Are your travel habits making journeys more expensive?


Londoners are overpaying £200m a year on fares by mistakenly not buying the cheapest tickets

Here's a TV piece I've just done on Oyster data and how it can now be analysed to show how good commuters are at finding the cheapest fares.

The research has been carried out at University College London (UCL) by a post-doctorate researcher Neal Lathia (@neal_lathia). His website is here.

What the researchers have done is analyse Oyster data from Transport for London (TfL) over a set period and extrapolate the findings over a year. It covers data from the Tube, buses and DLR.

They claim it shows that actually most commuters' journeys are extremely predictable and that many Londoners don't buy the cheapest ticket.

For example, many use Oyster Pay As You Go when perhaps a seven-day travel card would be cheaper or an annual card would work out better. Also some people use a seven-day card and only use it twice.

Millions of Londoners making these little mistakes adds up to an overspend of £200m a year.

Figure 'overstated'

Using the data, the researchers have come up with this "decision tree". This explains what ticket you should be buying if you travel within zones 1 and 2. Have a go and see if it works.

What the researchers want is for TfL to use a commuter's travel data over a year to recommend what ticket would be cheapest - a bit like does when you buy a book.

TfL has welcomed the research but it said the figure is overstated.

It says what the research does not take into account is convenience and the millions of different little things that make lives unpredictable.

Also, not many people want to stump up for an annual ticket.

TfL says the Oyster card system is actually very efficient.

Certainly, Londoners are very savvy about which tickets they buy but, habit and convenience play a large part when sometimes cheaper tickets are available.

Tom Edwards Article written by Tom Edwards Tom Edwards Transport correspondent, London

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  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Season Ticket discount originally was the cost saving from not needing as many ticket office clerks as for daily tickets, annuals also factor in holidays - daily/weekly/monthly tickets that wouldn't be bought for appx 6 weeks a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It'd be unrealistic/very expensive to process daily the vast amount of data involved, plus the extra staff needed to handle huge increase in disputes. If TfL lost £200m revenue guess what happens next - all fares would be increased so those currently using the cheapest tickets would pay more - politically very unpopular while there's no noticable objection to the present situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The problem with this research is there is an assumption that you know at the start of the week what you'll be doing at the end of the week. Last year I managed to spend £120 on my PAYG within a month, which would have made a travelcard easier - but I hadn't known at the start of the month how much I'd use it. Similarly, I may have bought a travelcard and then got ill or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @Aiden - the reason is that they can invest that money and gain interest on it (or reduce the interest they are paying on loans etc). Same reason that supermarkets will negotiate 90 day payment plans with suppliers: they make their profit on the interest gained in this period rather than the difference between wholesale and retail prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Paying too much for public transport? Get a motorbike for your commute. It will save your bank balance and your sanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I also have remembered this article:

    that discusses eight different fares between Lewisham and Shoreditch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I think many Londoners automatically think of travel costs in terms of bus and Underground fares. I was pleased to discover that Balham to Shepherds Bush is only £1.80 on payg. Tooting to City Thameslink is only £2.00. There are many more examples where travelcard is pointless unless you combine different modes in your journey, or travel more than a return commute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The TFL online journey finder service certainly does not always find the cheapest route. Station staff give inconsistent anwers too. For one journey I make across London with a choice of routes the price varies from £4.10 to £1.90. the online service wasn't able to provide me with accurate details to obtain the cheaper fare and I had to speak to three different ticket sellers before I found it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I don't understand why annual tickets should be cheaper than buying monthly tickets. This just means people who can't afford a large lump sum (or get credit) pay more than those who can. The worse off pay more for their travel.

    The transaction costs involved surely can't justify the difference?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I cannot figure out why travelcards -be they weekly or monthly- should be required at all. Oystercards are designed so that they track exactly where each user is going to and from each time they travel.
    Why is it such a big step to ensure that their charging algorithm is optimised, so that the user is ALWAYS charged the least possible amount? Minimise ticket machines &staff, give better service!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Why did they only analyse data from tube, buses and dlr? Could it be that adding in national rail makes the calculations just too complicated? Still it's an interesting idea.

    @Eddy: There's no hidden agenda, it's just too complicated. You might use a card on day 1, not on days 2-4, then use it on days 5-10. How would it know to start a 7-day on day 5.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I've recently changed from using Pay as u go to weekly travelcards, as I had realised I could save myself about £5 a week. What really gets my back up though, is that if you spend more then a Day Travelcard it stops taking money off (depending whether it is peak or off-peak) but why can it not do the same for Weekly and Monthly Travelcards?

    ....but we all know the real answer to that question



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