This chapter examines the extent to which different parts of the capital have available transport links, whether people can afford to use them, and whether they face any physical and non-physical barriers to accessing them.
As discussed above, London has an extensive public transport network – both compared to other global cities and to the rest of the UK. This means that car use is lower in the capital compared to other places. Just 29 per cent of London residents say that driving is their usual method of commuting – significantly lower than the English average of 67 per cent. 7 The share of journeys made by car or motorbike is also declining, while public transport’s share is increasing 8 As London has grown, the public transport network has been expanding outwards to accommodate a growing population.
The nature of London’s transport system means that Inner London is better connected than Outer London. Data show that the Inner London borough of Camden is the most connected borough – with 85 per cent of homes within 500 metres of a Tube or rail station – whereas the Outer London boroughs of Havering, Bexley, and Barking & Dagenham are the least connected, with fewer than 20 per cent of properties within 500 metres of a station. 9 In addition, south London is particularly badly served by the Underground. Our survey found that 23 per cent of south London residents consider the lack of stations within a reasonable distance to be a barrier to using the Tube more frequently, while only 16 per cent of east Londoners, 13 per cent of north Londoners and 9 per cent of west Londoners reported this. 10
Low connectivity can limit access to employment opportunities. It is estimated that Inner London residents can access up to 2.5 million jobs by travelling up to 45 minutes on public transport, compared to between 250,000 and 500,000 jobs for Outer London residents. 8 This leads to higher car dependency in areas of lower connectivity: 41 per cent of those living in Outer London report getting to work by car, compared to just 14 per cent of those in Inner London. 12 With the Mayor’s aim for 80 per cent of journeys to be via cycling, walking or public transport by 2041, 13 it is clear that improving connectivity in some of these areas will play an important role in encouraging the behaviour change necessary to meet these objectives.
Connectivity and deprivation
Good public transport connectivity is clearly important, as longer commutes and complex routes can be stressful and reduce time for leisure, or seeing family and friends. It should then come as no surprise that London house buyers are willing to pay a 10.5 per cent premium to live within 500 metres of a station 14 But is there a broader link between connectivity and deprivation?
Examining connectivity (as measured by Public Transport Access Levels, or PTAL) against deprivation (as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation, or
IMD, scores) at the Low Super Output Area (LSOA) level shows a relatively low correlation between the two. Simply put, there are both rich and poor areas with good and bad connectivity in London. We can find affluent suburbs alongside pockets of poverty in Outer London, and housing estates not far from exclusive prime central London properties.
Mapping the 20 per cent most-deprived areas against PTAL (see Figure 5) shows there are large areas of deprivation with low levels of connectivity in the Lower Lee Valley and Barking & Dagenham, as well as some areas on the edge of London. There are also deprived areas with good connectivity in central and Inner London, particularly in Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Lambeth. Although living in areas of high connectivity is no guarantee of
being able to access public transport – as people on low incomes may not be able afford to use Tube and rail services – the combination of high deprivation in a low connectivity area can lead to social isolation and reduced access to employment, education and healthcare, thereby exacerbating poverty and impacting physical and mental wellbeing.
Of course, connectivity is not a static measure, and public transport upgrades and extensions gradually extend capacity to underserved areas. The Elizabeth line alone is set increase London’s overall rail capacity by 10 per cent, 15 while upgrades to the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines are expected to increase peak-time capacity by one-third on these lines. 16
However, beyond public transport connectivity, there is also a further major consideration for transport planners: how affordable are the available transport options for Londoners throughout the city?
The cost of public transport in the capital is high and has been rising above the rate of inflation. 17 Combined with rising housing costs and slow wage growth, this can place a significant financial strain on Londoners – and for those on low-to-middle incomes, transport costs can eat away at disposable income. 18
Our analysis shows that between 2008 and 2019, single fares for zones 1-4 increased by 56 per cent, while weekly Travelcard costs increased by 46 per cent (see Figure 6). However, while single fares have been frozen since 2015 (at £3.90 for zones 1-4), Travelcards and Oyster caps have continued rising in line with RPI – the same as rail fares. Since the freeze was implemented, the cost of a weekly Travelcard for zones 1-4 has risen by nearly 10 per cent. This disadvantages regular travellers and commuters, while benefiting less regular travellers such as visitors or tourists. As costs increase with distance across zones, those living on the edges of the city are hit the most, as well as people commuting to London from further afield. By comparison with cars, the freeze on fuel duty over the last decade has meant that petrol pump prices (which of course are only a fraction of the full cost of driving) have not increased substantially – which can be a damaging incentive to drive over the use of other modes of transport.
