/ Travel & Leisure

Are transport costs going off the rails?

Train tickets with money

Many of us use public transport for work and pleasure, but as fares rise and trust falls, we set out to discover what passengers are really saying about Britain’s transport network…

The average UK household spends £530 a year on public transport and with the continuing squeeze on budgets, the cost of transport is a big concern. Just three in 10 are cutting spending on public transport – that’s fewer than the number cutting back on food – primarily because transport spending is very difficult to cut. I will renew my TFL season ticket yet again this Christmas as I need it to get to work – irrespective of the price rise. At £1,300 a year it is painful but unavoidable.

In our latest Quarterly Consumer Report we analysed thousands of tweets to explore what the key issues were for commuters and passengers across the UK.

All-aboard the transport squeeze

Cost and affordability of travel came out top, with a third of the tweets highlighting the continued squeeze on budgets. Some people were concerned they would be unable to afford rising transport costs in light of other price rises and benefit cuts; others are making changes to their commutes; and some people are using credit to pay for their train fares. One tweet asked:

‘How are people going to afford the bus fare on top of #BedroomTax #energy. Can see more & more relying on #foodbanks.’

Students appear particularly vulnerable to transport costs. One student tweeted:

‘After paying for rent, and a bus pass for the year, I have £71 left for everything for the rest of the term from student finance.’

Another stated that; ‘All the money I get goes to food and bus fare.’

The price of public transport is also influencing where people work, with people weighing up rising transport costs and stagnant wages. Some say they’ve turned to cycling while others say they’ve known people give up a job because they couldn’t afford the fare.

Do rising fares improve service?

Customer service was also a key concern, with one in 10 tweets on this issue. Consumer expectations of the service they receive are high, especially given rising fares. One tweet complained:

‘I pay £400 a term for a train ticket… A little customer service wouldn’t go amiss!’

As we approach another year of fare rises millions will be squeezed to pay for essentials like transport, heating and eating. Have you cut back on travel costs or changed your routine to make ends meet? And if you were in charge of Britain’s public transport for a day what would you change?

Lou Austin says:
25 October 2013

Bring the lot into public ownership , our railways are of strategic value good value rail travel would not only make travel affordable,it would cut the road congestion,keep traffic off the roads,cut pollution and everybody benefts.

As I work from home and do my shopping online I feel lucky to not have to use public transport much as the prices do seem stupid.

I did used to walk to town and get the bus home a few times a year. But my local bus company in Leeds put the prices up last year from £1 to get home to £1.25. Due to this I have refused to take the bus since.

I know it’s only 25p. But I do not agree with putting the costs up when they are making so many millions of pounds per year.

No idea, I stopped using public transport years ago. When it took over 2 hours do a 30 min train journey, I was stuck on a cold platform watching all the fast trains going through, as they’d cancelled all the stopping ones so the fast ones could get through. But did they bother to mention that at the time, no.

And when I moved, I could drive to work quicker than I would take me to a) walk to the station and b) even if I start the watch as the train pulls out, I could still drive there quicker than the train could get to the closest station.

I think the only way I would even contemplate using public transport was if they paid me.

There is no reason for people who can travel perfectly well or more economically without using the railway to even contemplate such a journey, and their abstinence reduces overcrowding. But for many people there is no choice but to take the train and, financially, as well as literally, they are being taken for a ride.

Lou advocates returning the railways to public ownership. To all intents and purposes [except the siphoning of profits] they are under state control and a very expensive shambles the state has made of it. The costs of franchising, regulation and governmental control are enormous. The actual profits taken by the operating companies are not impressive and offer little incentive for future investment. The train companies do not even own the rolling stock which is leased from big financial corporations subject to a vast amount of civil service interference in terms of specification, production, and supply with a roller-coaster profiled order book which leaves UK manufacturers constantly guessing or out of business entirely. More state control is possibly not the answer.

