Should Croydon be in zone 4? A brief investigation of the TfL fare zones

Andrew Adonis – peer of the realm, arch remainer, former transport secretary, would-be Labour MP for Vauxhall – has been to Croydon. More than that he’s been thinking about Croydon, which is always dangerous. Here’s what he’s been thinking:


Some background, in the unlikely event you’ve landed on this story without knowing what “zone 4” means. Transport for London divides its tube and rail network into concentric fare zones. Zone 1 is the central business district, 2 & 3 are inner London, 4 to 6 are the suburbs. On selected routes beyond the official bounds of the capital, you’ll find stations in zones 7 to 9, as well as assorted lettered ones where the fares are weird, but that’s by the by: the rule, basically, is that the closer into the city you are, the lower the zone number and the lower the fare you have to pay.

Croydon, a south London/Surrey suburb that would be a sizeable city in its own right had it not long ago been swallowed by London, has two rail stations in its commercial centre. East Croydon is a stop on the London to Brighton line; West Croydon is served primarily by suburban services. Both are currently in zone 5.

On Adonis’ second point I tend to agree. The names East and West Croydon bug me for the faintly esoteric reason that

    a) they’re both in central Croydon, and

    b) phrasing them that way around suggests the two are a long way apart rather than about half a mile from each other.

Personally I’d go with Croydon East and Croydon West, but if local worthies want to call the bigger station Croydon Central then, well, fill your boots.

The other point, though, is more complicated. If you commute between central London and Croydon then it’s obviously in your interests to bring it down a zone as that’ll nudge it into a cheaper fare band. That, in turn, stands to benefit businesses who employ those commuters or are trying to attract south Londoners to spend money in the town.

Does it make sense, though? Is Croydon actually close enough to central London to justify being in zone 4?

To find out, I just spend an oddly therapeutic quarter hour measuring the distance between various important outer London centres and Charing Cross, the official centre of London. Here are the results, ranked by distance in miles, and with the fare zone included:

Logically, given the concentric nature of the London fare zones, you would expect the zone numbers to increase steadily as the distance from the city centre does, and for the most part they do. Not always, though: Kingston is marooned in zone 6 despite being a distance from Charing Cross more appropriate for zone 5.

Meanwhile, Epsom and Dartford, contiguous suburbs outside the Greater London boundary, fall out of the main system into the freaky outer zones, despite being closer in than Uxbridge. But Epping, several miles beyond the boundary and even outside the M25, gets to be in zone 6 because of a special arrangement between TfL and the local authorities.

There are several reasons for such oddities. One is that the idea Charing Cross is the centre of London is merely a useful fiction: London doesn’t really have a centre, so much as a lozenge-shaped central zone, running roughly three miles north to south and six east to west. Measurements from Charing Cross, convenient though they are, might be misleading.

Another is that Greater London itself is similarly unbalanced: that’s about 32 miles east to west but only 26 north to south.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, based on Ordnance Survey data.

A third is that its boundaries owe as much to the local politics of the early 1960s as they do to any rational sense of what London is. The only reason Epsom ended up outside, despite being an entirely suburban district surrounded by Greater London on three sides, is because the local Tories kicked up a stink half a century ago. (More on that here.) That, perversely, means higher fares for the locals today.

Anyway. You can make a case for Croydon being better placed in zone 4 than 5 but it isn’t an overwhelming one: Kingston has a far better case for promotion. Which is a bit of a wet conclusion, if I’m honest with you, but then again I really just wanted an excuse to play with a map.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.