Is It Quicker To Travel By Car Or Public Transport?

By Daan Deol Last edited 87 months ago
Is It Quicker To Travel By Car Or Public Transport?

We all have those days sat on the tube or bus, going nowhere fast, slowly grinding our teeth down. It's times like this we say to ourselves that "if I had a car, I'd get there SO much quicker". But is that really true?

One of those moments you wish you had a car. Photo: Andy Thornley

TfL's figures show that in 2015, 37% of all journeys made by Londoners were on public transport. In 2000 that figure was just 28%. By 2041, it's expected to rise to 40%. Meanwhile, the number of journeys made in private vehicles fell from 47% in 2000 to 36% in 2015.

We chose five work commutes: two journeys between historically connected sites, one north to south, one south to north, and one completely central. All journey times are based at peak time (8.30am) on a Monday.

First up: north and south London routes into Cannon Street (from Highgate and Greenwich). Commuters in north London have access to more tube stations, as well as various other rail and bus options. Their southern cousins rely more heavily on the overground and buses. So you might think a car would benefit south Londoners more.

Tony Adams greets you at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: Ray BEDFORD

Arsenal football team gets its name from the former armament factory at Woolwich. Given their sizable distance from one another, we thought it'd be fitting to work out journey times between the two.

Next: because they're both palaces, have big transmitters and are on opposite sides of London — we decided to work out the best mode of transport from Alexandra Palace to Crystal Palace.

We also included Canary Wharf and London Bridge, so we could try out an inner London journey.

It should be noted that from July-September 2015/16, average traffic speeds between 7am and 7pm were 17mph in London as a whole, and 7.9mph in central London.

We also threw in walking stats, for the health conscious commuter... and to see just how much longer it takes.

Here are the stats

From To Driving Public Transport Walking

Highgate Station

Cannon Street

30 mins - 1hr

29 mins

1hr 53mins


Greenwich Station

Cannon Street

24 - 55mins

27 mins

1hr 38 mins

Canary Wharf

London Bridge

20 - 45mins

7 mins

1hr 12mins

Royal Arsenal

Emirates Stadium

40 mins - 1hr 05mins

1hr 10 mins

3hr 33mins

Alexandra Palace Station

Crystal Palace Station

1hr 05 mins -

1hr 50 mins

1hr 2mins 4hr 43mins

Here's what we learned

1. If you're in a hurry, walking any of these routes isn't recommended. By getting the train from Alexandra Palace to Crystal Palace instead of walking, you'll save yourself in the region of three hours, 40 minutes. Mind you, the walk from Canary Wharf to London Bridge is totally doable. We never thought walking would be quicker... but it does usually make the journey more palatable.

2. Traveling into Cannon Street from north (Highgate) or south (Greenwich) London on public transport actually takes about the same amount of time. Driving may take around the same time, but due to the unreliable nature of traffic, it could take longer. Indeed, getting from Highgate to Cannon Street in the car could wind up taking you twice as long as on public transport. Yikes.

3. Unsurprisingly, it's quicker to get from Canary Wharf to London Bridge by public transport. It's only seven minutes. What were you thinking, driving a car through the middle of the City in rush hour anyway?

4. From Arsenal to Arsenal, whether you choose to drive or take public transport, it can take you roughly the same time. On average though, a car edges it for better time. So we can't rule out the benefits of private transport altogether.

1if you live or work in Alexandra Palace then you're very lucky. Photo: Adrian Snood

5. To get from Alexandra Palace to Crystal Palace, it's better to venture on the train. A quicker way would be to travel between the two transmitters by radio wave — that journey would only take 0.00007 seconds. Unfortunately, that's not currently an option.

6. It is entirely possible that delays and cancelled train/tube services can slow down your journey. But the latest TfL figures show tube reliability is 97%. For overground services it's 94.4%. Since 2011/12, these percentage figures have remained in the 90s, suggesting that travelling on public transport is more reliable than driving through the city at peak time on a Monday morning.

7. The private vehicle stats don't take into consideration looking for a parking space.

8. Next time you're stuck on public transport, think twice about flipping out and buying a car.

If you've cycled these routes, or similar ones, let us know how long they took in the comments below.

Last Updated 19 January 2017