How many people pay more for a season ticket than for housing?

Published: 6th May 2014

"Rail fares in Britain are contributing to the cost-of-living crisis, with season tickets now the largest monthly expense for many people, costing even more than the mortgage or rent"

Labour prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) letter to Guardian, 4 May 2014

With the next general election just a year away, a close eye is being kept on what the major parties will include in their manifestos.

31 prospective Labour MPs wrote to the Guardian over the weekend urging Ed Miliband to include one eye-catching commitment: to bring Britain's rail network back under national ownership.

Season tickets on the railways, they claim, cost even more than mortgages or rent for many people.

It's not possible to work this out precisely from the official figures we've seen, but the numbers we do have suggests most households which pay for a season ticket have much greater rent and mortgage costs.

The cost of a season ticket

Anyone can work out how much their next season ticket is going to cost them, but it's not nearly as easy to work out what people in general actually spend on them.

The Office for National Statistics' Living Costs and Food Survey measures how much we spend and where we spend it, but only the dataset itself has specific enough figures to get information of season ticket costs. Even then, we have to settle for season tickets in general rather than those specific to rail travel.

Only about 8% of households report having a season ticket for travelling, so we're looking at about two million households nationwide which have some sort of season ticket cost.

Those households spend on average about £23 a week on season tickets, but by comparison an average of £167 a week on rent or £152 a week if they have a mortgage.

So season tickets don't tend to be nearly as expensive as rents or mortgages, but how many people buck the trend?

According to these figures, not many. Only about 2.5% of households which pay for a season ticket say it costs them more than their rent or mortgage costs. Of those two million, then, we're looking at around 50,000 households.

That's not an insubstantial number of people estimated to be paying more for their season tickets, but it's dwarfed by the 1.95 million who pay more for their rent or mortgage.

That said, we still need to be  careful with this figure: it's based on 331 survey responses and while this might give us a good indication of the relative costs of housing and travel, using them to estimate the nationwide numbers comes with a large margin of error.

The picture may also be different at a regional level. House prices and rental costs are far greater in London than elsewhere in the UK, and season ticket costs in London will include tube travel which again makes the capital distinct.

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