Oyster Card

Oyster Cards are the replacement for the old paper travelcards, for use on tubes, buses, trams and overland trains in London. They are contactless smartcards and do not need to be inserted into ticket machines, merely put close to a reader. They can be used in many different ways, either as a sort of season ticket, or as a prepaid purse to buy tickets with. They have replaced weekly, monthly and yearly travelcards of the old variety.


Tube and DLR

When being used on the tube and DLR you need to make sure that you touch the card on the reader at both ends of your journey so that the system knows how much to charge you. The system behaves in two different ways if you do not touch in at both ends:

  • If your Oyster card has stored on it a season travelcard valid for all the zones you have passed through on your journey you DO NOT need to touch in/out and it is ok to only touch at one end
    • the system in this case assumes you are honest and your journey was entirely within the validity of your travelcard.
    • If you have touched at only one end it will be recorded as an incomplete journey - and this is not a problem, you do not need to do anything
  • If you do not have a valid season travelcard for the whole journey stored on your Oyster card you MUST touch in and out in at BOTH ends of the journey or you will be liable for a �20 penalty fare. If you touch at only one end of the journey you will be charged between �1 and �5 (depending on which station it is) and the journey will be charged IN ADDITION to any daily price cap.
    • the system in this case assumes you are dishonest.
    • If you have touched at only one end it will be recorded as an unresolved journey - and this is a problem, and you need to get it resolved at an LU ticket office or via the Oyster helpdesk.


Buses have a fixed reader next to the driver's seat. [Bendy bus]?es are different though - most bendy buses now have Oyster readers at all three doors so you can get on at any door. Heritage Routemaster (9 & 15) conductors carry little readers that will read your Oyster card.

  • If you have a season travelcard on your Oyster card it will automatically double as an all-London buss pass no matter which zones it covers. So if you have a zone 5 & 6 travelcard you can use the bus in zones 1-6.


You must touch the validator on the tram platform at the start of the journey only.

  • If you have a season travelcard on your Oyster card valid in zones 2&3, 3&4, 4&5 or 5&6 it will be valid for travel on all tram routes no matter what zone they are in.


In theory you can top up you Oyster card or add a Travelcard online or over the phone. But you then need to pass through the barriers or touch the validator of an Underground/DLR station you have specified (and until then you can't use it on a bus or National Rail or from a different underground station). In practice, unless you are disciplined enough to top-up in plenty of time before your travelcard/credit runs out, it may be simpler to use a Oyster Ticket Stop (mainly newsagents) or touch-screen ticket machines at stations.

Season Travelcard

The Oyster card can hold up to three season travelcards at the same time each with different validity dates and zones.


One of the benefits of buying a yearly travelcard (gold card) is that it gives discounts on some mainline trains (similar to the network card). However, as the oyster card shows no outward signs of what its validity is you need to carry around your receipt that you should have received when you bought the travelcard. For gold cards they are issuing special travelcard look-alike "Gold Record Cards" to use as proof. These record cards do not, however, act as a ticket, but merely as a shortcut to proof of your travelcard for those who do not have an oyster reader.


2006 prepay fares

Single tickets on the tube and bus are now around 100-200% cheaper using Oyster card:

  • Tube Zone 1 is �1.50 Oyster or �3 cash.
  • Tube Zone 2 is �1 Oyster or �3 cash.
  • Bus (7-9.30am) is �1 Oyster or �1.50 cash.
  • Bus (all other) is 80p Oyster or �1.50 cash.

Price capping

Since February 2005, Oyster cards have supported daily capping. This means the most you will pay in a day is the cost of the appropriate day travelcard less 50p. If you only use buses and trams, you will be charged �3 which is the price of a day bus pass less 50p.


A useful hint mentioned in the 2005 fares and tickets guide is that if your Oyster card contains only pre-pay (ie no travelcard) then any adult may use your card for pre-pay travel. This is not the case if it is an Oyster Photocard (i.e. one which contains an encoded discount facility).

Auto top up

You can register a debit or credit card online. It is automatically debited by your choice of �20 or �40 when you touch a validator with a prepay balance of below �5. The light on the validator flashes and an email is sent to confirm each time this happens.

Prepay on National Rail

You cannot yet use pre-pay on most overground train routes. The exceptions are direct services between these stations only (and not at intermediate stations unless indicated):

  • Chiltern
    • Marylebone - Harrow on the Hill - Rickmansworth - Chorleywood - Chalfont & Latimer - Amersham
    • Marylebone - South Ruislip - West Ruislip
  • c2c
    • Fenchurch Street - Limehouse - West Ham - Barking - Upminster
    • Liverpool Street - Stratford - Barking (limited service)
  • one
    • Liverpool Street - Stratford
    • Liverpool Street - Walthamstow Central
    • Liverpool Street - Seven Sisters
    • Liverpool Street - Tottenham Hale
  • Silverlink
    • Euston - Queens Park - Harrow & Wealdstone (all stations except Kilburn High Road and South Hampstead)
    • Richmond - Kew Gardens - Gunnersbury
    • Stratford - West Ham - Canning Town
  • Thameslink
    • Kentish Town - King's Cross Thameslink - Farringdon - City Thameslink - Blackfriars - London Bridge
    • Farringdon - Barbican - Moorgate (limited service)
    • Blackfriars - Elephant & Castle
  • WAGN
    • King's Cross - Finsbury Park
    • Moorgate - Old Street - Essex Road - Highbury & Islington - Drayton Park - Finsbury Park

Zone extension

If you have a travelcard on your Oyster and travel out of your designated zones on the tube, DLR and the prepay enabled mainline routes, then the gates will let you out, but you will not be able to use the card again until you put some prepay on it to cover the price of the extension ticket. This is a good reason to keep some prepay on your Oyster card even if you are a travelcard holder (see IvorW's comment below). Your journeys beyond your season ticket will also be eligable for any daily price cap you reach.


