We’re always reminded to touch in and out with our Oyster and contactless payment cards when travelling across London’s public transport network.
So, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that at one West London station, each week, 8,360 more people have been recorded entering the station than exiting it. Of course, not every station has the exact same number of passengers returning to where they started their journey but this particular station stands out in Transport for London (TfL)’s most recent data used for measuring crowding and passenger journeys over the course of a year.
At West Brompton – on the District line, Southern Croydon-Milton Keynes and London Overground Clapham Junction-Stratford routes – 16,416 people per week were recorded entering the station on an average week in 2020/2021.
But fewer than half are leaving, with just 8,049. There have been no incidents that mean people have not been able to get off at West Brompton so this anomaly seems unusual.
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West Brompton is one of a handful of London stations that have a set of special ‘pink Oyster readers’.
Unlike the yellow Oyster readers you usually see at station entrance/exits that allow you to start or end a journey by touching in or out, these readers are designed to be touched when you are changing trains to avoid Zone 1.
By tapping the pink reader whilst you are en-route, you will be charged a cheaper fare when you finally touch out.
Yet, if you touch the pink reader without having touched in on a yellow reader first, then TfL will give you the benefit of the doubt and count the touch as a ‘touch in’ instead of an interchange.
This means the incorrect tap is counted as an entrance, skewing the figures.
At West Brompton, this could occur if you tap the pink reader in one direction but not the other or forget to tap the yellow reader after touching a pink reader.
It could also occur if you use a mix of paper tickets and Oyster/contactless here.
Unsurprisingly, this means that other stations with pink readers also see more entrances than exits including Clapham Junction, Hackney Central, Highbury & Islington and Stratford, according to the same dataset.
(Image: Steve Daniels / Geograph, CC)
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Major events that may have skewed the dataset such as large cultural events, football games and severe service disruption were excluded to make the data more robust but one huge event probably explains why the disparity at West Brompton is so pronounced compared to other stations – the pandemic.
A TfL spokesperson said: “As part of our social distancing measures to allow services to continue to run at a near-normal level during the pandemic, an ungated, but staffed exit at West Brompton station was opened to allow a one-way system to be in operation throughout the station.
“Due to this, a number of customers may have exited the station without touching out, which would affect the average statistics for the station.
“Pay as you go customers who didn’t touch out would have had their fares corrected by our ticketing system, but this wouldn’t be shown within this dataset.”
So statistically, these passengers were so socially distanced, they actually ‘disappeared’ from the statistics.
Thanks to Mike from the independent blog Oyster Fares Central for the preparation of this article.
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