Is public transport cheaper than driving UK?

When you are planning your move to the UK, the debate between driving your own car or relying on public transportation will arise. So, is public transport cheaper than driving in the UK?

Every case is different, but here’s some things to consider before you make your decision.

Questions to ask yourself

  • How often would you use public transport? Daily for work, or just every once in awhile for socialising?
  • Are you able to use public transport to get to work, or would you have to drive?
  • How often and how far would you need to drive?
  • Would your UK employer be able to put money towards your travel expenses?
  • Am I legally allowed to drive in the UK? Can I get a UK driving license?

While a tank of petrol isn’t hugely expensive, there are a lot of costs associated with buying a car in UK. When you tally those costs up, it may be more expensive than train and bus tickets you’d need throughout the car

Costs of buying a car:

  • The car itself (automatics are more expensive than manuals)
  • Car insurance (more expensive for foreigners)
  • Car tax
  • MOT test (Ministry of Transport, or simply MOT) is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom 
  • Car maintenance and/or repairs

However, it’s important to keep in mind that annual train tickets for commuting can be just as expensive. Some annual tickets for travel into London for work can be upwards of £4,000. But of course, if your journey is much shorter and not into London, public transport costs could be drastically less expensive.

Some UK employers may put money towards your commenting costs, so it’s helpful to check with them first. Some employers pay for employees annual train tickets commuting into London which is a massive expenses otherwise.

Pros to UK public transport

  • Convenient
  • More eco-friendly
  • Somewhat reliable
  • You won’t need to buy a vehicle (and deal with all the stress surrounding that purchase)
  • You won’t need to pay for car tax, insurance, maintenance or repairs
  • A large portion of the UK is connected by public transport so it’s easy to travel and get around

Cons to UK public transport

  • You can’t always get where you need to be
  • You’ll have to wait for trains, busses, etc (which can be rough during the winter)
  • Some accidents or incidents can cancel train lines or bus routes
  • Train tickets can be expensive, depending on the time of day or route needed
A foreigner reacts to UK public transport

Pros to owning a car in the UK

  • Extremely convenient
  • You can drive whenever you want (or need)
  • You’re not at the mercy of UK public transportation routes, times or delays
  • It’s much easier to visit smaller villages, towns and cities that are inaccessible by train or other public transport
  • You won’t need to sit through a long train journey when you can drive straight to your destination

Cons to owning a car in the UK

  • Expensive (purchase of the car, insurance, tax, price of running a car, etc)
  • Many flats and other properties do not have an allocated parking spot. You may need to pay extra for a parking permit or walk for awhile to a nearby spot
  • Foreigners pay more in car insurance as you are not a UK driver
  • A tank of fuel can get expensive, especially if you’re driving a lot
  • Buying a car in a foreign country can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re looking for
  • Many foreigners drive Automatic cards (especially Americans and Canadians) and these cars are far more expensive to buy than Manual cars, which are the norm in the UK

Want to learn more about life in England? Make sure to check out: Living in England: Pros and Cons

A Canadian expat shares her experience driving in the UK

Should I buy a car if I’m moving to London?

If you are planning on moving to London, it’s likely that you will not need a car. London has one of the best public transport systems in the world, making it extremely easy to get around the city.

Many flats and apartments in London do not have allocated parking, making own a car difficult.

Instead of buying a car, it’s recommended that you use the London public transport system, which includes busses, trains, the famous London Underground and trams. It’s very likely that where you need to go is near a bus stop or a train stop.

Ticket prices can be expensive, so make sure to look into Oyster cards for London transport.

Should I buy a car if I’m moving to the UK?

If you are moving to London: do not buy a car. However, if you’re moving to a village, town or city outside of London, you may benefit from buy a car instead of relying solely on public transport. Some small villages do not have reliable public transport, especially if you need to travel to work.

For me personally, an expat in England, I have used both methods.

For my first two years living and working in England, I relied solely on public transport. My town was large enough and connected well enough that I could get around, commute to work and get groceries OK with public transport.

Meeting up with friends at a particular pub or trying to get to a trail for a hike were more difficult. Bus and train routes don’t go everywhere.

After two years, I bought my own car and began driving instead. While it’s extremely convenient, there are a lot of costs associated with my car. But in the end, my quality of life is better.