The cost of commuting – train vs car vs motorcycle


I travel to Parliament four days a week most of the year. Unusually, I’m in on a Friday today for the EU referendum bill (Hooray!) but I’d usually have meetings in Wycombe all day.

I can commute by motorcycle, car or train. Bike travel can be miserable in the cold and dark when it’s raining, but I tend to like it anyway. Driving is painful: filtering by bike isn’t much fun but sitting in a queue is worse. Or I can take the train.

The train has WiFi. It’s warm, dry, fast and comfortable, assuming one can find a seat (the 06:56 was fine). However, after driving and parking and including the tube fare, the train is fantastically expensive.

Here’s the data:

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I’ve neglected the cost of vehicles. Mine are quite old and I imagine I would not last long with the additional cost and expense of the bus before buying a cheap scooter to get to the station. If a pedantic reader objects, they are welcome to provide arithmetic in the comments. My occasional attempts to live without a motorbike have never lasted long.

No method of commuting is fun – although I now recall the man who commuted to RAF Wyton by paraglider – but the conclusion is clear. If you want to commute inexpensively, buy a motorcycle.

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Comments & Responses

17 Responses so far.

  1. Pete Stevens says:

    Bad economist! You haven’t priced in your externalities. In particular with a 35 mile round trip, 4 days / week, 40 weeks/year that’s about half a million miles over thirty years. At car death rates (7/bn) that’s roughtly a .35% of dying in a road accident, at motorbike rates (170/bn) 8.5% and rail rates (~1/bn) 0.05%.

    So the question is really would you spend £96k over 30 years to reduce your chance of dying in a road accident from 8.5% to 0.35%? Would you then spend a further £48k to reduce it to 0.05% ?

    .. obviously I’ve ignored the extra externality of time saved/lost by changing transport mode but it’s a start.

    • Steve Baker says:

      I wouldn’t spend that on reducing my statistical safety Pete, no. Apart from the role of personal skill and restraint, I am trying to live before I die.

      I’m looking forward to getting on with some skydiving this summer too. Like most choices, the one between maximum personal safety and enjoying yourself is subjective.

      • Gary says:

        Bearing in mind the so called ” time benefits ” in the business case for HS2, just how would you operate a laptop on your motorbike??? !!!!

        • Pete. says:

          Surely getting work done on the laptop during a train journey is an argument against HS2 as a ‘time benefit’?

          • Gary says:

            Depends on whether you could actually get a seat or not Pete…….but either way its a pretty poor excuse to actually include ” time benefit ” as part of a BCR.

            Makes you wonder why we didnt have a follow up to Concorde !!

      • Pete Stevens says:

        If it makes the commute fun then that changes everything. That’s actually my argument for prefering train travel over driving because reading books while drinking tea is a lot more fun than the M25.

        I think that skydiving is an even less sensible method of commuting although I do like the impetus it gives people to get things right first time!

    • Marmalade says:

      I do an average of 1000 miles a week by motorbike, have done for much of the last 20 years and I’ve not died 5 times. Am I a cat?

      Good to see a sensible politician on the case, well done Mr Baker.

  2. Although not a complete in-depth analysis of cost vs time vs enjoyment (I personally enjoy my Central London commute on my motorbike) – I applaud your voice on the matter.

    Perhaps we have filtered past each other on occasion… ride safe!

  3. Mark Johnson says:

    That’s the best and most surprising thing an MP has written for years. The nanny culture and all that goes with it is crippling us, not as a country, not as a group but as a species. Risk is what makes life worth living, even if it is the tiny risk of being injured or dying in a motorcycle accident. Sir, I applaud you, and you’ll certainly have my vote if I find myself in your constituency.

  4. Simon says:

    To be a little pedantic, you’ve left out the costs of servicing vehicles, which tend to add up when the mileage is high. For my own commute, this still leaves biking as far cheaper than the trains.
    It’s be interesting to see how the travel times compare for your journey as well. For mine, bike is reliably an hour (+/- 10 minutes). By car it’s anywhere between 1:15 and 2 hours. The train is anywhere between an 1:15 and cancelled.
    Plus, the benefits in reduced congestion make everybody elses travel times that bit shorter.
    Keep it shiny side up.

