Blog Post

TfL fare rises are a major blow for the living standards of Londoners

From low-paid young adults to outer borough commuters, the fare rises stemming from TfL’s funding deadlock are of concern for the entire capital. Our Research Director Claire Harding outlines the impacts further.

On 1st March, Transport for London fares will rise across the board – increases range from 10p on a standard bus fare to £2.60 on the weekly fare cap for tube travel in zones 1 to 6. This comes after several years of freezes to fares. The increases come as the Mayor of London and national government remain locked in seemingly endless negotiations about the financial future of Transport for London – the Mayor says that he has no choice but to increase fares given this uncertainty.  

The timing of this increase really couldn’t be worse, with inflation already running at its highest level since 1992 – most Londoners will have no adult memories of prices rises this fast. Things will get doubly worse on 1st April when the energy price cap increases by 54 per cent, and when new, higher rates of National Insurance kick in. Too many Londoners already have to make a stark choice between heating their homes and eating a decent diet: these numbers are about to go up even further. 

In general, wealthier Londoners are more likely to take the tube, and poorer Londoners are more likely to take the bus: partly because it’s cheaper, and partly because parts of London which are cheaper to live in are often cheaper precisely because they don’t have tube connections. Bus passengers face higher inflationary increases than tube passengers in this round of fare changes: 10p on the cost of a bus fare is 6.5%, and £2.60 on the weekly tube zone 1-6 travel cap is 3.8%. 6.5% is far higher than the average pay increase that workers experienced this year – many people will be worse off. The retention of the Hopper fare – which allows people to change buses within an hour and only pay one fare – will come as a relief to some commuters, as without it their transport costs would have doubled. 

For example, take a 19 year old working five shifts of four hours each as a cleaner, and taking the bus each way. Being young, they are (indefensibly, to my mind) paid less than an older cleaner: her minimum wage from April 2022 will be £6.83 an hour. Their income is low so they get Universal Credit – but the amount is reduced by 55p for every pound they earn working. So what they actually take home for working those 20 hours rather than just receiving Universal Credit is £61.47. And they have to pay £16.50 of this – more than a quarter – just to get to their job. Over a year, they will pay an extra £48 because of the fare increase – the equivalent of four days of work just to pay for higher bus fares.  

This won’t just be a problem for the lowest paid. Take a person living in zone 6 and needing to commute to central London five days a week: they will pay £70.30 a week. If they earn £30,000 a year they will take home £459 a week – and pay 15 per cent on travel, an increase of £124.80 a year. In a good year, finding this money might be OK. This year, with average energy bills projected to rise £693, food prices rising and rents in London increasing again, it will be far from OK for many people. 

As I write this, Transport for London and the Department of Transport are still talking about post-pandemic funding for London’s public transport. Each side blames each other – and both sides blame Omicron – for the months it is taking to come to an agreement. In the meantime, Londoners must deal with sharp fare rises and the ongoing threat of services being cut. We urgently need a long term funding settlement so that Londoners themselves can make a plan for their work, travel and finances in this trickiest of years.  

Claire Harding is Research Director at Centre for London.  Read more from her here.