Interchange validators

There are validators on some platforms where you are likely to change from tube to train. There are several reasons to touch these:

  • If you have used a paper ticket or pass for the first part of your journey and are now going to use Oyster for the rest of your journey (or vice versa)
  • If you have started your journey using your Oyster season travelcard at a station where prepay is not valid and will use prepay for some or all of the rest of your journey after this point (or vice versa)

Places these are found include:

  • Barking
  • Ealing Broadway
  • Farringdon
  • Kings Cross Thameslink (tunnel connection to tube station)
  • London Bridge
  • Olympia
  • Richmond
  • Stratford (on Central line platforms)
  • Upminster
  • West Brompton
  • West Ham
  • Wimbledon

Out of station interchanges

In various places it is possible to interchange by leaving a station and entering one nearby or ajoining. You MUST touch out of the first station AND back into the second when using prepay. If you only touch at one station you will be charged for two journeys and one will be charged IN ADDITION to any cap. Examples include:

  • Blackfriars (Cir/Dis) - Blackfriars (Thameslink)
  • Edgware Road (Cir/H&C/Dis) - Edgware Road (Bakerloo)
  • Elephant & Castle (Tube) - Elephant & Castle (Thameslink)
  • Euston (Silverlink) - Euston (Tube) - Euston Square
  • Fenchurch Street - Aldgate
  • Fenchurch Street - Tower Hill - Tower Gateway
  • Hammersmith (Dis/Pic) - Hammersmith (H&C)
  • Kings Cross (WAGN) - Kings Cross Thameslink - Kings Cross (Met/Cir/H&C) - Kings Cross (Nor/Pic/Vic)
  • Limehouse (DLR) - Limehouse (c2c)
  • Liverpool Street ('one') - Liverpool Street (Tube)
  • London Bridge (Thameslink) - London Bridge (Nor/Jub)
  • Marylebone (Bakerloo) - Marylebone (Chiltern) - Baker Street
  • Paddington (H&C) - Paddington (Circle)
  • Waterloo (W&C) - Waterloo (Nor/Jub/Bak)

Special interchanges

  • Stratford is configured so you have to go through an extra gateline to get to the Jubilee but you don't have to touch any other validator on the Central/'one'/DLR platform when interchanging.
  • At Wimbledon you have to touch the Tramlink validator if you are using the tram (even if you touched in at the barriers) and if changing from tram to tube you must touch the validator on the tube platform.

Customer service

This is a bit patchy and you can get different things done in some places but not others:

  • London Underground ticket office
    • Check balance
    • Buy tickets, top up prepay
    • Clear unresolved journey
    • Printout of last 8 journeys, top up amount and tickets stored on card
  • National Rail station ticket office which issues Oyster card (some Underground stations have National rail ticket offices)
    • Check balance
    • Buy tickets, top up prepay
  • London Underground touch screen ticket machine
    • Check balance
    • Buy tickets, top up prepay
    • View last 8 journeys, top up amount and tickets stored on card
  • Newsagents
    • Check balance
    • Buy tickets, top up prepay
  • Oyster helpdesk
    • Check balance *
    • Check which tickets are currently on card *
    • Report of last 3 months usage sent in post
    • Clear unresolved journey
    • Arrange for refund of any overcharge (either cheque, voucher to redeem at a tube station or direct to the card when you pass through a specific station barriers
  • Oyster website
    • Check balance *
    • View tickets currently on card *
    • View online order history
    • Buy tickets, top up prepay
    • Arrange auto top-up

Note: * - the system is asynchronous with the tickets and most up to date balance stored on the card. Where the balance is checked from the Oyster card database (i.e the card is not presented) it may be out of date.



I bought one of these recently. I love it. Getting on buses is great, too, because there's no more need for the driver to squint at your ugly photocard picture and the expiry date on the travelcard. Whist buying it, I was warned strongly by the man in the office not to lose it, because the process for replacing a lost card is slow, tedious and annoying. I felt that was worth mentioning here. -- Earle

I'm very happy with mine. The one problem I've noticed is that, sometimes, I can go through a gate too close to the person in front, and you have to wait for the light on the reader to go orange before you try and open it. -- blech

A useful tip with Oyster cards that are travelcards, is to keep an amount of top-up in the card as well. This is useful for those occasional journeys outside the travelcard zones. I keep about 5 in it for the odd trip to Heathrow and the odd party happening in outer London. -- IvorW

Last edited 2006-01-22 15:51:37 (version 52; diff). List all versions.