Gerard Phelan says:
26 October 2013

The main sources of railway income is what they receive in fares plus what is paid directly in subsidy – taken from tax payers. (Minor income sources are shop rentals, property rentals and car parking). Recent UK Governments have made the political decision that those who use the railways should pay a larger share of the costs, thus fares have gone up. Many European railways, cost just as much, or more to run, but their political decision has been that their tax payers, even those who do not use railways, must pay a bigger share.

William above says he drives rather than use Public Transport. Does he only drive on Toll Roads? I thought not! Roads are just as much Public Transport as are Railways, with tax payers, including those who never drive required to pay for their construction and maintenance.

Bus services are just the same, relying on the publicly built and maintained roads.

Every way of moving around relies on our Public Transport infrastructure. Even when walking – local or national taxpayers have paid to build and maintain the footpaths and their signposts.

I would like to see genuine competition between train companies on the same line. For example outside peak hours, my train company in Greater London runs trains every 30 minutes for a 15 to 25 minute journey with 8-carriage trains, which can cause extremely inconvenient waiting times. It would be fantastic if multiple train companies could run 4-carriage trains on the same line with smaller intervals, differing intermediate stops (and consequently total journey time), and crucially different pricing. Only through genuine competition would the overall service improve along with choice for the passenger.

Aisha says:
26 October 2013

What I cant believe is that I have to pay full fare on the train but this doesnt mean I get a seat. Really ridiculous. Surely if I dont get a seat I should be paying less. There is first class, standard class and standing class. How about standing and squashed class!

Trains are overcrowded during rush hour, why cant they put on more trains.

Although there might be capacity during peak hours on individual lines, once those lines all converge in central London, the stations often can’t cope. Trains often queue up to enter central London stations and arrive late, despite there being a carefully planned timetable.

What we need is a change in mentality from employers, allowing more flexible start and end times as well as more working from home using technology that allows it. It is socially irresponsible of employers to mandate physical presence by employees who could work remotely.
It always amazes me if I get a slightly later train which arrives after 9am; there are lots of empty seats unlike the previous train which is always overcrowded. If employers concentrated less on presenteeism and abolished the tradition that one must be at work in an office job by 9am, public transport would be a lot less crowded and more comfortable.

I agree that we should get away from fixed working hours where possible, which reduces demand on public transport and roads at peak times, saves time and decreases stress. Before I retired as a lecturer I would work at home until mid-morning, with little interruption other than nuisance calls, unless I was teaching or had a meeting. If something cropped up and I was needed, I could be at work within ten minutes. I found that I could achieve a lot more when working at home. Other colleagues came in early and left early to avoid peak times for travel on roads and public transport.

Some people certainly need to be at work during fixed hours but introducing more flexibility for others could make our public transport and roads more bearable for everyone.

Flexible working hours is good , if you can wangle it. I managed to 8am to 4pm, and so missed the traffic at both times. Although at those times, all the trains stopped at every station, making those journeys even longer. And I’d certainly get more work done from 7:30 to 9:00 , than any other time of the day

As to letting people work at home ( which is basically unsupervised ). This works both ways, I would hate it as I’d feel I’d need to do even more work and when they had overnight shifts, with people in the office over night ( again unsupervised) the one day a manager did go in one of the chaps was curdled up in his sleeping bag. So its not always wise to let the staff work unsupervised, unless you can trust ALL of them, cos only letting a few do it, causes even more problems. I’d much rather let a member of staff go home a few hours early and make it up 15 mins a day, cos I could apply that to everyone and not cause friction.

It really is time we embraced (and imposed) flexible working hours for business, public employers and schools. The concentration of travelling between say 7:30 and 9:00 makes public transport expensive, in providing high capacity for short periods, and clogs up the roads. How much extra pollution results and time wasted? It seems such a simple solution – but why does no-one tackle it?

I am keen on more people having flexible working hours, but I take the point made by William about not everyone being trustworthy. It is about time that we pay people for what they achieve rather than for attendance. For some jobs it is easy to devise performance indicators and reward those who are efficient with shorter working hours or a higher salary.

There is also a good case for encouraging people to live nearer work, since rising fares, fuel price and congestion don’t seem to be enough to drive this change. In the days before we had road and rail, and had no phones, Internet, videoconferencing, etc.,we all managed to live near our place of work.

