News: Oyster is Ken's world

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The Independent Travel

Visitors to London in 2006 who use the Tube only for occasional trips will find themselves in the city with by far the most expensive public transport in the world.

From Tuesday, the minimum fare for a journey in the central Zone 1 - currently £2.20 - increases by 36 per cent to £3. This flat fare covers journeys as far as Zone 4 on the Underground, but makes short trips in the centre very expensive.

On a journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the rate corresponds to £18 per mile, far higher than almost any other form of transport; when Concorde last flew, the London-New York fare was £1 a mile. For comparison, a journey of any length on the extensive New York Subway costs $2 (£1.20), while Moscow's Metro has a flat fare of just 12 roubles (25p).

"Our message to all Londoners and visitors," says a spokeswoman for Transport for London, "is 'avoid the higher single and day fares by switching to Oyster." This is the electronic season ticket or stored-value travel card that can be used on the Tube and buses.

Even short-term visitors to London will benefit from buying a pay-as-you-go Oyster card. Oyster halves the cost of single Tube journeys within Zone 1 to £1.50.

If you travel frequently on a single day, the Oyster system adds up your fares but caps the maximum you will pay at £5.80 (or £11.90 if you start travelling before 9.30am on working days). Either way, it works out cheaper than buying a Day Travelcard.

Between central London and Heathrow airport, the single cash fare is £4; using an Oyster card this reduces to £3.50 on working days between 7am and 7pm, or £2 at all other times.

Visitors can obtain an Oyster card in advance: call 0870 849 9999 or visit www.oystercard.com. They are also available at Tube stations, and travel information centres. A deposit of £3 is required; this is refundable, but many visitors choose to keep their Oyster card - not least because the pay-as-you-go variety can be lent to other people when you are not using it.

The Tube carnet - a pack of 10 tickets that cut the cost of single trips and was widely used by tourists - has been scrapped, as has the Family Travelcard.The flat bus fare for a journey anywhere in the capital is £1.50. A six-journey saver ticket reduces this to £1, and paying by Oyster to 80p.

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