Transport impacts on people’s lives – through the choices that people make themselves, and through the choices that other people make around them. For instance, one person’s health may be affected by having a sedentary lifestyle, but someone else’s health may also be affected by the air pollution created by people driving cars. The key question is: do these negative impacts affect different groups in London disproportionately?
Health and wellbeing
Londoners lead busy lives and many struggle to fit exercise into their busy routines. The commute to work may therefore provide a valuable opportunity to be physically active by walking or cycling some or all of the way. However, inadequate cycling infrastructure and a lack of public transport options may limit people’s ability to choose these more sustainable modes, leading to car dependency. In turn, sedentary lifestyles affect people’s health, contributing to obesity and related conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
The proportion of London adults classed as overweight or obese is lower than the national average (56 per cent compared to 62 per cent across England), while the same proportion (two-thirds) is classed as “physically active” for both London and England. However, there are significant variations across the capital, with boroughs in east and northwest London faring the worst and those in central and southwest London faring the best. In contrast to adults, the proportion of children in London classed as overweight or obese is higher than the national average (38 per cent compared to 34 per cent across England), although similar proportions of children are physically active in London and England. Again, there are variations across London, with levels of child obesity highest in east and northeast boroughs. 43
Centre for London’s analysis found a relatively strong correlation at borough level between weight problems, inactivity and low levels of walking and cycling. 44 With less access to public transport in Outer London, reliance on private cars is higher and levels of active travel lower.
The proportion of trips made via walking and cycling is lowest for residents in Havering (20 per cent), Hillingdon (21 per cent), Bexley and Redbridge (both 22 per cent). 45
For children in London, there was no clear overall link between boroughs’ obesity and physical activity rates. Yet there was a clear link to socioeconomic factors, with more children classed as overweight or obese in areas of high deprivation or with higher proportions of non-white residents. 43 This shows that, particularly in the formative years, health may be linked more closely to socioeconomic factors than physical activity.
Air pollution is a major health concern in London. It is responsible for up to 141,000 life years lost, as well as over 3,400 hospital admissions ever year, and its impacts are estimated to cost £3.7 billion per annum. 47 With half of all air pollution in London coming from motor vehicles, tackling the problem has become a priority for the Mayor.
Concentrations of all three of the main pollutants – nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulates (PM2.5) – have remained consistently above legal limits. Over two million people are living with illegal levels of air pollution, and many main roads in London regularly breach legal limits for NO2. 48 The introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in April 2019, which charges the most polluting vehicles entering central London, has made a dent in air pollution levels – particularly NO2 concentrations. By September 2019, these were 36 per cent lower than in February 2017 when the zone was announced. 49
However, air pollution remains a significant problem. Unlike inactivity, air pollution from motor vehicles affects not only the users of that vehicle but also anyone else in close proximity. There is a common misconception that people inside a vehicle have a lower exposure to air pollution than cyclists and pedestrians, but evidence shows that the reverse is true, due to drivers and passengers spending longer in traffic. 50 Our survey did highlight that one-third of respondents saw concern about air pollution as a barrier to using a private car or motorcycle. While it is not clear whether this is a concern for their own health or about causing damage to others, it may signify a growing public awareness of the health impacts of air pollution.
Monitoring data also shows that air pollution is concentrated not only in central London, but also in any areas close to very busy roads. 51 As a result, people living in the most deprived areas of London are exposed to around a quarter more NO2 pollution than those living in the wealthiest areas. 52 In addition, the health impacts of air pollution are felt more acutely by some people: older people, children and those with heart and respiratory conditions are particularly vulnerable. This means that children and older people living in more deprived areas are severely at risk of air-pollutionrelated health conditions.
Finally, other forms of transport also contribute to air pollution. While still within Health and Safety Executive limits, the Underground can have up to 30 times higher levels of particulate matter than beside busy roads. These figures are higher than concentrations reported in other underground transport systems globally, most likely due to the age and average depth of the network. 53 Although this particulate matter is mostly created not from exhaust fumes but from other sources such as textiles, its health impact is as yet unknown.
Safety concern: crime and road danger
London’s transport system is highly rated for safety compared to other big cities. 54 Nevertheless, 14 per cent of Londoners cite fear of crime as a deterrent from using public transport, while another 21 per cent identify drunken passengers, intimidation and aggressive behaviour as barriers. 55 There are differences in response across gender and ethnicity. In our survey, 24 per cent of women cited worries about personal safety as a barrier to using the Tube more, compared to only 13 per cent of men; and 20 per cent of non-white respondents (compared to just 11 per cent of white respondents) reported the same about using the bus.
