Data reveals that UK commuters could be hit, on average, by an additional 55p per journey and £215 per year for rail fares from March 2024 when the government cap on train prices is lifted. This comes after reports that the government’s 5.9% interest cap on train travel is expected to be lifted to 8% in March 2024.
With this in mind, private pension provider, Penfold, has investigated the growing cost of commuting in the UK. By looking at the UK's top 15 Train Stations with the highest peak time footfall, they have been able to reveal which commuter routes are the most expensive in the UK - and which are expected to see the highest increases in March.
In 2023, the average cost for a peak-time single fare on the UK's most used commuter routes is £6.94, with the cost of the same-day open return at £10.36. Annual costs, if you were going to work 5 days a week, would be over £2,692.69. If these costs go up 8% as predicted in March 2024, a single journey would cost an average of £7.49, with the cost of a same-day open return being £11.19. That’s £55.95 a week, £223.80 a month and £2,685.60 a year - over one month of the average UK worker’s salary.
Since privatisation, regulated rail fares have increased yearly and closely in line with inflation, never being more than 1% above or below RPI. In 2023, due to the rising cost of living and growing concerns from the general public, the government chose to cap fairs at 5.9%, 6.4 percentage points lower than the RPI figure on which they are historically based. However, as this cap only runs until March 2024, fears are that commuters will be hit by hefty additional costs when this percentage rises. If the Government uses the same formula as this year, Rail fares will rise by up to 8% in 2024.
Over 1.4 billion journeys were made by train in the last year, from April 2022 to 31 March 2023, with a total passenger revenue of £2.2 billion in the last quarter. However, with train cancellations and strikes harbouring many passengers' journeys - will another increase be welcomed?
According to the Office of Rail and Road Travel, Passenger rail performance in the last quarter (1 April to 30 June 2023) is on the decline, worse than the same quarter a year ago. Only 70% of trains were on time and over 3% were cancelled completely - that’s almost 5.7 million late trains and 74,494 cancellations.
London, Birmingham and Manchester are the busiest UK stations, with the highest entries and exits each day, but which are the most expensive? Data reveals that the most expensive city in the UK to commute to is London. The average cost of of single ticket is £15.06, whilst the cost of a return is over £27.42. Annual costs on average are £7,131.80. If costs rise by 8% in 2024, London rail fares will increase by £1.10 for a single and £570.54 for an annual fare.
The next most expensive city to commute to is Cambridge at £9.03 for a single and £12.39 for an open return. This is followed by Bristol at £8.21 for a single and £10.98 for a return.
Leeds takes the place as the cheapest city to commute to with a single ticket costing £3.24 and £7.21 for an open return.
As the most expensive region, it’s understandable the most expensive commuter lines are to London, with Reading being the most expensive at £29.20 for a single journey and £55.20 for an open return. This is followed by Twyford and High Wycombe. Eight out of ten of the most expensive routes are into London.
Interestingly, Birmingham and Bristol are the only two commuter routes to feature in the top 10 outside of London. The journey from Stoke-on-Trent to Birmingham is the fourth most expensive route at £19.10 for a single journey and £28.90 for a return. Whilst Newport to Bristol is £11 for a single journey and £18.20 for a return.
The least expensive commuter lines are Bishopbriggs to Glasgow, costing only £2.70 for both a single or a return. This is followed by Beeston to Nottingham and Giffnock to Glasgow. All ten of the cheapest commuter lines are found in the North of England and Scotland.
The latest ONS data, published in September 2023, reveals that the mean average UK weekly wage, excluding bonuses, is £617 gross (that's equivalent to an annual pre-tax salary of around £32,000) – an increase of 7.8% in the three months from May to July. After tax, you'll take home £25,782 or £2,149 in your pocket a month. At current prices, your annual train tickets could cost over a month’s pay each year!
According to data from Glass Door the average London Salary is £37,076, with a take-home pay of £2,436 after tax. With the highest commuter costs across the UK, the annual cost of train travel will set you back almost three times your monthly salary in this area.
Pete Hykin at Penfold comments,
“The increasing cost of living continues to bite across all aspects of our day-to-day lives. As you can see from the data, commuting costs across the UK are reaching exuberant levels and will only continue to rise as the government cap lifts in March 2024. If these costs do rise as predicted, in some areas, individuals will be spending almost 3 months' worth of salary on train travel - money that could go into much-needed savings and securing their pension pot for the future. Whilst the gap between wage growth and inflation is narrowing, consumers are not expected to fully recover until at least late 2024. The government still need to be doing what it can to ensure that everyday costs are kept down and are at manageable levels.”
Sourcing data from the Office of Rail and Road we were able to collect the passenger rail usage data to deduce the UK's most used commuter networks. From this, we used the Trainline’s journey planner to find the exact costs for a single journey arriving at a destination at 8:30 a.m. as well as a same-day open return journey to deduce the costs for a commuter on these routes. We collated this data to summarise the highest and lowest costs for a commuter in the UK. We then calculated the predicted rise in March 2024 in line with the 8% increase.