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Transport / Mass transit

How much do Londoners spend on commuting?

The numbers are in: rail fares around the country will grow by an average of 1.1 per cent from January 2016. Across London, fares will rise by an average of 1 per cent.

This may not sound like much, but in the year to September 2015 (the latest figures available from the Office of National Statistics), the consumer price index fell by 0.1 per cent. Throughout 2015, the rate of inflation hovered at around 0%.

This implies that the fares are rising faster than other outlays. And that will affect commuters most of all. 

Commuter Club, which allows Londoners to pay in installments for year-long Underground travelcards, recently carried out a survey of 457 of its customers to find out how much they’re spending on commuting. These customers would have been based in London, so it may not surprise you to hear that two thirds of the respondents put travel to work as their second or third highest major household expense, presumably after rent or mortgage:

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Around 30 per cent of the respondents spent at least 20 per cent of their net income on commuting:

A majority spent 10 per cent or less – but it’s worth noting that, when many Londoners spend more than half their salary on rent, 10 per cent of a salary could be at least 20 per cent of what you have left after housing costs.

The average annual salary of those who took the survey roughly matched the capital’s average of £35,000: 

The survey was obviously limited by its sample size and the fact respondents were all members of a specific service, but it matches up with our anecdotal hunch that Londoners spend an awful lot on their commute. Even those using travelcards, usually the most cost-efficient way to travel, generally spend over £100 a month just to get around the city. A poll carried out by nutmeg.com last year suggested that the average cost of commuting within London per month was £118, compared to an average of £69 across nine other large UK cities. 

So will fare increases make a noticeable difference to Londoners? When asked whether they knew how much rail fares would rise next year, almost 70 per cent of the Commuter Club members didn’t know. But when asked if it would affect their disposable income, most thought it would have some effect:

Fare increases, particularly in the capital, have become a bit of a political pawn: mayoral candidates promise fare freezes to win votes, then probably fail to deliver on them. (This is what current mayor Boris Johnson did.)

But, as we’ve pointed out before, there are lots of other, more means-oriented ways to make transport fairer and cheaper for those who need it to be so. As the charts above suggest, the biggest problem isn’t how much fares are increasing, but the fact that they already eat up a huge amount of the average Londoner’s salary. 

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All graphs: Commuter Club.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.