In fact, overall crime levels on public transport have been declining, but incidents of violence against the person and sexual assault on buses and the Underground have been showing small increases. 56 While this is a concerning trend, it has been suggested that it is partly attributable to successful awareness campaigns that encourage reporting of this type of behaviour.
People’s perceptions of safety, however, may also be influenced by overall crime levels. Official rates of recorded crime in London are higher than the England average and, although it has been falling over the longer term, the crime rate consistently increased between mid-2015 and mid-2019 for all major offences – including crime against the person, theft and public disorder. 57
Perceptions of crime are also in line with this trend. Across England, a higher proportion of people are worried about crime increasing at the national level than at the local level, but concern about both has been rising. 58 More women say that crime has increased than men, and Bangladeshi people are the most concerned of all ethnic groups about crime at the local level. Compared to other regions, Londoners worry the least about crime at the national level but are among the most concerned about crime at the local level. 44
Casualties on the road are another factor that affects safety. In 2018, the Mayor of London adopted the Vision Zero action plan, which aims to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries on London’s roads by 2041. 60 As part of this, a 20mph speed limit is being introduced on all central London roads managed by TfL, with ambitions to expand this speed limit to highrisk areas in London’s suburbs. 61 While 2018 marked the lowest number of casualties on London’s roads on record – and the overall number of people killed and seriously injured has been declining over the long term – people walking, cycling and motorcycling are most at risk (making up nearly four-fifths of all people killed or seriously injured). 62
By group type, the most deprived pedestrians are more than twice as likely to be injured than the least deprived. 63 Unfortunately, traffic-calming measures seem to have a limited impact in reducing such inequalities. In fact, 20mph zones in deprived areas have no discernible effect across different deprivation levels, and rates of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents actually increase among people of black ethnic origin. 64 This demonstrates that despite improvements in pedestrian safety, there is a persistent safety gap related to ethnicity and levels of deprivation.
Safety concerns are also a major barrier to cycling across all groups. Without infrastructure that segregates cyclists from other forms of traffic, London’s roads are often viewed as a hostile environment for cycling. 65 This is particularly the case for older and disabled cyclists who may feel more physically vulnerable than others. Even though the number of casualties has decreased since the 1990s (despite a significant increase in cycling in the capital), 66 concerns about safety remain high, with 30 per cent of respondents in our survey reporting safety as a barrier to cycling.
Cycling also has an image problem: half of Londoners say that cycling in London is not for “people like them”. 67 TfL has now renamed “Cycle Superhighways” – which gave the impression that cycling is a high-speed competitive sport – as “Cycleways”.
“Cycle Superhighways are good infrastructure but the aggression from some of the users can be quite intimidating.”
Overall, people living in poorer areas and from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by road danger and to be concerned about local crime levels. Both pedestrians and cyclists remain vulnerable to road collisions. Addressing both crime and road accident levels – as well as people’s perceptions of them – is important in removing barriers to using these transport options.
Barriers and impacts on specific groups
This section summarises the main barriers to accessing transport, and the exposure to negative impacts of transport provision for specific groups.
While there are fewer older people in the capitalcompared with the rest of the country, a higher proportion of London pensioners live in poverty (19 per cent vs. 14 per cent in England). 68 As over-60s in London have access to free public transport, however, cost is not a significant barrier to travel for them. Only 18 per cent of over-65s cite cost as a barrier to using the train more, and just 5 per cent of this group report the same about the Tube (compared to 35 per cent and 25 per cent respectively for all Londoners).
Factors like proximity to their home and destination, fewer steps and greater seat availability mean that older people tend to use buses more. They are also much more likely to drive, according to our polling. However, connectivity seemed to be a concern, and with recent changes to bus routes, interchanges are increasingly necessary for some journeys. Some older people prefer to access services and activities in one direct trip, so interchanges or multiple modes of transport could be daunting for them; a number were worried about how they would move between platforms or bus stops.
“Sometimes, before I go out, I think: ‘Do I really need the hassle?'”
Personal safety was also a concern for older people. Focus group participants expressed concerns about other passengers’ behaviour, and said that they would not take transport at certain times in order to avoid busy periods and potential overcrowding. Furthermore, some felt that members of staff did not always consider their physical vulnerability. In one instance, an older person had to be lifted off the bus by members of the public, as the driver could not see her and therefore did not lower the vehicle for her to get off. These experiences deter older people from using public transport, as they worry about injury and the stress of making their way through the busy transport system. Our polling also showed that older people are more likely to worry about their safety when walking, and have physical barriers to both walking and cycling.
