Despite big investment, fewer people are using public transport to get to London’s airports

Despite big investment, fewer people are using public transport to get to London’s airports

18 January 2019

London TravelWatch has called for action to halt the declining proportion of passengers using public transport to get to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports.

Today’s report, Way to go: Improving public transport access to London’s airports shows that current surface access links to London’s airports are not good enough quality to increase public transport’s appeal to users, either for current levels of demand for air travel or those projected in future. This is regardless of any planned expansion in airport capacity. It proposes a number of improvements to make passengers’ journeys to London’s airports easier, many of which could be done at little cost, making the best use of existing infrastructure. However, decision makers and service operators must be prepared to work together and recognise that many passengers will need to use services provided by more than one operator to complete their journey.

Way to go shows that there has been a reduction in private car journeys to London’s airports between 2012 and 2016. However, the share of passengers using public transport to get to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton Airports has actually fallen over this period from 41%, 44% and 33% in 2012 to 39.1%, 43,6% and 31.4% respectively in 2016. Data shows that many people now see private hire vehicles as an easier and more reliable way of making their journey. For example the percentage of people using private hire services to get to Heathrow increased from 26% to 31.5% between 2010 and 2016.

London TravelWatch Chair, Arthur Leathley commented: 'Not surprisingly, passengers are reluctant to use public transport to get to London’s airports where they consider access to be poor and journeys to be unreliable. But it is disappointing that the numbers of people travelling to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports by public transport have fallen. Our report contains a number of specific actions which would help make it more attractive to use public transport to get to London’s airports. These include improving interchanges so people benefit from seamless journeys, making it easier to pay by extending Oyster/Contactless on National Rail and increasing acceptance of contactless bank cards on local buses outside Greater London.'

Way to Go also shows that the number of Penalty Fares issued to passengers trying to travel to Stansted Airport using Oyster Pay As You Go or Contactless has increased from around 0 to 16,000 a year over the past two years and around three quarters of those are issued at Stansted Airport.

Arthur Leathey continued: 'A few years ago we secured a big win for passengers travelling to Gatwick with the extension of Oyster to the airport. We now want to see the ability to pay this way extended to Stansted Airport. It is crazy that passengers are being caught out and receiving penalty fares when they are often making unfamiliar journeys and would expect London Stansted Airport to fall within London’s Oyster zone.'

Further information

  • London TravelWatch is the operating name for the London Transport Users Committee. We are the official watchdog representing the interests of transport users in and around London, and independent of the transport operators and government. London TravelWatch is sponsored and funded by the London Assembly, part of the Greater London Authority.
  • This report updates London TravelWatch’s work from 2014: Improving public transport access to London’s airports.
  • Follow London TravelWatch on Twitter and You Tube.
  • For more information, please contact the London TravelWatch press office on 020 3176 5941 or 07734 055494.
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