National data shows that Londoners spend a higher amount on transport compared to the English average. However, they also spend the most of all regions on public transport and other transport services, and the least on the purchase and operation of personal vehicles. 19 Furthermore, transport spending and travel choices vary by income. We know that lower-income Londoners are more likely to use bus services and to make bus-only journeys, while rates of rail and Tube travel, as well as driving, increase with higher incomes. 20
Our survey shows that, on average, London residents spend £137, or approximately 7 per cent of their take home income, a month on transport (see Figure 7). However, monthly spend on travel as a proportion of income declines with age: on average, 18-24 year olds spend 10 per cent of their monthly income on travel costs, compared to six per cent for 35-44 year olds. Furthermore, people on lower incomes spend less on their monthly travel in absolute terms but this spending takes up a higher percentage of their income. The survey showed that respondents with a monthly take-home income of £1,000 or less spend an average of £90 a month – or 13 per cent of their income – on transport, compared to £176 – or 5 per cent of income – for those with a monthly take-home income of over £2,000. 21 Such differences may be due to the usage of different modes (people on lower incomes are less likely to use the tube, for example) or to different commuting distances. There are no obvious differences in the average travel spend between white and non-white respondents.
Research for London Councils, Trust for London and London TravelWatch showed that a quarter of Londoners choose their route based on cost. 22 This leads to a number of trade-offs. While buses are cheaper, travel times are often longer, and reliability has been in decline since 2015. 23 This means that some Londoners are accepting longer journeys to save money, which can have a knockon effect on leisure time, wellbeing and quality of life.
Balancing housing costs against travel costs and time is another key factor. Housing is, on average, more affordable in Outer London compared to Inner London, both in absolute terms and relative to local residents’ incomes. 24 Some will spend more on travel and accept a longer commute to live in an area with cheaper housing costs; others may accept higher rents to live closer to central London and have a more convenient or cheaper commute – perhaps also being nearer to friends, family and leisure opportunities.
Mapping affordability in London
To help us understand the cost trade-offs that working Londoners consider when choosing where to live in the capital, Steer have mapped data at the Low Super Output Area (LSOA) level for housing costs by tenure, travel costs based on commuting distances, and travel time cost based on local hourly wages.
Figure 8 maps the average costs for regular commuters’ journeys to work, based on the monthly Travelcard costs for the average distance travelled to work by residents from a given area. This assumes that all commuters travel by public transport and use monthly Travelcards (although we recognise that many travel by bus, car or other modes of transport – and that many journeys are made for other purposes).
The analysis shows that commuting costs are highest in areas where many residents commute into central London – for example in boroughs such as Bromley, Bexley, Havering, Harrow, Enfield, Richmond and Kingston. Generally, average travel costs increase with distance from central London, as residents have to travel further to the city centre. However, there are exceptions to this pattern. Travel costs by public transport in zone 1 are higher than the surrounding area, due to the high cost of travelling within this zone. Zone 2 forms a cheaper “donut” around zone 1. This is because travel costs are cheaper in zone 2 than zone 1, and travel into the city centre is cheaper than areas further from the city centre. In some areas of Outer London, commuting costs are lower due to residents working locally rather than commuting to the city centre.
Figure 9 maps the “time cost” of travelling to central London based on local residents’ average hourly wages. Although we recognise London has many employment centres, we assumed that Londoners would want to have the choice of working in central London for access to the widest range of opportunities and services. Unsurprisingly, time costs increase with distance and are particularly high in areas where higher earners live, such as Wimbledon, Richmond and Hampstead. The analysis also assumes that all journeys are made using the fastest available mode of transport (generally Tube and train). This therefore does not take account of the fact that many low-income earners may need to take lower-cost, lower-speed transport modes (such as buses). This would increase their travel time costs.
