such an interesting, not to say intensive few days, Jis!

 

Just as a matter of interest, can you recall what the return fare to Paris was, and did you book in advance?

 

I think it is very cool to be able to visit Paris by train for a day trip!

 

Ed.



#15 jis

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 05:52 PM

Return fare to Paris in Standard Premium (i.e. First Class without the Business bells and whistles) was something like $360. I bought it just two days before departure through RailEurope. I am sure lower fares were available then, if purchased directly from Eurostar, but I was in a hurry and did not have time to figure out their web site, so just went for the familiar. I was sent two e-tickets by email, which I printed out on my printer and took along with me. I could just as well have just used the email on my Smartphone to scan in at the entry gate, but I did not know that.

 

Going through the automatic checkin and the immigration and security barrier was surprisingly smooth, and the French guy even stamped my Passport, which they have not done at the airports in ages. The Brits always stamp Passports diligently. :)


Edited by jis, 07 December 2017 - 10:56 AM.


#16 trainman74

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 06:20 PM

We will each have an International Driver's Permit.


An IDP is not necessary for driving in the U.K. -- your U.S. driver's license and passport will be sufficient for anything you need.

I do know that one can use a debit card insted of an oyster card, to "touch on and touch off" at station barriers, and the fare is deducted automatically. I don't know if that would work with your USA cards...


This requires cards that contain special "contactless" circuitry, and cards like that are almost entirely unknown in the U.S.

#17 jis

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 06:23 PM

Oyster was supposed to start accepting Apple Wallet and Android Wallet using Smartphone NFC. Have they started it or is it still pending? I did not test it since I have had an Oyster Card now for over ten years, and it continues to work just fine.



#18 DoB

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Posted 06 December 2017 - 06:53 PM

Oyster was supposed to start accepting Apple Wallet and Android Wallet using Smartphone NFC. Have they started it or is it still pending? I did not test it since I have had an Oyster Card now for over ten years, and it continues to work just fine.

I successfully used Android Pay on the Tube (and buses) in January 2017. That only hitch I encountered was in trying to use a Visa card. For mysterious technical reasons, only MasterCard works (and maybe Amex). If you have a BoA AGR MasterCard, that should be fine - just make sure you've loaded it into your mobile wallet in advance.

#19 jis

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Posted 07 December 2017 - 09:47 AM

Thanks for the info. Actually for me it is just a matter of curiosity, since I am unlikely to take the trouble to haul my large Smartphone out of my pocket to tap at the gate when I have a little card that fits nicely in my shirt pocket. :)

 

But it is a nice fallback thing to have in case I left my Oyster at home.


Edited by jis, 07 December 2017 - 11:05 AM.


#20 willem

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Posted 07 December 2017 - 11:40 AM

I would suggest that you purchase an Oyster Card at Heathrow Underground Station (or from RailEurope before leaving the US), put sufficient credit on it for a couple of Underground rides (say something like 10 pounds), and use it to get to wherever in London to at least get the Oyster discount on the Underground.
 
Then after you have obtained your Senior Railcard, go to any Underground Station ticket office, present you Oyster Card and your Senior Railcard and ask them to "Please load my Railcard on to my Oyster." Once that is done, tapping the Oyster Card as usual will automatically give you the 1/3rd discount in the eligible hours and also cap at the proper discounted amount as long as it is not used in the ineligible hours during the day. You could get hit with a double whammy if you use it in ineligible hours. First you don't get the discount in the cap, and second the cap is based on the higher fare of the ineligible hours rather than the lower off peak fares.

 
Thank you, jis, for the tip on buying the Oyster card in advance, the details on how to merge the Senior Railcard with the Oyster card, and the caution about using it during the eligible hours.
 

 

Oyster was supposed to start accepting Apple Wallet and Android Wallet using Smartphone NFC.

I successfully used Android Pay on the Tube (and buses) in January 2017. That only hitch I encountered was in trying to use a Visa card. For mysterious technical reasons, only MasterCard works (and maybe Amex). If you have a BoA AGR MasterCard, that should be fine - just make sure you've loaded it into your mobile wallet in advance.

 


If I recall correctly, there is a charge for the Oyster card itself. DoB, could you or anyone else tell me if I can avoid that charge by using Apple Wallet and presumably not getting the physical Oyster card? Would this enable me to buy the virtual Oyster card before arriving in England?

 

I'm confused by the discussion of Visa and Mastercard. Is that for reloading the Oyster card? If so, is it automatic or manual? Is it necessary? I mean, could I use a Visa at a reloading station without using Wallet? (I have never used Wallet, so if I asked a silly question, that could be why.)

Speaking of iPhone, could someone give me a pointer on how to get mobile service in England? I have swapped SIMs in an iPad to change providers in US, but that is about the extent of my knowledge and abilities. I have an iPhone SE that my provider unlocked in preparation for this trip. Ideally, I would find a one-month plan that includes tethering as well as the SIM. Suggestions?






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