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Rail commuters warned of new peak-hour fares as Contactless plan is delayed

Train passengers travelling between London and the Homes Counties have been warned that a new fares system could leave them out of pocket.

It can also be revealed that the Government’s plan to introduce pay-as-you-go Contactless ticketing across more than 50 stations in the South-East outside the capital has been delayed until next Spring.

A new fares structure is being introduced on Sunday, December 3, by five companies serving London stations – C2C, South Western Railway, Southeastern, London Northwestern Railway and Chiltern.

This will introduce peak fares between 4pm and 7pm – meaning passengers who travel after the morning peak will not be able to use an off-peak return for the second leg of their journey.

However, for passengers who make one journey during the morning peak and return home off-peak, the combined cost of their ticket could be cheaper.

Full details of the fare changes have been published on the National Rail website.

Details of the impact on South Western Railway passengers can be found here.

Contactless travel – which is already standard across the Transport for London network – was to have been expanded to 53 stations beyond Greater London by the end of the year, under a pledge made in July by rail minister Huw Merriman.

But the Evening Standard has learned that this will not happen until Spring 2024 at the earliest.

The Department for Transport declined to answer questions about what had caused the delay and told the Standard to contact TfL.

Rail minister Huw Merriman (AFP via Getty Images)
Rail minister Huw Merriman (AFP via Getty Images)

TfL won the contract to install the yellow card readers and ticketing software to the stations, adding them to its Londonwide system. In total, about 200 stations were due to receive pay-as-you-go ticketing over the lifetime of the project.

But technological issues, including the complexity of calculating the correct fare for passengers who then travel within London before or after completing a mainline train journey, is thought to have caused the delay.

On C2C, an “anytime single” journey from West Ham to Southend will fall from £12.70 to £10.20 – while an off-peak single will cost £8.70. An “anytime return” will remain unchanged at £20.40.

An off-peak return will reduce from £19.20 to £17.40, but cannot be used for journeys between 4pm and 7pm – while the super off-peak return fare of £14.90 will no longer be available.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the travel watchdog London TravelWatch, said he was concerned that public awareness about the new fares system was low.

“We’re fully behind the idea of simplifying the fares system, but we’ve not seen much publicity about these changes,” he said.

"We don’t want people to get caught out so we’re encouraging passengers to check to see if their journey will be affected. Some tickets have had to be phased out completely, including the Super Off-Peak option. This will mean that some journeys may actually cost more.

“And with the introduction of evening peak fares, there is also the risk that some passengers get caught out as they will no longer able to travel with an off-peak ticket.

“We hope there will be a generous transition period in place to make sure passengers don’t get penalised for something they are unaware of.

“It’s a pity that the introduction of contactless pay-as-you-go payment has been delayed and won’t kick in at the same time as these fares changes. We know that Londoners have benefited from contactless for many years and it is a convenient way to travel.”

c2c: Single fares will be half the price of a return (PA Media)
c2c: Single fares will be half the price of a return (PA Media)

Under the changes, a “single leg pricing” structure will be introduced – meaning single fares will be half the price of a return ticket.

There will be two peak periods, loosely mirroring TfL’s pricing system on the London Underground, Overground and Elizabeth line. These run from 4.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm (TfL’s morning peak is from 6.30am to 9.30am). Peak fares will apply on services leaving from or going via a London station.

The stations affected are:

Apsley

Ashford (Surrey)

Basildon

Bat & Ball

Beaconsfield

Benfleet

Berkhamsted

Bletchley

Bricket Wood

Chalkwell

Cheddington

Datchet

Denham

Denham Golf Club

Dunton Green

East Tilbury

Egham

Eynsford

Garston

Gerrards Cross

Hemel Hempstead

High Wycombe

How Wood

Kempton Park

Kings Langley

Laindon

Leigh-on-Sea

Leighton Buzzard

Otford

Park Street

Pitsea

Seer Green & Jordans

Sevenoaks

Shepperton

Shoeburyness

Shoreham (Kent)

Southend Central

Southend East

St Albans Abbey

Staines

Stanford-le-Hope

Sunbury

Sunnymeads

Thorpe Bay

Tilbury Town

Tring

Upper Halliford

Virginia Water

Watford North

West Horndon

Westcliff

Windsor & Eton Riverside

Wraysbury

Rob Mullen, managing director of c2c, said: “The introduction of simple and easy-to-understand fares and peak travel times will make searching and buying tickets easier and more straightforward for our customers.

“Moving forward, all of our ticketing products – Smartcards, traditional paper, e-tickets and contactless pay as you go (when launched) – if purchased on the day of travel, will offer fares at the same price.”

TfL has been approached for comment.