London Underground ticketing

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The London Underground metro system of London, England uses a mix of paper and electronic smart-card ticketing.

Fare zones[edit]

London Underground uses Transport for London's Travelcard zones to calculate fares, including fares on the Underground only. Travelcard Zone 1 is the most central, with a boundary just outside the Circle line and Travelcard Zone 6 is the most outlying zone covering any of Greater London and it includes London Heathrow Airport. All of Greater London is covered by zones 1 to 6.

Tickets including zone 1 are usually more expensive than those involving only outer zones. The most popular destinations and most interchange stations are in zone 1, meaning that most journeys over similar distances will cost the same.

A few stations in the north east of the network, on the Central line, outside Greater London (in the Epping Forest district) are in zones 4, 5 and 6. In the north west of the network, on the Metropolitan line, zones 7, 8 and 9 (formerly A - D) cover stations outside Greater London including Amersham and Chesham in the Chiltern district of Buckinghamshire. Unlike the lower numbered zones, these ancillary areas do not encircle the capital. Some stations are in two zones. Most often, they are on the boundary of two adjacent zones: For example, Vauxhall is in Zones 1 and 2. Ten stations in east London, many in the London Borough of Newham area, are in both zone 2 and 3: Abbey Rd, Bromley-by-Bow, Canning Town, East India, Pudding Mill Lane, Star Lane, Stratford, Stratford High Street, Stratford International and West Ham. This creates the situation where two consecutive stations on a radial route are in both zones - West Ham and Bromley by Bow; Stratford and Pudding Mill Lane; Canning Town and East India.

A traveller a two-zone station can, in effect, 'save' a zone and perhaps therefore pay a cheaper fare. For example, travelling to West Ham from any zone 2 station is a single zone journey, but so is travelling there from any zone 3 station.

Ticket issuing systems[edit]

Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., known as Westinghouse Cubic Ltd until April 1997, has manufactured all of London Underground's ticket machines since 1987. Tickets are sold from staffed ticket offices at stations, and from various types of self-service machines. The name for the system as installed from 1987 is "UTS" (Underground Ticketing System), though this system has been enhanced and extended recently, most notably since 1998 under the Prestige initiative, where Oyster smartcards were introduced.

  • Ticket Office Machines (TOM): the system used in ticket offices. Now PC-based, replacing an earlier bespoke machine. The first machine at a station is numbered 01, with subsequent machines being numbered upwards from there.
  • Few Fare Machines (FFM): also known as Tenfare. Self-service machines with only ten buttons, representing the most common fare types from that station. Machines do not accept credit or debit cards. Machines are numbered from 10 upwards.
  • Multi Fare Machines (MFM): also known as Allfare. Self-service machines with touch-screens for all destinations on the London Underground network, offering a very wide range of tickets and Travelcards. Numbering goes upwards from 30.
  • Queue Buster Machines (QBM): also known as Quick Ticket Machines (QTM). Smaller, wall-mounted, touch-screen machines installed initially at larger Zone 1 stations, and subsequently at other locations. These accept credit and debit cards, but not cash. Machines are numbered 36, 37, 38 or 39.
  • Advance Fare Machines (AFM): Self-service machines with touch-screens. They are refurbished Fewfare machines with the functionality of a Multifare machine. Machines are numbered from 29 downwards where possible.

FFMs and MFMs give change, but only MFMs accept paper money. Tickets from TOMs, FFMs and MFMs are identical, apart from the window/machine numbering, but tickets from QBMs are slightly different, with bolder printing and a slightly different font. The QBM uses thermal printing, whereas others use impact print.

In the Travelcard illustrated below, 0774 on the bottom line represents the National Location Code of the issuing station (in this case, Edgware Road).

As a result of fares being set on a zonal basis, single or return tickets do not show a destination station - they display an 11-character abbreviation of the origin station name. Between 1987 and 1994 (when the layout of tickets was redesigned), up to 16 characters could be used for the name.

