The other North/South divide: why Londoners have worst commutes

Nationwide, three out of four workers took half an hour or less to get to work. But in London only 44 per cent travelled for less than 30 minutes - and 16 per cent took an hour or more

Three out of four Britons commute for less than half an hour – but those travelling to work in London take far longer, almost one in five of them taking more than hour to get in. And, while workers in most parts of the country can still enjoy the comfort and convenience of a car to ease the journey, those heading into London are forced on to congested tubes and "cattle class" trains.

Click HERE to view graphic (92k jpg)

The data, released by the Office for National Statistics, presents the first comprehensive survey into the nation's commuting habits, and the contrast between London and the rest of the nation could hardly be more marked.

Nationwide, three out of four workers took half an hour or less to travel from home to work; only 5 per cent took more than an hour. However, for people working in London the figures were very different: only 44 per cent had a journey of 30 minutes or less, while 16 per cent – three times the national average – took more than an hour to get in to the office.

Around three in five, or 59 per cent, of all employees in Britain worked and lived in the same local authority district. The average commute in the UK is 27 minutes: 44 minutes for those working in London, and 24 minutes for the rest. Roughly 11 per cent of people, about 3.3 million, work from home – up from 2.8 million a decade ago.

The ONS also found that the longer the working day, the longer the commute. On average, those who work a 40-hour week spend less than a quarter of an hour travelling to work, while for those who put in a 48-hour week commuting times rise to more than an hour. That means they spend about 73 per cent of their weekday waking hours either at work, or travelling to and from it.

Most people (71 per cent) drove to work; 10 per cent walked; 7 per cent caught the bus; 5 per cent got a train; and 3 per cent cycled.

Again, the picture was very different in the capital, with 35 per cent of those who worked in London driving in. However, given the congestion charge and the hostile attitude of many councils to the car, that could be interpreted as a surprisingly high figure. About half of London workers take public transport: 20 per cent commute by train from the home counties and suburbs, 18 per cent travel on the London Underground and 12 per cent go by bus. Outside London, only 9 per cent of workers choose any form of public transport to get to work.

Despite the efforts of local authorities and the escalating costs of motoring and public transport, only 3 per cent of commuters use their bicycles to get to work.

Those who earn more and work in management or professional positions tend to having longer journey times, the statistics suggest, and commensurately higher earnings.

The typical hourly earnings for those whose commutes took longer than an hour was £14.30; those whose commutes were under 15 minutes earned an average of £8.30 an hour, although one possible explanation for this could be that only the highest earners can afford the cost of long-distance season-tickets.

Case study: How to bypass the traffic...

As a chief executive, Richard Harpin does what most other businessmen do when they leave work – he loosens his tie and walks across to his company's car park to wait for his ride home.

Except he then meets his co-pilot and straps himself into a helicopter for the daily commute from his office in the West Midlands to his house in North Yorkshire.

"It's easy really," says the millionaire boss of Homeserve, an insurance company. "I take the controls and 45 minutes later I land in a field near my house.

"It's fantastic after a hard day of work. I fly over the Peak District and every day I am fulfilling a boyhood dream."

"Before the helicopter, I used to find the two-and-a-half-hour car journey pretty grim, but I wanted to stay up North, where my roots are. I don't ever take it for granted and my only worry is I think my children think it's normal."