/ 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.