Blog: Dave LeggettLies, damned lies and statistics

Dave Leggett | 30 June 2011

Ah, statistics. Treat them with care.

Travelling on the London Underground railway (a subway rail AKA 'The Tube') is probably the quickest and easiest way to get around central London, which covers a pretty big area. Driving a car there has not really been a sensible option for most for a fair few decades now (parking costs, chronic road congestion). Taxis can work well on occasion, but you do risk getting stuck in a jam while watching the meter rapidly tick over as the driver takes advantage of his captive audience to deliver forthright views on politics. Bicycle? There is a very good hire scheme now, but you might not want to get in a sweat on a hot day if you are on business and wearing your best suit. Buses? Okay if you can understand the routes and don't mind listening to teenagers playing music on their phones. Not for the faint hearted or the stranger in town.

The Tube is, for most, the default option for getting around. It's quick and there's a neat network map that almost everyone can understand unless they are colour blind. Is it cheap? Well, yes and no. No, not on individual journeys if you are buying a standard ticket. But most people are on much cheaper deals on a by journey basis via the various discounted options – like day tickets/seasons/'oyster'.

But I had to love this header on a press release: 'Tube now 50% dearer than travelling by chauffeur-driven Phantom'. Blimey. The fares have gone up in recent years, but I didn't realise the Tube was quite THAT expensive. Let's have a closer look at that one, I thought. The release is from the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) – a body that exists to promote green and 'sustainable' transportation, pro-cycling, pro-public transport, anti-car and so on - so maybe they have a small axe to grind about the 'high' cost of public transport.

But even so, how have they arrived at the preposterous sounding notion that all those people uncomfortably crammed into subterranean no-air-con Tube carriages would be financially better off in a chauffeured Roller?

They have been clever and will get attention with that header on the release. Technically, the ETA may well be correct, but the comparison is a little extreme: 'A Rolls Royce Phantom with chauffeur costs from GBP200 per hour. At an average traffic speed in central London of 12mph, this equates to a per-mile cost of GBP16.66. The cost of a single ticket in Zone 1 of the underground costs GBP4, a cost-per-mile on the 0.16 mile journey between Leicester square and Covent Garden of GBP24.84'.

Hats off to them for making that calculation based on what must be the shortest journey between two Tube stations on the network (and you don't need an hour, it takes about two minutes). Creative and I'm sure they have their tongues firmly in their cheeks. You probably don't have to make enquiries about hiring a Rolls Royce Phantom by the hour for your next visit to central London just yet – it won't stack up too well on other journeys or if you have a different sort of ticket. Mind you, at GBP200 an hour, that must work out way cheaper than a black cab on an hourly basis. And a single Tube ticket at GBP4 does seem very harsh on someone who is perhaps making just the single journey for some reason (happened to me not so long ago and I was a bit shocked).

I can imagine that if there are three or four people in London for a day of meetings, a car with driver – maybe something less opulent than a Phantom - might well start to make more sense than hopping on the Tube to stand with the 'great unwashed'. On a hot day at peak times, it's not the most lovely of shared experiences.


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