Author: Bob Handford
Child fares on London’s Underground and Buses are very complicated and fragmented. Every year on January 2nd ticket regulations and prices are reviewed and normally the authorities tinker around to a lesser or greater degree with the child travel concessions.
For 2013 the authorities have been unusually inactive, the only real changes have been fare rises averaging around 4%.
This piece tries to explain as simply as possible the situation for your child, some workarounds to get around some of the restrictions and if you still don’t understand an opportunity to discuss and perhaps add to this piece.
At one extreme your child may travel free everywhere, at the other end of the spectrum if unprepared you may end up paying adult fare – so its worthwhile making sure you understand the following:
Children under five can travel free at any time on the Tube (underground), DLR, buses and trams in London as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket. Simple
Under-11s can travel free at any time on buses and trams. Simple
They can also travel free at any time on the Tube and DLR (Docklands Light railway) when they are traveling with an adult who has a valid ticket. Up to 4 children under 11 years old accompanied by a paying adult travel free on the London Underground. Simple
Unaccompanied children between 5 and 10 must have a valid Oyster Photocard for free travel. (Ah yes, the Photocard we’ll come back to these)
Children aged 11 to 15 years must get an 11-15 Oyster photocard to travel free on buses and trams and at child-rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services.
(Simple? – its the two words Oyster Photocard that creates the problems for visitors – see below.)
In the UK you become an adult when you are 16. However in London it is possible to get child fares by getting an Oyster 16+ Oyster ID Card.
It is very similar to 11-15 Oyster Photocards, but you cannot use it to buy 1 Day Travelcards.
Simple? – again, its the two words Oyster Photocard that creates the problems for visitors – see below.
If you are studying at a recognised educational establishment in London that is registered for the scheme and you are residing in London you can apply for a Student card
This enables you to get 30% discount off bus and Travelcards of 7 days or longer
Only for students studying and residing in London, first step is to check with your educational place to see if they are registered.
In Bob’s day you became an adult when you were 16. If you were 18 but looked 14, many asked for a child fare got a knowing look but got a child ticket. If you were 14 and looked 18 you made sure you had some documentation on you that proved you were entitled to child fares.
Today with Oyster Cards, age bands, automated ticket barriers and such like much stricter controls are needed to avoid fraud.
The system is no real problem if you are a London resident with a young child. Take a little time for the initial registration process to get your Oyster Photocard and thats your passport to free and half price public transport until you are an adult. When you want a child travel product, just produce your Oyster Photoard. If a ticket inspector see’s you are using a child Oyster and you look a little old for it, the Oyster Photocard is demanded as proof.
For visitors its a hassle you can do without and often its too late when you do find out the hoops you have to jump through to get child fares via the Oyster Photocard.
First of all, the recurrent question from visitors – my child has got a passport with his/her age on it, isn’t that good enough as ID?.
I’m afraid the answer is no, you need London’s unique Oyster Photocard, nothing else.
How Do I Get An Oyster Photocard
If you are a resident of London, its quite straight forward. Get a form from your local Post Office and fill it in, then return to the Post Office with £10, a passport size photo plus birth certificate or passport and you should get it in 2 weeks.
If you are resident in the UK then you have to do the process on-line, you’ll get the Photocard within 4 weeks.
Now the aspects of Oyster Photocard that works against visitors from overseas. The Oyster Photocard costs £10 per child and you need to order the Oyster Photocard at least 4 weeks ahead on-line.
It won’t be sent to your home adress, you have to collect it from a small number of visitor centres in London, (Heathrow Airport or Liverpool Street, Victoria, Kings Cross or Euston Stations)
The application web page is: https://photocard.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gotoApply.do?type=under18&res=false&from=home
Can I Get Around The Child Oyster Photocard Requirement
There are three main ways of getting around the need for an Oyster Photocard to get half price child fares if your child is under 16 and isn’t entitled to free travel.
1) The first is to buy a 1 day child Travelcard, (it doesn’t need Oyster Photocard), but a 7 day child Travelcard does.
2) The second is to buy Travelcards from a railway (not Underground) ticket office. The railways have their own ticketing system but sell Travelcards at their Central London stations. Perhaps bizarely the railways issue their photo id cards free of charge, but they can only be used to buy tickets sold from a railway ticket office. So for a 7 day Travelcard you can walk up to a railway ticket office with a passport size photo of your child, buy a 7 day child Travelcard and a railway photo id will be issued on the spot. Note: only railway stations in Central London sell Travelcards (e.g. Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Charing Cross, Waterloo and Victora), they do not sell Travelcards at the railway station ticket offices of London’s airports.
Another minor complication is that at railway ticket offices adults need a photo id card to buy adult 7 day Travelcards, whereas this is not a requrement at TFL outlets like Underground Stations.
The other bonus with buying Travelcards from a railway station is that it qualifies you for the railways 2 for 1 sightseeing promotion.
3) The third work around is that you can buy 7 Day Child Travelcards without any photo id on-line from the TFL / Visit Britain on-line shop and have them delivered to your home, including overseas. There is a delivery charge.
TFL / Visit Britain On-Line Shop
Free Travel – How Do I Get my Child Through the Ticket Barriers Without A Ticket?
If your child is entitled to free travel, you do not obtain a ticket
London’s buses are ticketless, so no problem there.
On the Underground and DLR and suburban railways you have to pass through a ticket barrier where you need to insert a valid ticket for verification before the barrier is raised. If your child is entitled to free travel you do not get a ticket that costs nothing, instead you need to get a member of staff to let your child through the manned barrier onto the platforms.
The Railways in the UK that run into London and include all the commuter lines of London that are not the London Underground or the DLR have different rules and are much more straight forward.
Children uder 5 travel free when accompanied, children 11 to 15 years old can get child fares, normally 50% of the adult fares. Full stop.
Straight forward isn’t it?