The Oyster Explained

The Oyster card

London’s pretty huge and its public transport system is correspondingly complex. It all begins with the Oyster card. Getting one is essential for life and travel in London, but why, and how to use it, are not always immediately apparent.  If you are a new visitor to London and trying to work out how to get to your hotel in Marble Arch, figuring it all out ahead of time could save you considerable drama.

What it’s for?

To start with; what is an Oyster card and why do you need one? The Oyster card is a way of paying for train, tube and bus tickets around London. You can put money on to it and it will automatically subtract the travel fees as you move around the city. If you plan to use the bus network at all, or the tubes more than a few times, it is essential.

How to Buy?

Purchasing your Oyster can be a bit tricky if you aren’t ready for the process. Nearby the gates at all major tube stations there will be a series of ticketing machines with touch screens. They have language options and there are often staff members around to help if needed. The machine will have an option for users who don’t have an oyster so select that and it will print one for you. Remember though the Oyster does cost money, although you can get most of that back by turning it in at the end of your journey.

How do you Use it?

Using an Oyster card is thankfully very simple. You simply hold the card over the big yellow symbols that you will find in front of the ticket gates at the tube station, or next to the driver on a bus. The symbols have a picture of an Oyster card on them to make it clear what you need to do. Hold the card on the symbol and wait for the light to flash from red to green (or for the gates to open) to be sure everything has worked.

Which Ticket?

This is a bit harder to advise on. Most travellers will do fine by just putting credit on their card and updating it whenever they need more. However, if you expect to travel a lot within London there is a lot to be said for getting a weekly (or monthly depending on the length of your trip) travel ticket. Generally speaking a Zone 1 and 2 travel ticket (which includes bus trips anywhere) is ideal for a tourist as most of the major sites around London fall within Zones 1 and 2. You can then add credit if you have to go further out.

What are your Other Options?

The Oyster is definitely the easiest way to deal with the London transport system; but only if you expect to travel a lot. If you are just passing through or only plan to make a couple of trips; then you may want to get a one of travel tickets. This won’t cost the extra money that an Oyster costs, but the fares are higher. You also can’t use these on the busses. Another option is to use your wireless credit card (assuming you have one) to pay directly for all fares. This works the same as the Oyster card does but it extracts the money directly from your bank account. It’s considerably more convenient to use, but it doesn’t have any options to get weekly or monthly fares.


This article was originally published on The Montcalm.