A list of all TOM, Fewfare and Multifare machines on the London Underground network as at September 2002

Summary of ticket types[edit]

The following tickets are/were available from London Underground and Transport for London ticket agents for use on the Underground:

Ticket Paper Oyster Contactless Off peak version Notes
Single Yes Yes Yes Yes (on Oyster and Contactless) Paper tickets are priced at a higher rate.
Day Travelcard Yes No No Yes The maximum daily spend on Oyster and Contactless is capped at the equivalent Day Travelcard price.
3-day Travelcard No No No No Withdrawn from sale 2 January 2010.
Weekly Travelcard No Yes No No Paper tickets for Weekly Travelcards are still available at National Rail stations. Contactless Payment supports "Monday to Sunday Capping".
Monthly Travelcard No Yes No No
Annual Travelcard No Yes No No Requires registration.

Detailed information on tickets and pricing is available from the Transport for London website.

Ticket types[edit]

London Underground Day Travelcard

Single tickets[edit]

The fare structure for paper single tickets was simplified in January 2006. Fares for single paper tickets have been set deliberately high in order to encourage users to use either Travelcards or Oyster pre-pay fares, which are substantially lower (by up to £2.50 per journey) than paper tickets.

Return tickets are sold at twice the price of a single ticket. A Travelcard is often cheaper than a return ticket and will automatically be provided by ticket machines and ticket office staff if it is cheaper than the return fare.


Daily, seven-day, monthly and annual Travelcards are also available, allowing unlimited rides in two or more zones on the London Underground and most other forms of public transport in London, including most National Rail services, buses, Tramlink and Docklands Light Railway, but not the Emirates Air Line (cable car) cross-Thames service. Travelcards are also available for 'odd periods' of between one month and a year at some retailers. Most regular travellers use Travelcards, and they are usually better value for money than single tickets for anyone making multiple daily journeys or using multiple forms of public transport (train/tube, tube/bus, etc.). Any period travelcard is valid at any time of day, any day of the week.

Day Travelcards are valid at any time on any day, although they are usually only sold Monday-Friday before 9:30am, while cheaper Off-Peak Travelcards are only valid for use on trains & London Underground services after 9:30am on weekdays (excluding Bank Holidays) but any time on weekends & holidays. Newsagents and other designated "Ticket Stop" shops can no longer sell any form of paper tickets and now only offer Oyster facilities; one day paper Bus Passes can be obtained from ticket vending machines at some Bus Stops in Central London. Both Peak and Off-Peak Day Travelcards are valid on all journeys started before 04:30 on the day after the date of issue.

The number and combination of zones is restricted depending the type of travelcard. Travelcards for only one zone are not sold.

Validity Combinations
1 day 1-2, 1-4, 1-6, 1-9 (where applicable)
Weekly and longer At least two adjacent primary zones †

† Paper travelcards can be issued for either 5-7, 5-9, or 5-9 + Watford Junction. Oyster travelcards for the north-west Zones 7, 8, 9, or Watford Junction (denoted as Zone 10 on Oyster cards) must include at least zones 4-6 and any other contiguous zones, i.e. 5+7, 8+9 etc. are not available for purchase.

Oyster card[edit]

In 2003, Transport for London launched the Oyster card. It is a proximity card, which on buses, trams and on the Underground allows a traveller to touch the card on one of the yellow readers positioned on the automatic entrance and exit faregates rather than feeding it through a card ticket reader.

Unlike card tickets, the Oyster card is not disposable, and value - either 'pay as you go' balance or Travelcards - can be added to it at computerised ticket machines and at ticket offices. Where pay as you go credit is used, the cost of each journey is deducted from a stored balance. As of October 2005, weekly, monthly and annual Travelcards issued by London Underground or directly by Transport for London are only available on Oyster cards.

