As anyone who lives or works in London knows, the options available for buying TfL tickets are numerous: Do you just use contactless? Do you prefer an Oyster? Do you want a Travelcard? Would Pay as you Go (PAYG) be better? Which zones? Auto top-up? How much? With so many options, most of us just give up and carry on with the status quo.

In this post one of the Figure it Out team tries to settle the debate by analysing his Oyster history.

Personal Data

Today we generate more data than ever before, leaving an electronic trail wherever we go, whether it a credit card transaction, tracking a run with GPS, checking in on social media or wearing a health monitor. Every company we interact with is trying to get us to reveal more about ourselves and use that information to better engage us.

However we seem to be on the back foot when it comes to using our own personal data, which we have in abundance. So why shouldn’t we use this data to make more informed decisions about things in our day to day lives?

Travelcard Dilemma

Earlier this year I bought an annual TfL Travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 (Capgemini is in Zone 1 and my nearest tube to home is Earl’s Court in Zone 2). At the time I wasn’t sure what the cheapest option was, now after a few months can I say if I made the right choice?

TfL offers summaries of your journey history on an Oyster or contactless credit card that you can get by email or download directly from their website. I decided to see what I could do with about eight months of my own historical data and some free software. Pulling together all of my journey history allowed me to start summarising my travel over the last few months:

The key pricing consideration for a Travelcard is which zones you are travelling in. Thankfully 93% of my journeys are within Zones 1 and 2, so I was quietly confident that I’d made the right decision.

What are my ticket options?

I evaluated two different options, using a pro-rata cost for the annual Travelcard and adding on the additional fares I’d need to pay for leaving Zone 2:

  • Pay as You Go: £531.80
  • Zones 1 and 2 Annual Ticket: £882.80

Here we have a clear victory for PAYG, however, this assumes that the data represents a constant usage profile which will continue into the future.

What are my patterns of use?

The real picture is a little more complex, since these months cover time when I was working in London, working outside London and time off.  

Therefore I can split the data in order to calculate my average spend (for PAYG) per day:

  • When working in London
  • When working away from London
  • When not working (bank holidays, weekends, annual leave etc.)

Splitting my journeys into the above categories, we can calculate the following:

If we think of an ‘average’ month as consisting of 10 non-working days (to cover weekends and holiday time) and 20 working days, we can calculate the following expected costs (per month):

  • Working in London: £107.17
  • Working Away: £57.43

The cost of tube travel when working in London is the same as the cost of an annual Travelcard split over twelve months (£107.00 a month), but less than the £123.30 for a monthly Travelcard, making the monthly ticket infeasible for my travel patterns, even when working in London.

So what’s the answer?

An annual Travelcard makes financial sense for me when I’m working full time in London, however not when I’m working away.

However, there are a couple of additional factors:

  1. This analysis only includes tube travel, not bus journeys
  2. Buying an annual ticket gives me an ‘Annual Gold Card’ which gives 1/3 off of National Rail services within the Gold Card area

Taking all of the above into account, buying an annual Travelcard makes sense if:

  • You are commuting to and from work every day Monday – Friday on the tube during peak hours
  • Your non-work travel is primarily within the same zones as your commute
  • You will make use of the National Rail discount you get with an annual ticket

In this scenario you would break even on your tube travel, meaning all bus travel and national rail discount could be considered direct savings.