Mayoral Election: How Does London Fare In Fares?

By BethPH Last edited 74 months ago
Mayoral Election: How Does London Fare In Fares?

Transport fares are a hot topic in the mayoral election campaigns especially after another increase at the start of this year, not to mention the pledges and counter-pledges from the candidates. So we thought we'd take a look at other cities with underground rail networks and see how their fares stack up against London's. Click on the links on the city names for underground maps.


The notoriously-crowded metro system has a PASMO card which appears pretty similar to London's Oyster card. We especially like the FAQ page for PASMO, which is illustrated with a nifty pink robot, something TfL's website is sadly lacking. A ¥500 (£4) deposit is required upon purchase of the card and it can be topped up at ticket machines or station offices.

Fares are calculated by distance rather than zoned and range between ¥160 (£1.30) for a short trip of 1-6km to ¥300 (£2.40) for 28-40km. A Metro All-line Pass appears to work like a travelcard allowing unlimited travel on any line and costs ¥16,820 (£133.55) for one month.

Courtesy of a Japanese colleague, we can advise that travelling from Ikebukuro to Ginza on the Marunouchi Line (which is apparently like going from Shoreditch to Liverpool Street) costs ¥190 (£1.50) whereas travelling from Wakoshi to Ginza (more like Ealing to Liverpool Street) costs ¥270 (£2.15).


Paris uses a zonal system similar to London's with six circular zones radiating out from the centre. A single adult ticket which allows you to travel on the Metro, the bus or the RER (Réseau Express Régional) costs €1.70 (£1.40) but if you buy a carnet (a book of 10 tickets) the cost drops to €1.25 (£1.00). A Carte Mobilis is a day ticket again like a travelcard giving unlimited travel within certain zones. Zone 1-2 is €6.30 (£5.20) and zone 1-5 is €14.00 (£11.60).

The Paris Métro also has a pre-pay system, the Navigo, which covers weekly and monthly travel. It requires a €5.00 deposit and a zone 1-2 fare is €62.00 (£51.50) for a month while zone 1-5 is €109.90 (£91.20).

A former Paris resident tells us that people live everywhere and commute in all directions but travelling from La Motte-Picquet Grenelle to La Défense is roughly equal to Wood Green to the City in London.

New York

The New York subway equivalent of Oyster is MetroCard which travellers appear to be strongly encouraged to use. In fact, a single ticket is only available from a vending machine and costs $2.50 (£1.55). An adult single using the MetroCard is $2.25 (£1.42). There are no fare zones as with many other systems so the amount you top your MetroCard up by gives you a fixed number of rides on the subway. Using express buses costs more, as does the dedicated train service to JFK airport though the latter is only $5.00 as opposed to the woundingly large £18.00 charged by the Heathrow Express. A 30 day unlimited ride card costs $104.00 (£65.00).

They also have a version of auto top-up; the hideously concatenated EasyPayXpress MetroCard, which requires $30.00 to open the account but you get a 7% bonus every time you top up over $10.00, which is nice. Oh, and there are no child fares on the subway if your offspring are shorter than 44 inches. Any taller and they pay the adult fare.


The Berlin U-Bahn (from 'Untergrundbahn', which means 'underground railway', fact fans) has three fare zones, known as A, B, and C, with zone A being the centre of the city. A single fare is valid across buses, trams and rail across the relevant zone and costs €3.00 (£2.50) for zones A-C. Interestingly, unlike London, dogs don't travel for free unless you have a day ticket and the fares even specify differences between large and small dogs. A day ticket in zones A-B is €6.30 (£5.20) and one for zones A-C is €6.80 (£5.65).

The monthly equivalent is a VBB Eco Ticket which can be valid for either a calendar month or for a month from the date of purchase. One of these for zone A-B is €74.00 (£61.00) and for zone A-C it's €91.00 (£75.50). On the prepay front, Berlin is apparently being introduced to the Metrocard but we struggled to find any reliable information on this. If any Londonist readers can shed some light on it, do let us know in the comments. There's a kind of short-term version of one called the WelcomeCard but this is aimed at tourists rather than commuters.


Consisting of three zones and just two lines it's the baby of our list but as one of only four underground networks in the UK and one of two outside London we thought we'd include the Tyne & Wear Metro for comparison's sake. It has a dizzying array of ticketing options but a single fare in one zone is £1.60 while travelling across zones A-C is £3.10. A DaySaver ticket, which allows unlimited travel on the Metro, rail and ferry is £2.70 for single zone and £5.00 for all three. As with the London underground, travelling after 9am is cheaper but we've gone for a commuting angle across all our comparisons.