One of the reasons that fares are high is concessionary fares. I am not convinced of the wisdom of offering completely free bus travel to older people. I recognise that it is useful to encourage older people to get out of the house and remain active, but I wonder how much this is costing younger people who are often living on a tighter budget. Why do we have free bus fares when a Senior Railcard only provides a discount on train fares?

A local park & ride service replaced free fare concessions with a payment of 70p, compared with a full fare of £2.60. At least the users, many of whom are still working, are now making a contribution and hopefully keeping fares down for younger people.

I agree with the withdrawal of the concessionary bus travel concession for over 60’s. I am sure the costs of administering it [taking the transport ministry, local authority, and bus operators into account] is disproportionate to its value. So far as I can see from where we live, it is virtually useless because the bus services just do not go where people need to go at the times when the pass is valid. The closure of bus services between market towns in rural areas has been going on for years because the services are grossly uneconomic and have to be heavily subsidised. The internet and the use of private transport will ensure that this trend is never reversed and indeed accelerates. I accept that abolishing the concessionary scheme will make those rural bus services – and many suburban ones as well – that do survive even more vulnerable. I think there are better ways of helping older citizens with the support they really need.

I shall be eligible for the free ‘OAP’ travel pass when I reach state pension age at 65 years and 4 months, in April 2019. Until then, I have to pay for any bus or tube travel I undertake which is very little as I prefer to use my car. I do understand the plight of the state pensions as I am on a private pension which is not keeping pace with inflation – how can it with energy hikes of around 10% as the norm. The CPI and RPI are not just measuring the prices of essentials but also luxuries which do not increase in price as much as our everyday essentials.

Back to the free bus pass. This enables lonely elderly people to get out to visit their friends, shop in larger stores where they are able to avail of lower prices and they also get away from their chilly homes in winter. They use the pass to attend their doctor or for hospital appointments. The local council is only charged for the journeys undertaken so if you don’t apply for the pass or don’t use it there is no charge to the council.

Many of todays pensioners have very low incomes, especially women pensioners who rarely worked outside the home or worked for a few years in part time jobs where they were not given the opportunity to pay into a pension scheme. They are the very people who get most benefit from the ‘free’ bus pass. Do we really wish to withdraw this benefit from them and leave them isolated in their chilly homes. If so, we are a Cruel Society not a Big Society. There are many ways of saving money without attacking the most vulnerable citizens.

I never travel on the national railways service but I still have to subsidise the journeys of those who do, through general taxation. Why should people who are past state pension age not have their few journeys subsidised via the ‘free’ bus pass.

Free bus passes raises the question of universal benefits. It seems to me that, particularly in times of austerity, we should apply benefits prudently – to those who are in need, but not to those who are not. Free bus passes, winter fuel allowance, free TV licenses for over 75’s for example. I know many have paid for these through NI and taxation, but would it not be better to target limited resources to where they will do most good?

I don’t have children so do not get any education subsidised by the state but I still have to pay taxes so education is funded. All I receive from my local council is refuse collections and more and more potholes. Leave the state pensioners bus passes alone.

MalcolmR, everybody, including you, seems to forget that bus passes and winter fuel allowances were given to the elderly by the Labour Government as a sop to not paying a decent pension. To remove the benefits now would be a huge betrayal. The Government is not going to do this whilst they are a hens kick away from a Referendum followed by a General Election. The older citizens are the ones who vote in great numbers and the politicians are very aware of this. The younger ones will only vote if they have an ‘App’ on their iPhone or iPad to do so.

figgerty, maybe my comment was unclear. I am in favour of giving benefits, whether TV license, bus pass, winter fuel allowance, to those in need. What I was asking was should these benefits be given to everyone, irrespective of need? Should not limited resources be targeted?