Figure 10 maps average housing costs in owneroccupied or privately rented homes. We have excluded social rented homes for the reason that many Inner London boroughs have much higher rates of social housing, but access to it is limited: this therefore masks the real costs that someone looking to move to an area would be considering. The analysis shows that housing costs are highest in areas like Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames, Wimbledon and Hampstead, where there are high concentrations of highvalue privately owned housing. Outer London generally has lower house prices than central and Inner London, although areas in north-west Outer London have comparatively high costs.
Figure 11 adds the costs of travel, travel time and housing together to show an overall measure of cost, and Figure 12 then subtracts these from average incomes to show residual incomes. The analysis reveals some interesting differences, with relatively high-cost and low-cost places quite close to each other across London. These findings suggest that living costs in London are not simply a story of Travelcard zones, distance from the centre or even Inner versus Outer London. The picture is much more complex, with a patchwork of costs across the capital.
Figure 12 compares local incomes against the costs of housing and travel to show how “affordable” different areas of London actually are. It shows that even higher-cost areas like Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hampstead and Muswell Hill are relatively affordable for their higher-income residents. In lower cost areas like Tottenham, despite low housing and travel costs, low incomes mean that people struggle to afford them. Compared to high-wage areas, residents on lower incomes cannot afford to travel far, which may be one factor behind their higher likelihood to work more locally. This significantly limits employment opportunities – meaning that people become trapped in a vicious affordability cycle.
Broadly, we can split London into four area categories:
- Low cost, high income: areas such as parts of Tower Hamlets and Royal Docks have comparatively lower costs than other areas, and high-income residents benefit from good connectivity.
- High cost, high income: central areas with better access to opportunities and services – such as Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, City of London, Hammersmith and Fulham and Dulwich – have low travel cwosts but high housing costs, which are only affordable for individuals with high incomes.
- Low cost, low income: relatively low-cost areas such as Tottenham, Walthamstow, Elephant and Castle, Kennington, Borough, Brent, Hounslow, Hayes and Uxbridge are still unaffordable for people with low incomes that can only cover essential spending.
- High cost, low income: areas such as south Bromley, north Havering and north Enfield generally have low housing prices allowing people with low incomes to live there – but they also have high travel times and costs, resulting in poor affordability.
This section found that high housing and travel costs may lead to spatial and social exclusion for people on low incomes. Yet what if you have affordable transport available locally, but you cannot use it because of other physical or non-physical barriers? Accessibility is the final factor that affects people’s ability to use transport.
Not everyone is equally able to access the transport network. Some groups of Londoners face significant physical and psychological barriers. Much of this section draws on feedback from our focus group participants, particularly those with different disabilities and mobility challenges.
Visible and non-visible challenges
First, disabled people face considerable physical challenges. People with wheelchairs and mobility aids, the hard of hearing, the blind and the visually impaired all require some physical adaptations such as step-free access (enabled via level access, ramps and lifts), notice board and audio announcements, and assistance from staff. As a result, 45 per cent of disabled Londoners find planning and making trips by public transport stressful. 25
People with a range of non-visible conditions – such as autism, cognitive impairments and mental disabilities like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – can also struggle to use the transport system. For instance, noise and audio announcements can cause significant distress to those with autism or anxiety. Travellers with dementia may have difficulty with routes, dealing with money, or interacting with other passengers. They may forget where they are going and where to get off, or be confused by the layout of stations – making it difficult to travel on public transport unaccompanied. 26
Older people may face all these challenges, as both physical disability and non-physical conditions become more prevalent with age. Continuous improvements in healthcare have allowed people to live longer lives. However, this means that for many a large proportion of life is spent in ill health. Men in London can expect to spend approximately 80 per cent of their lives in good health and free of disability, and for women – who have a longer life expectancy – the proportion is closer to threequarters. For socioeconomic reasons, this measure also shows a high degree of variation among different areas of London: for men it ranges from 73 per cent in Hackney to 86 per cent in Sutton, and for women ranges from 69 per cent in Tower Hamlets to 84 per cent in Southwark. 27
How different modes compare
Lack of step-free access is a particular barrier to accessing the Tube and train network. With many stations built decades ago and spread over many different levels, only a quarter of London’s Underground stations and half of London’s Overground stations provide step-free access. 28 In addition, step-free access at some stations is only partial. If you require step-free access, making a single journey can take over an hour longer than if you could access the whole network. 29 This can severely limit disabled Londoners’ travel options, preventing them from making a journey at all and potentially exacerbating social and economic disadvantages for them.
