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Tourists to London who pay cash for Tube or bus rides already face the highest public-transport fares for any city - and from Tuesday prices for those without pre-paid cards will rise by a third.

From 2 January, the minimum fare for any Tube journey that touches central London increases from £3 to £4. This fare applies equally to the one-sixth-of-a-mile hop from Leicester Square to Covent Garden and the 22-mile trip from one end of the Jubilee Line to the other.

The comparable fare for users of an Oyster pre-paid card is £1.50 within central London (zone 1), rising to £3.50 for trips to Heathrow. Outside weekdays between 7am and 7pm, the highest Oyster fare falls to £2.

"The big differential between cash and Oyster-card fares is designed to speed up the system by getting people to switch from cash to Oyster," explained Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London. "I want to see every Londoner paying the lowest possible fares."

At present only one in 16 Tube journeys is paid for with cash, and many of those trips are thought to be made by tourists who may be unaware of the sharp differential. On the buses, cash customers will see the flat fare rise from £1.50 to £2; the comparable rate for Oyster card holders is £1.

The capital's £4 minimum Underground fare is more than twice the rate any other large city in the world. Even in Tokyo, the cash fare for a short journey on the Metro costs just 160 Yen (70p), less than half the pre-paid rate in London.

Short-term visitors to London will benefit from obtaining a pay-as-you-go Oyster card. The card itself costs £3, plus pre-payment for fares of any sum up to a maximum of £50.

A full refund for the card and any unspent balance can be obtained at the end of the visit to London, though pre-paid Oyster cards can also be lent to other people or used at any time in the future.

The card is obtainable at Tube stations and many London newsagents; to plan in advance, call 01561 376081 or visit www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster.

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