In addition to the accessibility challenges discussed at length above, inconsistency across the network was deemed to be a problem for disabled people. A number of focus group participants highlighted issues such as audio announcements on trains not always being made, the buzzer for assistance on the Underground not always being in the same place, some stations not always being staffed, and cycling infrastructure varying. All these inconsistencies made travelling particularly stressful for disabled Londoners who need extra assistance to make their journey, or who may feel physically vulnerable on the network.
Some participants stressed that disabled Londoners must complain to TfL to flag the issues they face on the transport network. For these participants, this was the only way to draw attention to the challenges disabled Londoners face and encourage improvements to the network. However, others found this process complicated and lengthy.
According to official figures, over a quarter of the city’s population lives in a low-income household. 69 Londoners in these households are more likely to be women, from a minority ethnic group, older, retired and/or disabled compared to all Londoners and those in higher-income households. 70 Those on low incomes are more likely to be exposed to the negative impacts of transport provision: they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the roads, suffer the harmful effects of air pollution, and be the victims of street crime. 71
Our survey showed Londoners on low incomes are less likely to use the tube or rail: 38 per cent of people with a monthly take-home income of £1,000 or less use the Tube (including Overground) at least once a week, compared to 61 per cent for people with a monthly takehome income of over £2,000. Londoners with an income of £1,000 or less are also more likely to use the bus (68 per cent), compared to 63 per cent for people with an income of over £2,000 – and to make bus-only journeys, in large part due to buses’ relative affordability. Although the introduction of the Hopper fare has eliminated the cost difference associated with changing between buses, changes still have time cost implications – potentially adding another 10-15 minutes onto journey times where an interchange is necessary. Overall, many low-income Londoners are choosing cheaper but longer routes and sacrificing other discretionary expenditure to afford travel costs.
Despite being a cheap way to get around, poorer Londoners are less likely to cycle. While safety concerns are the main barrier across the board, the upfront cost, and lack of outside or indoor space, can also be issue for poorer Londoners. Disabled or older people are more likely to live in low-income households, suggesting that there may be some physical barriers to active transport for this group. In our survey of Londoners, more than twice as many DE compared to AB respondents identified physical challenges to cycling and walking as barriers. 72 Concerns about air pollution, which is more prevalent in deprived areas, can also make active transport less appealing. While the evidence suggests the health benefits of physical activity outweigh the potential harms, 73 many perceive it to be harmful – or may simply not enjoy the experience due to busy and congested streets.
Women tend to move around cities in different ways to men. Generally, women make more complicated trips, with shorter distances and multiple stages, as these trips are more likely to be part of a chain of activities like shopping and care giving. 74 However, public transport and cycling routes are often designed with travel-towork patterns in mind – which tend to be more radial – so women are disadvantaged when this results in a lack of orbital transport and cycling networks. Women are also more likely to travel accompanied by children and/or carrying luggage, so travelling by car is frequently seen as a necessity.
“I get the Thames Clipper – it’s very expensive but it’s the safest way to get around.”
Women are also more likely than men to raise safety concerns about transport. In our survey of Londoners, women were nearly twice as likely as men to report personal safety as a barrier to walking and using public transport more. Concern about personal safety also deters women from using car-clubs and taxi-ride hailing services. One focus group participant discussed taking a more expensive route because her door-to-door journey felt safer. Many women in the capital will weigh up factors like time, cost and safety to decide how they travel at different times of the day. Women use the bus more than men during the day, but less at night, 44 adapting travel patterns with safety-related considerations at the core.
Ethnic minority Londoners make up 41 per cent of the city’s population (compared to 10 per cent of the population in England). 76 Like low-income Londoners, ethnic minority groups in the capital are more likely to experience the negative impacts of the transport system, experiencing higher rates of road deaths and higher exposure to pollution.
Cost is a specific barrier to ethnic minority Londoners, who as a result tend to use buses more often. Our survey found that non-white respondents were significantly more likely than white respondents to use the bus on a daily basis (26 per cent compared to 16 per cent). Compared to other groups, non-white Londoners cited cost as a barrier to using different modes of transport more often: 33 per cent of non-white respondents reported this with respect to travelling by Tube, compared to just 21 per cent of white respondents.
“The issue with buses often comes down to waiting and interchange – you may have to wait in an isolated area that you’re not familiar with.”
