Is Driving More Economical Than Public Transport: Updated

By BethPH Last edited 56 months ago
Is Driving More Economical Than Public Transport: Updated

clipperAt the beginning of 2013, we sat down to try and work out whether it would be cheaper to drive or use public transport in London.

In 2014, London has seen fare increases and a rise in the congestion charge so we thought we'd take another look at the costs per day (two single fares because we're assuming you want to get home from work too). We've also included commuting by motorcycle, the Thames Clipper and car hire clubs. Obviously, we recognise that cycling and walking are always going to be the cheapest and most environmentally friendly options of all, but they're not feasible or desirable for everyone, especially on longer commutes, so we've left them out of this particular comparison.

We've also again not calculated depreciation, insurance, maintenance costs or mpg because these are too variable to produce a decent comparison. Instead, we've looked at fuel costs based on putting £40 per week unleaded petrol into the car and £25 into the motorbike, parking and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). Here are our assumptions:

  • Car - small hatchback with VED of £145 per year
  • Motorbike - 500cc bike with VED of £57 per year
  • Commuting distance - 40 mile round trip
  • Current cost of unleaded petrol - £40/£25 per week in fuel
  • Congestion charge - £10.50 per day (using Auto Pay)
  • Parking (car) - £22.50 per day (NCP Saffron Hill, EC1N)
  • Parking (motorcycle) -  £1 per day (using Westminster's guide)
  • Tube journey - peak single zones 1-6 on Oyster PAYG
  • Rail journey - single from Brentwood (a typical commuter town 20 miles out) to Liverpool Street
  • Bus journey - peak single zones 1-6 on Oyster PAYG
  • Car club - based on Zip Car monthly rates of £54 per day
  • Thames Clipper - (between London Eye and Royal Arsenal Woolwich)

So, for all the options we included last year, there has been an overall increase (with the exception of daily PAYG fares outside zone 1). Looking at the year-on-year increases, we can also probably expect them to go up again for 2015.

Mode of transport




















Car (free parking)





Car (paid parking)





Motorcycle (free parking)





Motorcycle (paid parking)





Car club





Thames Clipper





The motoring costs include rises in fuel, VED, congestion charge and parking. As before, if you go electric you can remove the fuel and congestion charge which reduces the annual total to £5,545. Hybrids are no longer congestion charge exempt.

Hiring a car on a regular basis is eye-wateringly pricey — for £18,360 per year you could buy your own car, pay to run it and still have money left over (although the daily cost does include congestion charge and VED). We don't actually think anyone would choose to pay that amount to hire a car but who knows?

In non-public transport terms, motorcyclists are the winners with relatively paltry fuel costs and free or cheap parking — though some bikers have warned us that to get free parking you need to arrive very early. Motorcycle parking in the NCP we used as an example is also a fraction of the car parking cost at £5 per day. We also think you'd have to be fairly committed to biking to want to commute in all weathers.

For users of public transport, buses come out considerably cheaper again, but don't forget they went cashless on 6 July. There is a 'one more journey' option but be warned, if you need more than one bus to get home, this won't help you much.

And yes, we know the Thames Clipper only runs between Royal Arsenal Woolwich (zone 4) and Putney (zone 2) so from a commuting point of view it's mainly viable for people living within easy reach of the piers. But if you do, season tickets aren't at all bad value when you consider it has air conditioning, they serve drinks and you can sit on the back of the boat as you watch central London disappearing in your wake.

So, public transport is the cheapest option. Like last year, driving only becomes financially viable if you car share, have free parking (which let's face it, few do) and/or go electric. For the best possible transport value, London's commuters need to get on the bus.

Photo by snappy snapz in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 29 July 2014