London Students: How to Save on Tube & Bus Fares
Traveling in London
Studying at a London university is brilliant, that's why we both have *or want* a place there!
Paying for it isn't so great though and that's why I'm going to show you how to work out the cheapest and most comfortable way of traveling for your particular needs - without having to do much math either (i'll do all that).
A Question For You: Bus, Tube or Both?
Decide whether you'll need to travel via bus or tube from where you'll be staying.
Keep in mind:
- Using the bus will be about half the price of using the tube.
- The tube is a lot faster and more reliable (no traffic delays) than the buses.
- Both buses and the tube can be jam-packed at peak times but tube-trains come and go faster - making it easier for you to get an emptier one.
- Buses are more comfortable (since most of the time you will be standing on the tube).
You may also benefit greatly from alternating between the two. For example, you could use the tube to get to your campus so as to make sure you're not late for a lecture (and also have more time in the morning) but take the bus back home to save money.
My Example: Getting to King's College London
I studied Law at King's College and so had to get to the Strand Campus daily.
The most important factor for me when choosing bus or tube was how much walking I would have to do from my choice of transport - I was willing to pay extra to catch a train if it meant not having to walk 20 minutes every day to get where I needed.
Bear in mind that on top of the distance from the bus/tube stop to your university, there is also the distance from your accommodation to the stop you'll take to get there.
As it happened, both of my bus stops were much closer to my apartment and university than the corresponding tube-alternatives so it wasn't a difficult choice.
So how do you figure out what's best for you?
In order to figure out these details for yourself, you shouldn't look at individual London bus routes (complicated!) but instead check your university website, This will either have a map of nearby transport - or at the very least a list of stations and bus routes that will take you there.
Getting to Strand Campus - My goal is to get to Fernandez & Wells
Looking at this map I can see that getting a bus to the Strand would be faster than going to the nearest station 'Temple'.
London Bus and Tube Travel Costs for Adults
Without making any preparations other than buying an Oyster card, you will by default have to pay the adult fee for both buses and tube trains.(Keep in mind these are 2013 Prices).
- For Buses
- £1.40 per given direct trip
- £19.60 for 7 days,
- £75.30 per month or
- £784.00 per year
- For the Tube Zones 1-2 (the only zones uni-students usually use)
- £2.80 for a peak single
- £2.10 for an off-peak single
- £8.80 for a day card (off-peak and peak)
- £7.30 for a day card if you never travel during peak hours
- £30.40 for a 7 day travelcard
- £116.80 for a monthly card
- £1,216.00 for an annual travel card
You may agree that these prices are extremely high for studious students who aren't working a part-time job, particularly for those that aren't receiving financial help from a sponsor or guardian (most people). As a result, there are certain precautions you can take to prevent yourself from splashing out thousands of pounds on travel a year.
If you take nothing else from this guide I'd hope it would be the use of 'price caps' which simply limit how much money you can spend in a day on bus & train travel - if you go over the price cap you will travel for free for the rest of the day!
What they mean for you is that when traveling in Zones 1-2 you won't pay more than £8.40 (if you travel at least once at peak time) or £7.00 if you only travel during off-peak times.
Quite importantly, if you manage to get around solely by buses then the most you can pay (the price cap) is £4.40!
Because of price caps, making the most out of your money during travel is a little harder to determine because now you need to consider how much value you can get from traveling a lot on some days and capitalise off of free journeys.
As a student of a London university, you're entitled to buy a Student Oyster Photocard and get 30% off for both the underground and bus travel cards, making them somewhat more affordable.
Putting it simply though, I would still advise not to buy any of these unless you know that you will be traveling a lot in a particular time period i.e. more than two return trips a day. This is because even with the 30% discount, the prices are still so high that it would probably be cheaper to pay single fares.
For those that aren't satisfied with this basic advice, I've done the math below for both bus and tube travelcards.
The price of a single bus journey is the same for students and adults but bus passes for 7 days, monthly and annually are 30% cheaper.
