Do only 30% of commuters get seats on trains?

20 August 2013

"[The UK rail service] offers only a 30 per cent chance of getting a seat at peak times."

Sunday Express, 18 August 2013

After last week's news that rail fares would rise by an average of 4.1% in the coming year, some commentators have been questioning whether British commuters are getting value for money.

This weekend's Sunday Express carried one such objection, claiming that not only were the increases "pricing us all off the trains", but that those who did persevere were struggling to get seats due to overcrowding at peak times.

We've attempted to contact the Express to get their source for the claim, but so far without success. However the best statistics available on the subject are those published by the Department for Transport (DfT).

'Peak times' are defined by the DfT as the hours between 7am and 9.59am, and the period 4-6.59pm. However the data shows that for these times the proportion of passengers arriving into and departing from London stations who were forced to stand on their trains is 19% in the morning, and 12% in the evening.

There is, however, also a 'high peak' measure: services which arrive into London in the hour before 9am, and leave it in the hour after 5pm. For these services, 25% of passengers stood in the morning, and 13% did likewise in the evening.

Of course, these figures only cover trains serving the capital, and if we look further afield, the proportion standing is lower. The DfT looked at 10 other termini besides London, and the proportion standing in high peak in the morning ranged between 1% (Leicester) and 18% (Leeds), and between 3% (Newcastle) and 16% (Leeds again) for the evening rush hour.

Clearly none of these figures approaches the 70% of passengers which the Sunday Express claims are left without seats. What it may be referring to however is the fact that nearly three quarters of services arriving into London (74%) in the morning high peak have some passengers standing, although clearly this isn't the same as saying that the same proportion of passengers had to stand, as we've seen.

Alternatively, the paper may be referring to specific services, or using anecdotal evidence. If this is the case however, it is important to note that this snapshot doesn't necessarily reflect the wider picture.

We will of course update once we learn more.

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