Mapping current concentrations of older residents against station accessibility shows that large numbers of older residents can be found in central and Inner London – where stations with no step-free access predominate (see Figure 13) – rather than in areas such as Docklands, where the DLR and Jubilee line offer better accessibility.
The Mayor has pledged to improve step-free access, with ambitions to halve the additional journey time required by those using step-free options. The opening of the Elizabeth line and other Tube and rail improvements will add step-free connectivity to many areas. 30 However, it will also be important to extend step-free access to existing stations where possible – and ensure that new developments have good access to healthcare, retail and leisure facilities so that people do not need to travel far on a regular basis.
Many disabled Londoners also view staff support as a critical factor in enabling access to the transport network. While the Tube and trains can be more challenging for people requiring step-free access, TfL offers a “turn up and go” system for requesting staff assistance at stations with no need to pre-book. Focus group participants said that receiving support from staff on the network was reassuring and made journeys easier. However, stations may not always be staffed sufficiently, and staff may not always be available – or it may take too long to receive assistance.
Conversely, National Rail stations recommend (or require) advance notice to ensure that assistance for disabled users can be provided. And while buses are now more easily accessible for disabled people, with wheelchair ramps and designated priority spaces, focus group participants highlighted that bus drivers are not
always willing or able to help passengers. As a result, 53 per cent of wheelchair users find it impossible to use the bus without help. 31 In addition to being confined to a cabin and unable to help wheelchair users into priority spaces, bus drivers may park far from the kerb or pull away before older or frail people have managed to sit down.
Those with less visible conditions also seem to benefit less from targeted support. TfL and some bus companies have started to offer their staff dementia training (see case study below). However, station redesign measures that could help people with invisible conditions are often deemed to be unfeasible due to resource constraints. Campaigners for groups with less visible conditions find it challenging to bring about changes, as investments and upgrades still tend to be aimed at making transport systems more physically accessible.
Case study: Co-designed Bus Driver Training
Two charities based in Tower Hamlets have identified that driver behaviour can have a serious impact on older and disabled people’s ability to access buses. Bus driver training has long been developed in collaboration with disabled and older people’s organisations like Transport for All, Age UK and RNIB. Recognising the benefit of lived experience, disabled people from Real and older people from Toynbee Hall have come together to propose co-designed training for bus drivers using participatory training techniques. This training will allow drivers to experience barriers to access first-hand and how they can be overcome. The groups aim to co-design the training and put the proposal to TfL and Londonbased bus companies in the coming year.
Case study: A dementia-friendly city
In order to tackle some of the challenges felt by those living with dementia,
the Mayor has pledged to make London a dementia-friendly city by 2022. This includes helping businesses become dementia-friendly, advancing understanding of the condition, and improving access to public transport. To accomplish this, all TfL staff are to receive training to be dementia friendly; clear stopping information is to be installed on buses (both visual and audio); Freedom Pass eligibility will be available for those with early onset dementia; and Taxicard eligibility will be determined based on mental factors as well as physical criteria.
In situations where they were unable to access staff support, focus group participants reported that they would often have to rely on members of the public to assist them. One visually impaired participant described being guided by a passenger from their terminated bus to another bus stop, while another described asking other passengers where her train would stop due to a lack of audio announcements. Such experiences made people feel less independent and caused concern about navigating the transport network alone.
“You are just at the mercy of others, you are not independent.”
Private vehicles and taxis
Due to the difficulties of using mainstream public pransport, some disabled Londoners resort to using private cars, taxis or minicabs. Across England, people with a mobility difficulty make on average 40 per cent fewer trips per year, but make more trips as a car/van passenger and by taxi/minicab. 32 Some boroughs provide door-to-door transport through Dial-a-Ride, and there is some support with taxi costs through the London-wide Taxicard scheme, which provides subsidised transport in taxis and private hire vehicles for London residents who have serious mobility impairments or are seriously visually impaired. However, the number of journeys offered differs by local authority: for example, disabled people in Newham are offered 144 trips a year, while in Harrow they are only offered 40. Some also allocate fewer Taxicard journeys to residents who claim the disability-related Freedom Pass. 33 This creates differences in people’s ability to access a door-to-door service and move around the city.
