Train travel too expensive? Perhaps not compared to the car…
Whilst I was up north over Christmas, I had one of those inevitable “cost of transport” discussions. These seem to happen quite often, and usually consist of someone asking me how much my annual Travelcard costs, and then them putting a shocked face on when I tell them.
This conversation was different in that it was on a different tack – depreciation in value of cars. The result was that the annual depreciation value of their car was roughly £1,000. So if they bought their car – not a new car incidentally – left it on the drive for twelve months, and then sold it, they’d be around £1,000 out of pocket. If they left it on for two years, they’d be £2,000 out of pocket. And so on.
Having never owned a car, I’d never really considered this a factor myself, but it was interesting in light of my own annual transport costs – which for London come out at around £1100.
For the same as my annual Travelcard (that gets me train, DLR and tube travel in London zones 1-3, plus unlimited bus and tram travel throughout Greater London), I could let a hunk of metal sit on my drive.
Put that hunk of metal (and the odd bit of plastic) on the road and I’d need insurance and the car would need a tax disc. Then there’s the cost of petrol, maintenance and parking to add to that. The RAC do an annual Cost of Motoring Index, and their 2007 Index puts the annual costs at at least £3,500 for a small car (naturally including RAC membership at £133!)
It suddenly makes my own costs look rather puny, even taking into account my figures are for a slice of London only. My own transport bill does not cover excursions outside of London zones 1-3, although my annual Travelcard gives me a third off off-peak rail fares in the South East, and you’d be amazed how far I can travel that was for less than £10 return. More expensive are trips outside the South East – although I only do that a handful of times a year. It would take a serious amount of train and bus travel to get to £3,500 – even if I split that cost between myself and Catherine.
There are other factors that we need to remember of course. Whilst many will wail and moan about service levels, there is no competition – Greater London’s integrated transport network is the best in Britain, and the South East has the most extensive rail network in the country thanks to all those people commuting into central London. Chances are, if you live in London, you run a pretty good chance of not needing a car – and if you do, you probably need less cars per household in London than you would elsewhere.
Now it’s all part of a bigger picture called cost of living – the popular view of that it costs more to live in London. Indeed, wages are higher in London then they are elsewhere.
House prices are certainly higher. My two bedroom split level maisonette is worth more than my parents four bedroom house with garden, garage and conservatory. But then in London, if you don’t need a four bedroom house, you wouldn’t buy one because you probably can’t afford it.
Outside London if I could buy a bigger house, I probably would. My monthly mortgage wouldn’t change that much, however there would be increased heating, insurance and electric costs. Food prices aren’t particularly cheaper, and the price of a pint isn’t as varied as it used to be. And then there’s the car…
There’s no doubt that if you do a like for like comparison, London will always come out as being more expensive. If you absolutely need a car – maybe you use it for work reasons – London certainly won’t be cheaper. Nor too if you needed a four bedroom house to house all those sprogs.
But wherever you are in the country, it may well be that compared with the cost of owning a car, the cost of public transport is far far less than you think – even taking into account the higher costs outside London. Well assuming you’ve got a decent service in the first place anyway…
When it does come to the time that Catherine and myself leave London, I know it’s almost inevitable that we’ll need a car. One car. Cos if I can get away with it, the train, will certainly be taking the strain. And it will be cheaper too.