However, safety was a bigger concern for ethnic minority Londoners than other groups, with 20 per cent saying that concerns about personal safety were a barrier to using the bus more (compared to just 11 per cent of white respondents). Participants in our focus groups suggested that waiting at bus stops could leave people feeling vulnerable, especially in areas that they were unfamiliar with. Additionally, we know that levels of reported crime are higher on buses than on other types of transport. With non-white groups using buses more frequently, it may be the case that they are more regularly exposed to incidents and are therefore more concerned than others about safety.
Non-white groups are also under-represented in cycling statistics. In addition to safety concerns, there are cultural barriers to cycling: some communities have been found to have negative perceptions of cycling, with car ownership seen as a sign of success and cycling viewed as low-status. 77 In turn, having few role models perpetuates lower participation. For example, in Hackney, where many school children receive cycling training at school, levels of uptake outside school remain low because parents (typically non-cyclists) do not see it as a valid form of transport. 44 Targeted campaigns can help broaden access to cycling. Cycling groups – like the Cycle Sisters in Waltham Forest for Muslim women, and other interfaith cycling events – can broaden travel horizons and raise awareness of cycling as both a physical activity and a mode of transport.
London has a younger age profile than the rest of England – a pattern especially pronounced in Inner London. 79
The main barrier to transport for younger people is cost, with stark differences in spending between older and younger Londoners. Our survey found that young people spend a higher proportion of their income on travel, and that 24 per cent of those aged 18-24 felt that cost was a barrier to using the Tube more frequently (compared to just 5 per cent of those aged 65 and over). Alongside higher transport costs, younger people are more likely to face high rental costs. As a result, young Londoners report balancing factors like cost, time and safety when they make decisions about how they travel. Some students we spoke to reported that they would sometimes take longer routes by bus to save money, but some also said that this could make them feel unsafe.
“The affordability issue forces you to make a longer journey by bus while you’d prefer a quicker journey on train where it’s lit up and you’ll feel safer.”
Younger Londoners are also more concerned about overcrowding than older Londoners, with 69 per cent of those aged 25-34 (compared to 39 per cent of those aged 65 and over) citing this as a barrier to using the Tube more frequently. This divergence is likely to be related to different patterns of use. Those aged 25-34 are more likely to be economically active, and therefore using the Tube during peak times. Availability was also an issue: 47 per cent of those aged 18-24 (compared to just 13 per cent of over those 65 and over) said that the Tube not being available at specific times was a barrier to using it more – reflecting the limited operation and coverage of the Night Tube. Likewise, 20 per cent of those aged 18-24 said that a barrier to using rail more is that “it is too infrequent”, compared to just 4 per cent of over- 65s. This highlights some distinct travel patterns and barriers to use for this group.
Although there are low levels of reported physical barriers to cycling, uptake among young Londoners remains low. Young Londoners we spoke to said that cycling felt like a professional sport in the city. According to the survey, just 9 per cent of those aged 18-24 say that they cycle on a weekly basis, and 12 per cent say they cycle at least once a month. This is a significantly lower proportion than those aged 25-54, of whom roughly 20 per cent reported that they cycle weekly. While cycling frequency is particularly low among young Londoners, the biggest barrier is safety, which is in line with the barriers reported by other age groups.
To better illustrate some of the complex challenges individuals can face, we created some fictional user profiles, based on input from the focus groups and Transport for London’s customer segmentation tool. 80
Luke is a student who lives in a flatshare in Finchley. He works part-time in a pub to support himself but also receives some financial help from his parents. He holds an 18+ Student Oyster photocard and buys weekly bus passes with 30 per cent discount, as he tends to travel by bus. But he also occasionally takes the Tube, paying the full pay-as-you-go fare. He has additionally invested in a 16-25 Railcard, which gives him a third off fares when he visits friends and family in the holidays. Despite getting discounted travel, Luke’s low monthly income and high outgoings mean that he considers the cost of every journey. However, Luke sometimes feels unsafe travelling by bus, especially at night or in an area that he doesn’t know. On such occasions, he prefers to take the Night Tube or an Uber.
Net household income: £550/month plus parental support
Housing costs: £400/month
Travel costs: £75/month
The Outer London retired couple
Charles and Ivy are a retired couple living Bromley. Ivy has dementia and Charles is her principal carer. They have grown-up children that visit occasionally. Financially, they are in a relatively sound position with good pensions and the mortgage paid off. But Ivy gets confused and forgetful and must be accompanied at all times. Rather than attempt public transport, which is not very dense or frequent, Charles prefers to drive door-todoor. Charles’s travel patterns are mostly determined by his role as carer, including frequent accompanying trips to medical appointments – except for the one day a week when a nurse comes to the house, allowing him to do the weekly shop. Without respite care, Charles is beginning to feel isolated. He used to have a much more active lifestyle during his working life and he wishes he had more opportunity for social interaction.