Bus Pass Costs for Students and Adults
7 day pass
1 month pass
1 year pass
- 7 day bus card x 4 = £54.80 meaning a monthly card saves you £2.10
- Monthly bus card x 12 = £632.40 meaning an annual card saves you £84.40
- An annual travelcard gives you 365 days of unlimited bus travel whilst for the same price (£548.00) you could get only 125 days of unlimited bus travel (through reaching price cap)
Using simple math obviously the best choice in terms of trips for money is the annual pass but this is almost definitely not going to be the truth in reality because:
- You are not likely to max out on bus journeys every day - if you take just two buses you only spend £2.80 and not £4.40.
- You will most likely go back to your home outside of London for 3-4 months of the year during the holidays.
- You may sometimes have to take the tube train and a bus travelcard won't cover it.
Important Complicating Factors
In order to get a better picture of what's going to be right for you, have a look at the following points that can affect your decision, I'll also mention how I rationalised this information:
- An annual bus pass saves £84.40 if you use it every day compared to 12x monthly passes. However, if you have at least 2 months holiday (or abroad study) which will not be spent in London it would be cheaper to get 10x monthly passes: £527.00 instead of £548 since you won't be using your annual pass for those 2 months.
- Since King's gives me around 5 months off from university a year and I will come home (IoW) each time, it's much cheaper for me to spend £368.90 on 7 month passes than buy an annual one.
- Of course, term times don't always neatly fit into convenient 1 month intervals so sometimes it's necessary to use weekly passes too.
In order to figure out how often you'll use public transport (to compare how much you would spend paying single fares vs using travelcards) you need to use some simple but very important facts.
I will use my own situation as an example.
Simple Usage Calculation:
- Assume you will travel every weekday (mon-fri) to university.
- There are 260 weekdays in a year (105 days are weekends).
- Doing King's law, you will get roughly 5.5 months holiday in an academic year and so this deducts roughly 1/2 of those days off, leaving you with around 130 weekdays in which you will need to travel to and from university.
- Using single tickets on an oyster card, then, to get to and from university it would cost you: 130x£1.40x2 = £364 assuming that you don't need to take more than 1 bus each way.
- At this rate, it would actually be cheaper to use single fares instead of spending £548.00 on an annual pass
- It would still be a lot cheaper to buy 6x monthly passes - 6x£52.70 = £316.20 and this would allow you to travel as much as I want on each of those days including weekends.
Weekend Travel - Buses or Tube?
The amount of travel you will need to do on the weekends is a very personal thing and will depend on how introverted/extroverted you are - are you going to go out drinking with your new friends every Saturday or go to a particular club every Sunday?
I bring this up because you have to consider that if you splash out on monthly passes for bus travel you will feel obliged to use the bus over the tube - your friends on the other hand might choose to get a travelcard and avoid the bus like the plague - to get around this you could arrange to meet at places instead of travel together but this may be seen as a little anti-social/stingy.
The good thing about buying monthly passes is you aren't committing to a full year, so if you realise that tube-travel would be best for you later on you always have the option to switch.
If the bus stop is much closer to you than the station (or much closer to your university) and you can swallow your pride and ask your 'tube-friends' to meet you where you need to go, then definitely go for monthly bus passes as this will be a lot cheaper than annual bus passes (because of holidays) and tube-travelcards.
Saving Money on the London Underground
If it happens to be the case that there aren't any bus stops near your accommodation or you just can't stand using the bus for whatever reason, then the tube may be your only option.
I'll start by explaining that you are almost definitely going to have to pay for the peak price (and use peak price capacity) when using the tube to get to your university because you're likely to have to travel in the mornings before 9:30 (morning peak times are 6:30-9:30).
You can save money when buying the railcard by finding vouchers online.
I saved 11% off of mine using the voucher 'NUS11' which depending on how long it's been you can use too.
You will find more of them here at various % rates:
As a student, I recommend using that website for other things too (like events and even dominos pizza!)
When returning from university however, you may be lucky enough to get on at off-peak (9:30-16:00 and after 19:00) prices and this is where the 16-25 railcard can save you a lot of money.
To be more specific, 34% off of every off-peak single ticket you buy, making a single ticket for zones 1-2 only £1.40 instead of £2.10.
- A railcard costs £30 per year but saves you 70p per off-peak travel
- This means that you need to travel 43 times before making your money back with the railcard
- Assuming you catch one off-peak train every weekday in your academic year this will save you 77x70p = £53.90 every year.
- Of course, on the weekends you have more control over when you travel and so you will undoubtedly save even more money by traveling during off-peak times.