Sunday 3 April 2011

The best option for Central London

I went with the family today to London Zoo. And very nice it was too.

As an automatic reaction, I went via the underground (Victoria line, Northern Line) to Camden Town and then walked to the Zoo. After all taking the car would be monumentally expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming, surely?

Well, maybe not.

Firstly, the cost.

My two rail-cards cost £14.60 but then I got a 2 for 1 deal on the entrance which cost £19 each. So the total was £33. If I had used a normal underground ticket and therefore not had the 2 for 1 deal, it would have been around £48.

Now, here is the interesting part. I looked at the car park for the zoo and, for the whole day, the cost was £13. Even on the meters on the road outside (which you can park at all day on Sunday) the cost was £1.40 per hour. So assuming that I stayed 7 hours, this would have cost £9.80 at the meter, the total cost would have been £47.80 including the two tickets. The diesel would haven't cost very much as it is only about 7-8 miles to the Zoo. All other costs are "fixed" (insurance, VED etc.)

So the train was cheaper because of the saver deal with Network Rail. Otherwise the costs would have been very similar.

Now look at convenience. First thing in the morning, there wasn't much traffic and I expect I could have beat the train to the zoo. Coming back the traffic was pretty horrendous around Camden and I was pleased I wasn't driving. Until I got to Camden station, which is shut on Sunday afternoons between 1pm and 5.30pm because, it would seem, too many people want to use it. Only on our transport system would the solution to overcrowding be for the service to be removed completely. So this meant we had to walk to the bus stop to get the bus to Euston and then the tube home. I couldn't find any details of the closure on the TfL website, although trawling Yahoo answers when I returned seemed to indicate it was a regular occurrence. So, all in all, I think convenience tips towards the car, when one considers that one can go from door-door and pretty much park outside the zoo.

Finally, walking back to Camden, Prince Albert Road looked like this

So, only a couple of hundred metres from the zoo was completely free parking. Of course, this blocked the mandatory cycle lane, but this isn't an issue on a Sunday, as no-one in their right mind would want to cycle to somewhere like the Zoo would they?

So there we have it. The best way to travel in central London is the car. Super.


  1. It always amazes me when I see the price of public transport in Britain. Doubly so when I want to take it myself.

    For comparison, a ticket at normal price to go from here to Groningen and return (60 km round trip) costs €10 - even if you walk up to the train station in the middle of rush hour and have not booked in advance. If you have the ticket for a 40% discount (almost everyone does as it's cheap) then the return trip costs €6. Both prices are considerably cheaper than driving.

    There are "2 for 1" deals here too, but they also take a different flavour. For around €25 two people can travel anywhere they like for a day on the entire country's rail network, and sit in the first class department.

    The most expensive ticket I've managed to find on Dutch railways, for travel from one end of the country to the other at peak time, first class, turning up at the station and not booking in advance, is an €80 return. There is no sign at all of the £1000 ticket.

    Trains also go everywhere every half hour, and are very reliable. At virtually every station in the country the train station shares a location with a bus station, bike hire and taxi services so you have a proper transport interchange. These are perhaps the reasons why it is that people see the train as a real alternative to driving.

    This morning, the railway company's website is warning that the next train between here and Groningen may arrive 2 minutes late.

  2. David,

    I think a core issue is that the trains are trying to implement the budget airline ticket system to encourage early booking. This works with airlines where there are few alternative ways of getting to their destinations (one is hardly likely to decide to take the boat to New York because the airline price is too high), but with railways people always have other options - normally the car.

    In my post above we decided to get travelcards which allow unlimited travel on London's transport system for 1 day. We chose this because this allowed us to get a discount on the zoo entry fee. But it was lucky we did because if we had to get the bus without an oyster card or travel card it would be £2.20 each. Even with a card it would be £1.30. This is one of the reasons why I decided to cycle in London - I used to use the buses, but I simply cannot justify £1.30 for a typical journey of 1-2 miles. At these rates driving is much cheaper.

    The best way to buy a train-ticket is from one of the on-line train booking websites - this is much cheaper. But I would like to be able to walk into a train station and buy a ticket at the last moment for a reasonable price - instead the cost is often hundreds of pounds. I use the train for business trips but if I have last minute changes I simply give up on the train and use my car instead. This isn't a good way to run a railway.

  3. And that's London where public transport is frequent and pretty much subsidised. Try outside the capital where you're talking about a bus every hour, and trains every two hours, prices double the cost of the petrol and free parking everywhere... Bike or car are the only reasonably practical choices and car works out far quicker for almost every journey.

  4. Grumpy, the other factor with the trains is that many lines are over capacity - rather than expensively trying to increase capacity (and the current franchise system mitigates against that sort of long term investment too) they're trying to price people off. Radio 4 did a good documentary about it, possibly in the "Analysis" strand.

    Complicating it all, of course, is the attitude of successive governments in the uk, who regard road spending as "investment" and rail spending as "subsidy".

  5. It can work out differently. For example, I went from home in Haslemere to Southsea yesterday to do some pre-season work on my boat. I didn't have much to carry, so my 12 year old son and I took the train with our bikes and cycled the 2 miles from Fratton station to Southsea.

    As it happens it didn't cost anything, because I have a stack of free weekend tickets coming from my annual season ticket. If I had had to buy tickets, they would have cost £14.70 (for a 40 mile journey) with my network card discount (the network card is free to annual season ticket holders).

    I we had driven, 40 miles each way, I would have used about 8 litres of diesel - about £11.30. Parking at the other end is free, but you have to take some account of other costs, if only because you depreciate the car faster.

    Time? Assuming you are happy to wait for the train and plan around the timetable (one fast and one stopper per hour), the journey took 50 minues, 30 for the train and 10 at either end on bikes. My best time by road is 50 minutes, and in high summer or when Pompey is playing at home, add 20 minutes to that.

    I guess it is erratic. Depends where you want to go, and when.