  5. Dafydd Davies says:

    55 People on average die in London each year out of 100,000 motorcyclists

    = 0.055% Chance of dying in London on a bike.

    That’s hardly nothing… many of those would be speeding like idiots or doing something dangerous.

    Motorcycling is the only way to
    travel in London!!

    Finally an MP that talks sense.

  6. Last year I recently switched from tube to bike. But let’s not overlook the high entry costs though; learning to ride, arguably a worthwhile skill for life; the gear costs are high however and will need replacing.

    There’s also a lot of other running costs; insurance, tax, MOT, tyres, chain etc. and of course general wear and devaluing of the vehicles.

    My back of the envelope calculation for yearly bike costs came very close to a yearly tube pass (£2k). However, riding carries two very big advantages that I believe out way everything else:-
    1) Time saving. My commute time halved. Being able to zip between work and childcare and gaining an extra hour a day with family has made the work/family juggle far easier and more rewarding.
    2) The thrill of riding. Riding carries so much fun and enjoyment, be it commuting or rides out with fellow bikers after work or at the weekend. It’s addictive and exhilarating, I now do anything to avoid sitting in a car in a jam, or stuffed into a Central line tube on a hot (smelly) summers day.

  7. Gary says:

    Steves post on the subject of commuting cost just encouraged me to do a little research on the cost of rail commuting. High Wycombe to London is about 30 mile, and a yearly season ticket between the 2 according to National Rail website is currently £3180 on a station to station basis, or £3940 if you purchase for zones 1-6 as well ( which I suspect most do ).

    An equivalent journey to where I live ( Manchester ) would be one from Crewe. Here there is a stark contrast. It will cost either £2308 for the standard one using any service – or £1740 for a ticket supplied by Virgin Trains for use on their service only, which in actual fact is the London to Manchester Pendolino service. This is an astonishing difference for a rail journey which is the same length in miles.

    Virgin have been very much in the rail news over the last 12 month or so , mainly due to the West Coast Franchise issue…..what I cannot argue with however is the fact that they are actually charging less than what my understanding of the regulated fare is !!!!!!!! The picture also repeats itself on other stations on this route such as Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Stockport.

    Having followed the Transport Select Committee rail sessions on video for the last 18 month or so , it strikes me that “ regulated fares “ are in fact a total nonsense, and have actually created more issues than they have solved. It wouldn’t surprise me if removing the shackles of regulation would in fact result in cheaper fares for London commuters.

  8. Paul Gordon says:

    The real saving is on stress/anxiety levels – get off your motorbike with a big grin and watch the faces of the car drivers & train commuters for a comparison. :)

  9. JB says:

    Apparently you found a car & a bike somewhere that cost naught to purchase, do not require servicing, insurance and tyres. Your bike also requires no gear (helmets etc.).

    I will have one of each, please. So much better than my lame car and bike for which fuel is just a fraction of the total upkeep.

  10. RJ Moore says:

    The cost of a return train from Guildford to London Waterloo at on-peak times is £22ish per day. Buy a season ticket, and it works out as around £900 every three months. By comparison, £22 buys a tank of fuel for my Kawasaki, with which can take me to London and back three times before running out. Even factoring in the £1 a day to park, it’s a no-brainer. Hell, even factoring in the maintenance and repairs, (which I do myself) it still works out cheaper.

  11. SJF says:

    I also commute by motorcycle from High Wycombe. I travel past Parliament and along Embankment to St Pauls.

    I’m torn between applauding your comments and just going “Shush! Don’t tell anyone.” It sometimes feels like I’m part of a big secret. Why people choose cars and trains ahead of such fun, independent and economical transport is a mystery to me.

    The safety aspect is worth considering; bikes aren’t for everyone, but I ride according to the conditions and, while I occasionally see examples of poor road use, I have to say that the standard of driving in London is excellent, especially compared to other parts of the world. I’d say your risks as a pedestrian are much higher, especially if you cross the road with your head buried in a smartphone like I witness every day. Bring back Tufty the Squirrel!