British train fares are highest in world, but London slips down priciest cities list

Economics Editor,Sean O'Grady
Thursday 20 August 2009 00:00 BST

Just in case hard-pressed travellers in this country were in any doubt, economists at UBS have confirmed that Britain has the highest railway fares in the world. Launching their latest review of prices and earnings across the world, including the so-called "Big Mac" index, the researchers say that a 125-mile train trip from, say, Liverpool to London costs £54.39 second class, with the equivalent journey in Germany, the next most expensive nation, costing £40.41. Fares in France and Italy are about half the British level.

However, London is no longer the most expensive city in the world to live in. It won that title in the 2006 survey, but has since slipped 20 places, thanks to the depreciation in sterling and the slump in house prices, leaving Oslo, Zurich, Copenhagen and Geneva as the priciest places to visit and live in (though they also enjoy some of the highest wage levels in the world).

But the most shocking disparities in levels of prosperity and economic development are to be found in the "Big Mac Index", the standardised measurement of how long it takes an average worker to earn enough to buy something that is the same in every market – the Big Mac burger. UBS has updated the index this year with a new addition – the number of hours of labour required to purchase an Apple iPod.

The indices are designed to remove distortions caused by movements in exchange rates to reveal the real cost of living in a given location. And while it takes only an average day's work to buy an iPod in New York or Zurich, an Indian in Mumbai will have to toil away for 20 nine-hour days, or about a month, before they get their one. Similarly the Mumbai citizen will take an hour to earn enough for a Big Mac; a Kenyan will take three hours to do the same. A Londoner would have to work just 13 minutes, though they would probably just have to put in a little overtime for an iPod – 11 hours' work sees the little electronic device in their hands.

The UBS survey also has some more tips, though perhaps unsurprising ones. Three-star hotels are especially cheap in Mumbai, Johannesburg and Kuala Lumpur, for example, and clothes bargains are best in Manila. Mexico City and Jakarta offer value for short breaks.

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