Taken for a Ride – How UK public transport subsidies entrench inequality

Public transport is a significant and escalating cost for many people. But while transport may be a drain on the finances of some, for others the cost is far more debilitating. This matters, as it means the poorest in society are unable to travel as far or as often, limiting their ability to compete with the better off for jobs and decent pay. This report reveals how this inequality is embedded within our transport system through government subsidies, further increasing overall economic inequality.

Our report finds that:

  • In total the richest ten per cent receives £977.4 million in transport subsidy; the poorest ten per cent receives just £296.7 million.
  • Per household the richest ten per cent receives nearly double the subsidy of the poorest ten per cent, £294 per year compared to £162 for the poorest households.
  • For the rail system alone the richest ten per cent receives over three and a half times as much subsidy as the poorest ten per cent. 
  • Certain regions like Wales and the North East receive far lower rates of subsidy than regions like London and the South East. A household in London benefits almost four times as much from rail subsidy as a household in Wales. However, per journey rail travel in Wales is approximately twice as subsidised as rail travel in London.

Our transport system is a driver of inequality, and societies with high levels of economic inequality have worse health, more crime, less social mobility and lower levels of trust. We therefore recommend that:

  • All government departments should consider whether or not any new policy proposal increases inequality, as part of their cost-benefit evaluation process.
  • The Department for Transport, and all other government departments, should review the net effect of their existing policies as a whole on inequality. 
  • The Government should commission the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to estimate the net impact of its annual budget on UK inequality.