A Network One Travel Ticket, which gives access to local buses too, costs £58.80 for a month (single zone) and £80.90 for all zones. There's also a special ticket for the Toon Army to travel to matches which costs £10 but it's limited to Newcastle United season ticket holders only. The Tyne & Wear Metro doesn't have a pre-pay card option.

So, here's a handy table showing the above transport networks all in GBP. We've shown Oyster single fares for London because the walk-up cash fares are so insanely overpriced that it would ruin any decent comparison.


Prepay deposit

One-month travelcard

(zones 1-5 or equivalent)

Adult single fare

(mid range)

Child single fare

(mid range)
















New York















*Disclaimer: if anyone has better information on fares on these underground networks, please feel free to tell us in the comments. Likewise, we'd be interested to hear about your experiences on them.

Photo by P. Pearson

Last Updated 21 February 2012


Very interesting.  I wonder if the cheaper systems are cheaper because they are more heavily subsidised or because they are more efficient somehow? 

Mark Walley

While the Newcastle Metro is ace, it inevitably costs you more than £2.40 a ticket, because the machines that sell you tickets inevitably don't give you change, and the tickets are so small that you inevitably lose them and then have to replace them before the inevitable fine (says he speaking from experience).

Patrick in London

Also interesting to note although perhaps not directly tied to the comparison here, in NYC, through the IRS, a person is eligible through their employer to use pre-tax dollars in order to purchase their monthly metrocard.  This works out among other things to a savings on the "actual" cost of the card.  (I used to get mine shipped to me quarterly at work, with the deductions for the cost taken out before the money even hit my paycheck..)


In Berlin, if you have the U-Bahn's equivalent of London's monthly travelcard, you can have someone else travel with you for free on weekday evenings (after 8pm I think) and all weekend. That's on top of it being less than half the price in the first place, cleaner, safer, more efficient, running 24hrs at weekends, and never dangerously or even uncomfortably packed. Oh, and you can take a beer on there, naturally.


From researching this I found that a couple of the systems were 24 hour running, though they were built in a way which allowed trains to be run on an alternate rail while maintenance was going on.


You should try the Mexico City Metro. When I lived there is cost 2 pesos per journey (no matter how long) - that's about 10p. I believe it might have gone up to 3 pesos now... Heavily subsidised funnily enough.


There are a few factual mistakes with the comparison with the New York system (which I do know) and London. Firstly, to get to JFK (equivalent of Heathrow) by train you have to use the monorail, so you have to pay an additional $5, making it about as expensive as going on the Piccadilly Line but more of a hassle. There is just no equivalent to the Heathrow Express in New York, so the only comparison to say do you have a 15-minute door-to-door service from the centre of town or not - London does and New York does not.

Secondly, the Metro Card is not comparable with Oyster because it cannot do half the things an Oyster card can do and it is a lot more fiddly to use - it uses the same magnetic stripe technology we used to have in London in the last century.

I only know all this stuff because I lived in New York. Thanks for having a go at this, but cost comparisons are never straightforward. They also miss the very important qualitative differences between these systems.


On another note, direct foreign exchange rate comparisons are not quite fair either. You have to take into account purchacing power parity from the various countries. Good start!


I usually live in London, NYC and Paris... (job duties..sic!).
Paris system is more clean and efficient, with no disruption at all. To refurbish a station they work at night and to refurbish an escalator they take a week. Train are bigger and more comfortable, and most important thing the service is extended during weekend and bank holidays not reduced or cancelled.
About Pass Navigo one mistake : no deposit is required if you live in Paris, you receive it with your photo id card for free by mail, you pay only the pass if you buy an impersonal version.
Purchasing power for Paris tube scheme is a real 40% of London ticket cost.

New York system is bigger and more powerful we have express train to move across the all city fast, and more important think NYC metro transport system move us 24 hours day 7 days a week 365 day a year for less then half price comparison purchasing power.

About Paris I must say one important thing more with one single ticket you can take the metro (one single trip) or buses how many you want for more then 70 minutes.


You should add to the Buenos Aires Subte to the comparison - very good, modern service and outrageously cheap


Just been around some of Europe.

Rome - 1 Euro (90p) and can transfer onto buses
Barcelona - 9.50 euros I think it was for 10 trips (including to airport) so about 80p a trip
Madrid and Valencia were the same. 9-10 euros for 10 trips. 1 euro extra to Madrid airport.

Barcelona is 24 hours on a Saturday. The others ran late. Even Rome's, which isn't great at all, runs until 1.30am on a weekend.