Net household income: £1,400/month
Housing costs: £0
Travel costs: £60/month
The Inner London young couple
Jane and Steve are a couple in their mid-30s currently living in privately rented accommodation in Canning Town. Jane works for a creative agency and commutes by Tube every day, while Steve is a council officer and cycles to work. They are members of a car club and occasionally use shared cars for shopping or day trips outside London. The couple would like more space as they are now expecting their first child, and have (with a contribution from their parents) saved for a deposit to buy a property. They are currently considering the options available to them. They would prefer to remain in east London, and could afford a three-bedroom house approximately 1km from Hornchurch station. Jane’s Travelcard would increase by £60/month and David would need to take the train for part of his journey, so their travel costs would increase considerably and their door-to-door commute times would double. If they are to live so far from their existing social networks, they wonder whether it might be better to move out of London completely to find a cheaper property. Initially they won’t save much due to the cost of National Rail season tickets, but they would look to reorient their careers and social networks over time.
Net household income: £3,500/month
Housing costs: £1,600/month
Travel costs: £260/month
The housing association tenants
The young Davies family lives in a housing association property in Peckham with two children. The parents work full- and part-time for the NHS. The family relies heavily on buses for travel to work, school and local facilities. The bus is affordable and their area is relatively well served, but the service can be unreliable when juggling work and parental commitments. They also use trains for trips out at the weekends or to get to work faster when running late, and sometimes they rely on lifts from colleagues and minicabs when working early or late shifts. Since one of their children has been diagnosed with asthma, the Davies parents are also increasingly worried about the effects of air pollution on their children because their home and school are both located near major roads.
Net household income: £2,800/month
Housing costs: £1,000/month
Travel costs: £300/month
The council home single parent
Liz is a single parent living in social housing in Tottenham. She has no family living nearby, so there is no one else to drop off and collect her five-year-old daughter Toni from school. She works part-time in a supermarket and takes the bus to and from work. Liz used to walk her daughter to and from nursery in her pushchair, although it took her 30 minutes. Since the Hopper fare was introduced, she can now take the bus for the school run too. Liz cannot afford a car or private transport, so day trips are a very rare luxury. Instead, Toni plays with her school friends in the local playground and Liz volunteers in the community centre.
Net household income: £500/month
Housing costs: £380/month paid for by housing benefit
Travel costs: £63/month
The blind commuter
Rupi is 45, registered blind and has a guide dog. She lives in Tooting and works full time in customer services for a bank in Holborn. She is independent but sometimes finds getting around at peak times a challenge, so she starts and finishes later to avoid the worst overcrowding. Generally Rupi asks for assistance from station staff, but sometimes it can be difficult and time-consuming to wait for staff during peak hours, so she will ask members of the public for help. Rupi doesn’t take taxis very often, as she has a Freedom Pass. In her borough, Freedom Pass holders are entitled to half the Taxicard credits that people without a Freedom Pass receive (approximately 4 trips a month of up to £8.50 or 2 longer journeys of up to £17). Sometimes she needs to take a taxi, as her guide dog is not trained for escalators – meaning that some stations are not accessible for her. Any trips in excess of her Taxicard credits increase costs.
Net household income: £2,200/month
Housing costs: £1,400
Travel costs: £20/month
The disabled cyclist
Helena is a wheelchair user who lives in Stoke Newington with her partner John and works for a charity based near Old Street. Helena mostly uses her adapted bicycle to get to work via the CS1, but will occasionally use the bus, while John travels by Overground and Tube to his office near Tottenham Court Road. They bought a new-build flat three years ago and had to make adaptations for Helena’s needs. Helena spent £2,000 on her adapted bicycle, and she acknowledges the cost can be prohibitive for many other disabled people. As Helena has a Freedom Pass, saving money is not her main motivation for cycling, but she finds that cycling to and from work is a good way to get some exercise into her busy day. Despite enjoying cycling to work, Helena feels quite vulnerable on the road compared to other road users. She much prefers segregated routes where she is away from other traffic – yet on some of these routes the pace of cycling can be fast, and other cyclists can be impatient. When visiting places she is unfamiliar with, she prefers to take the bus rather than risk encountering inconsistent cycling infrastructure.
Net household income: £4,200/month
Housing costs: £1,200/month
Travel costs: £130/month