The fare structure is now designed to encourage the use of Oyster cards. Daily Travelcards are not sold on Oyster Card, but a system called 'Capping' ensures that on each day of use no more than the equivalent Travelcard price is deducted. Prior to January 2010 the Oyster cap was 50p less than a Travelcard, but now the cap for Oyster and Travelcard is the same. The balance can be automatically topped up with funds from a credit or debit card when the balance becomes low, a feature known as 'auto top-up'. Tickets and pay as you go credit can be purchased via a website or over the telephone.

The Oyster card system is designed to eliminate the need to purchase tickets at the station for most users. Following the implementation of the technology London Underground reduced the number of staff working in ticket offices.

London Underground automated faregates, West Kensington station (January 2007)
A faregate at Bounds Green station with the cover open, showing the mechanism inside


Contactless Visa, Maestro, MasterCard and American Express Debit and Credit cards issued in the UK are accepted for travel on London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Rail, most National Rail, London Tramlink and Bus services. Operation of the system is exactly the same as the Oyster smartcard; customers should touch their card on the validation devices (entry/exit gates, passenger validators) at the start and again at the end of their journey to ensure the correct fare is paid. Only adult, non-discount, "Pay As You Go" fares are available with Contactless payment cards. Travelcards may not be loaded onto a Contactless payment card as they may be with Oyster.

Unlike Pay As You Go on Oyster (where the stored value held on the card is adjusted as the passenger touches their card as they enter/exit stations or board buses), transactions made with Contactless payment cards are processed by a central processing system. The total charge of all travel accrued throughout a day is settled overnight, meaning that a customer will see one transaction for each day in which they have travelled on their credit card or bank statement. Daily travel charges are settled directly against the customer's debit or credit card account; no "topping up" is required.

Like Oyster, Contactless implements daily capping, whereby the customer pays no more than the price of an equivalent daily Travelcard. Unlike Oyster, Contactless also offers "Monday-Sunday Capping", whereby the combination of products that gives the "best value" is selected (from a range of single fares, extension fares, daily and weekly Travelcards) to ensure that the customer never pays more than is necessary for their travel. The customer does not have to know their travel plans in advance. Monday-Sunday Capping is distinct from an Oyster 7-day Travelcard in that the latter may be purchased on any day of the week, whereas Monday-Sunday Capping "lapses" at the start of the travel day on Monday.

More information is available from the Transport for London website.

Penalty fares and fare evasion[edit]

In addition to the automatic and staffed faregates at stations, the Underground also operates on a proof-of-payment system. The network is sometimes patrolled by the uniformed staff who mainly stay at the faregates, and very occasionally by plainclothes fare inspectors equipped with hand-held Oyster card readers. Passengers travelling without a ticket valid for their entire journey are sometimes required to pay a £80 penalty fare or face prosecution for fare evasion. Oyster pre-pay users who have failed to 'touch in' at the start of their journey are also considered to be travelling without a valid ticket and are liable to a penalty fare if caught; otherwise they are charged the maximum fare upon touching out at the destination station.

Touts at stations can often be seen attempting to resell used Day Travelcards that they have been given by passengers who no longer need them. Transport for London strongly discourage this, officially stating that Travelcards are 'non-transferable' and thus invalid if resold. Underground staff and inspectors have the authority to confiscate tickets that they know to have been resold and to require a passenger using such a ticket to pay a penalty fare, although this is rare in practice since proving a ticket has been resold can be a difficult and time-consuming process.

In an attempt to reduce the numbers of Travelcards being used by more than one person, an experiment took place at Brixton station in 2002. A box was provided at the station exit into which passengers were encouraged to deposit Travelcards that were no longer required, and for each ticket deposited London Underground made a small donation to local charities for the homeless.

Ticket machines[edit]

London Underground ticket machines in all stations support the following 17 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Polish, Punjabi, Tamil, Turkish and Urdu. Prior to 2009, some ticket machines were multilingual; they supported six languages and those machines had English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Japanese. The new languages were added as part of the Investment Programme of LU.[1]


External links[edit]