A number of focus group participants also found the Dial-a-Ride and Taxicard scheme services to be unreliable. Some said they had missed appointments because the vehicle was delayed or failed to turn up. The campaign group, Transport for All, has raised similar concerns about the Taxicard service, highlighting problems with booking taxis, long wait times, a lack of suitable cars for those in larger wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and unfair waiting charges. 34
“I’d try and book a taxi with Taxicard but can still be waiting and miss the appointment.”
However, access to private vehicles has improved: beginning this year, the government has extended the Blue Badge free parking scheme to those with hidden disabilities such as autism and mental health conditions. 35
Evidently, navigating the public transport system is more complicated and time-consuming for people with limited mobility or those who require support. While policies such as expanding the step-free network are certainly welcome and will have a positive impact on many Londoners, a broader approach to accessibility and inclusion is crucial in tackling some of the barriers to accessing the network.
Barriers to walking and cycling
Beyond public transport, it is equally important forstreets and the wider public realm to be designed in such a way as to provide good opportunities for walking and cycling. Regular physical activity has been found hugely beneficial for both physical and mental health. Although the official guidelines say adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week, any small amount of additional exercise by someone who was previously inactive can have significant health benefits. As physical ability diminishes with age, walking can be among the few forms of exercise older people are able to engage in. Similarly, evidence shows that cycling among older people has a positive health impact: a study of a group of cyclists aged 55 to 79 found that they had levels of physiological function comparable to people much younger. 36 Yet cycling among older people is significantly less common in the UK than other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
Equally, cycling may be an accessible form of exercise for disabled people. Different types of adapted bikes exist, and many disabled people find cycling easier than walking, using their cycle as a mobility aid. This is particularly important for people with a longterm limiting disability, who are twice as likely to be physically inactive than those without such disability and live shorter lives as a result. 37 One wheelchair user at the focus groups noted that people with disabilities may have “less energy and time than others”, meaning that it can be challenging to get to a gym or take part in sport. As such, active transport was cited as an important way for this group to exercise.
However, uneven pavements, lack of dropped kerbs and physical obstructions can be significant barriers to disabled people, as well as older people and those with pushchairs. For example, 65 per cent of disabled Londoners consider the condition of pavements a barrier to walking more. 38 In our focus groups, visually impaired participants also raised the issue of street clutter, which was viewed as getting worse – especially with the profusion of parked dockless bicycles and electric vehicle chargers on pavements.
Nonetheless, electric bikes can enable people with diminished physical ability to cycle, and one in five disabled cyclists currently uses some sort of electrical assistance when cycling. 39 Yet only around 20,000 electric bicycles are sold every year in the UK, compared to 300,000 in Germany and 175,000 in Netherlands. 36 One barrier may be cost: electric, adapted and cargo bicycles are more expensive. While Cycle to Work schemes now include electric bicycles, older and disabled people are more likely to be out of work or retired. In this regard, bike share schemes can play a role in increasing cycling uptake among older people, but an alternative scheme would be needed to support disabled people with the cost of adapted bikes. Adding cargo bikes to bike hire schemes could also enable parents to cycle with small children in tow.
Unsuitable infrastructure provision and a poor built environment is another barrier to cycling for older and disabled people. Older focus group participants felt more concerned about cycling on busy roads, while disabled participants expressed frustration with physical barriers such as gates and bollards, the inconsistent quality of cycle lanes, and cycle lanes that are not wide enough for adapted bikes. Inclusive infrastructure design is crucial in enabling active travel for older and disabled people on equal terms, and charities like Wheels for Wellbeing have produced design guides for inclusive cycling. 41
“If disabled cyclists knew what kind of infrastructure they were going to get in Brixton and that it’s going to be the same in Islington that would ease a lot of problems.”
More generally, lack of quality infrastructure provision is a barrier to cycling for most underrepresented groups. The ways that streets are designed and road space allocated can favour particular groups of road users and types of journey. In some parts of London, the sheer dominance of cars and other motor vehicles – both on the roads and at the kerbside – can create a hostile environment that makes cycling unattractive, particularly for vulnerable users.
The Healthy Streets principles offer an opportunity to rebalance streets in favour of people and enable walking and cycling. In places where bold action has been taken to reprioritise streets and offer quality infrastructure – such as Waltham Forest’s “Mini-Holland” – the number of people cycling has
seen an increase. 42