I support Malcolm’s position on the bus pass question – I am strongly in favour of giving additional support to the poorer and more vulnerable members of society, and that needs to be more tailored to their needs. Making free bus passes available in most of Norfolk is a cynical exercise in highlighting the extent of people’s deprivation. I am currently in correspondence with our MP about the lack of travel facilities of any type, free or otherwise, to enable people just to go to Norwich by bus without having to book in advance and take the express coach -.and that service is not exactly convenient with very few intermediat stop]. During the summer season most of the buses on the popular coastal routes are full of affluent retirees staying in their second homes or rented holiday cottages so that sometimes the locals cannot even board the bus!

I am grateful to Figgerty for reminding me that the concessionary bus pass is no longer available to all over-sixties and is now linked to the state pension age [to determine which a special calculator is necessary].

MalcolmR, no you were clear but what system will identify those in need and at what cost. And if the benefits are abolished as some wish, will the pension be increased to make up for the lost years full increases. We accept that commuters travel is subsidised by the taxpayers, why not the irregular travel of the state pensioner. Many of the state pensioners who comment on here may not need the benefit but there are many out there who feel it is their pass to freedom. They don’t have to decide between eating or heating and going out,

We must also remember the £5bn cost to date of HS2 – what has that been spent on, David Cameron. And, what will you do if Labour does not give you an excuse to ditch the whole project. £5bn! Is anybody aware of an accounting for this huge sum?

The free bus passes are also issued to the disabled, are we to stop them travelling free as well. No indeed, we can not discriminate against the disabled, but the elderly are fair game. The free passes are only valid for off peak journeys when most of our buses and trains are less than a quarter full. Also, you have to apply for the pass and reapply to renew it, so if you are too rich to need it, please do not apply for it.

I’ve started using the railway for trips to London and Birmingham from Cumbria; with Advance tickets I feel the cost is good value – return fares of £40 to £50 with railcard.
However the bus journey to the station (15miles) in the next town is £6.20 one way – expensive.
For part time workers on minimum wage the cost of travel here can amount to 50% of their earnings for a shift a ridiculous proportion.

Have you looked at splitting your ticket, to maybe save even more ?

It basically means buying 2+ tickets instead of one, So if you’re travelling from A to C via B at a cost of £x, it will look at the cost of tickets from A to B and B to C to see if you end up using the same train/seat but paying less. see here for more detailed info


Had a look at ticket splitting but sites usually say: 1) Advance tickets cheaper, 2) Journey too long to split or 3) The split means a change of train operator with journeytimes going from 3 hrs to >4hrs !
So this technique seems of limited value for long distance services.

Did you try the link I posted? I don’t think Martin Lewis would have put it in the public domain if it couldn’t help. And he would have had 1000s of his MSE followers test it too. I don’t think many other sites would have had that level of testing.

But if it’s no help, then sorry for the wild goose chance.

There is no doubt that for some journeys it is hard to obtain the optimum ticket-splitting result. Very complex software and considerable computing capacity are required to calculate and compare all the sectional options and validate them against the prevailing ticket restrictions having regard to the time and date of travel. Continuous maintenance of the database is also a heavy ongoing commitment. Great Britain’s fares and ticketing structure is so complex, having been tinkered with over generations and now in the hands of multiple train operators, that unless there is a big, profitable, and preferably unchallenged, market for a ticket-splitting service the process will remain unsatisfactory and the train operators are not going to do anything to encourage such investment. The system is crying out for rationalisation to make it logical, equitable, consistent and comprehensible to the average traveller but I shan’t be sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

William – your comments on split ticketing were valid and welcome and in many circumstances large savings can be made. No need to apologise !!

I was a set to travel to Ipswich next Tuesday i looked at the prices as i have not traveled by Train for years now i was incredibly shocked how expensive the prices are unless one books 3 months in advance i looked at spit ticketing as well also Nation Bus fares they have special offers advertised but try and get one often it just says this offer has ended.No wonder so many people go abroad for their hols Rail fares are way overpriced.

Two of my family had to take the train to Tiverton in Devon from oxford last weekend. £39 single for 146 miles. I didn’t think that was bad (driving would have cost at least twice that). If you travel off peak it make sense. Cheapest weekday seems £29.40, highest around £51.