Rising cost of commute is key block to getting London offices full again

Two-thirds of Londoners pay £20 or more a week to commute (PA Archive)
Two-thirds of Londoners pay £20 or more a week to commute (PA Archive)

The cost of travel is the biggest factor deterring staff from returning to their central London workplace, according to a survey.

Almost half of respondents — 46 per cent — said high fares were the main reason they continued to work from home or had ditched five days in the office for a “hybrid” model.

Business leaders said the prospect of further increases in fares was concerning and called for a “creative and flexible approach”, with more attractive off-peak prices.

Last month’s final government bail-out for Transport for London “assumes” a four per cent hike in Tube and bus fares in March next year and the following year, though it will be for Mayor Sadiq Khan to decide on the exact level.

Ruth Duston, chief executive of London Heritage Quarter, said: “We know from the research over the past two years that the commute was always the biggest obstacle in getting people back into London post-pandemic.

“This new data shows that the cost of living crisis, combined with the prospect of fare increases following the new TfL deal with government, has the potential to set the recovery back.”

The Tube already offers reduced off-peak and weekend fares but TfL is under government orders to “make every effort to maximise revenue” — making further incentives challenging to implement, though the Mayor is known to be keen to help the lowest-paid.

The survey of 2,001 Londoners, including 860 who work for firms within a square mile of central London, was carried out by Censuswide for the London Heritage Quarter business improvement district. It found that 39 per cent of respondents planned to balance working from home with heading to the office to “optimise savings on heating and commuting”.

More people thought that it would be cheaper to work from home than to travel to the office, even accounting for higher fuel bills.

Last week the Government announced that domestic fuel bills would be capped at £2,500 a year until 2024. The survey found that about two-thirds of Londoners pay £20 or more a week to commute, with an average cost of £64.19. Of the 2,000 participants, about 15 per cent were permanently working from home, twice as many were back in the office but more than half were hybrid working.

Almost 72 per cent of respondents said they were concerned at the cost of commuting, while 68 per cent said they were concerned at the “added cost” of working from the office, in terms of expenditure on lunch and coffee.

Ms Duston said it was “not good for London” if people were discouraged from travelling. “Working from home is not a benign action — there are issues around mental health, the impact on teams and collaboration, mentoring and supporting younger people, and of course the knock-on impact of the vital London eco-system,” she said.