The train network (tracks, signals, bridges, stations etc) is owned by the government under the name Network Rail.
The trains are usually run by private companies. Some companies run faster (and usually more expensive) services than others, even to the same places. From 2023, a government-run organisation called Great British Railways will take over.
It is very important that you have a ticket for the correct train company. If you don’t, you might have to buy another ticket or pay a fine.
There are many types of rail ticket – knowing what they all are can help you save money.
Anytime: This is the most expensive standard ticket, but you can travel at any time of day.
Off-peak: Cheaper than Anytime tickets, but they can only be used on trains at less busy times. You will need to ask about these times when you buy the ticket. Sometimes you can also buy a ‘super off-peak’ ticket that is even cheaper, but you can usually on use these on the least busy times.
Advance: These are single tickets that can be booked up to 24 hours before you travel, so cost less. You must travel on the exact train and time shown on the ticket.
PlusBus: A train ticket with cheap bus travel as well. Go to the Plusbus website.
Groupsave: If you’re in a group of between 3 and 9 people travelling together at a less busy time, ask if there is a Groupsave ticket. These give a discount of 1/3 off the price.
Season tickets: If you travel the same route more than three times a week it can be cheaper to buy a season ticket. You can choose from 1 week, 1 month and 1 year (annual) season tickets. Annual season tickets bought in the south-east of Britain give you Gold Card discounts as well.
Booking in advance usually gives you the best price. Each rail company has its own website, but there is also a national site where you can find timetables, tickets and live travel updates, www.nationalrail.co.uk. This site will tell you which rail company is providing the journey.
If you can be flexible about when to travel, the website’s Cheapest Fare Finder is very useful. It also has an app for your phone.
These are other ways to save money:
Buy a Flexi Season ticket (available online from your local train company). It is valid for 28 days and is made of 8 one-day passes for unlimited travel between 2 stations. It is designed for people travelling at peak times 2-3 times per week.
Use a Railcard (see next question).
If you have a London Travelcard, this can sometimes give you money off national travel because you only need to pay for the journey beyond London.
Buy a season ticket if it is a journey you make regularly. The National Rail website has a useful online calculator to see how much you could save.
Use a split fare website (search online). Ticket prices between stations are often set to a certain price. Sometimes you can get your journey cheaper by buying different parts of your journey separately.
Book your train ticket at least 12 days in advance.
If you buy an annual season ticket for rail travel in the south east of Britain (called a Gold Card), you get special discounts for journeys in that area as well. These discounts are for the person who has the Gold Card, and also people they are travelling with (a maximum of 3 adults, 4 children (aged 5-15) and 2 children under 5).
The discounts include:
1/3% off rail tickets
1/3% off Travelcards in London (off-peak only)
1/3% off pay-as-you-go tickets (off-peak only). You must load the discount at London Underground ticket offices.
Your choice of Railcard for only £10 (for you or a friend).
1/3 off PlusBus tickets in the Network Railcard area.
There is help for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. A service called Passenger Assist can help you book tickets, reserve seats, arrange help at stations (where possible) or arrange help getting on/off trains. They can also tell you which trains have a wheelchair-accessible toilet.
Not all stations are suitable for people in wheelchairs (there might be steps and no elevator). Passenger Assist can tell you what the best options are.
You need to contact Passenger Assist at least 24 hours before you travel (48 hours for international travel). If you have a non-visible disability, you can apply for a special Sunflower Lanyard that will alert others that you might need help.
A Disabled Persons railcard might help you save money. If you have a Blue Badge, you can park in the special parking spaces at the station.
People travelling from London to Cornwall or Scotland can choose to use an overnight ‘sleeper’ train. In these trains you can have a normal seat or a bed in a small cabin. Food and drinks are available to buy on board.
For the best ticket prices, buy in advance and travel midweek.
Trains for long journeys usually have a ‘buffet service’ (shop selling drinks and snacks) or a ‘trolley service’ (where someone sells drinks and snacks from a small cart). The timetable will usually tell you, or you can ask at the station.
Train company GWR operates a real restaurant on some of its trains, with chefs, white tablecloths and wine. It is called the Pullman Dining service and is on some trains from London Paddington to Plymouth/Penzance (or Plymouth to Paddington). There is also a morning service from London to Swansea (or Swansea to London) that serves a cooked breakfast. The services were suspended because of coronavirus, so check the GWR website for current details.
The UK was first country to have a public rail service – but it is now very old (in some places over 150 years!). Repairing or improving the rail tracks needs doing constantly, but is very difficult, especially because some routes are so busy. For example, London Waterloo has nearly 100 million passengers a year. London Victoria, London Liverpool St and London Bridge all have over 50 million people a year.
The old network is also the reason why we can’t have two-level trains – it is too difficult to make all the tunnels and bridges higher.
New rail projects, like HS2 and Crossrail, will help make our railways more modern.
Sometimes there is a special timetable for the trains. Sometimes the line is shut, but there will always be a ‘rail replacement bus service’ (buses instead of trains). Be aware the buses are usually much slower.
If you are unhappy about the service from a train company, you should first complain to that company. If you are unhappy with their reply or the way they handled your case, you can then complain to the Rail Ombudsman.
Buses are usually local, and coaches are for long distances. But the word ‘bus’ may also be used for long-distance services, so it’s not always clear. Buses and coaches are usually cheaper than trains.
Stand at the bus stop and wave your hand at the driver as the bus drives towards you. This shows the driver you want to get on (if you don’t do this, they might just drive past you). To get off, push the bell button on the bus. If you are not sure where to get off, ask the driver to tell you.
The main intercity provider is National Express (see details below), which serves a wide network of towns and cities across the country. There are often toilets on board, and sometimes you can buy food too (check before travelling). For frequent travellers, it offers travelcards that help save money.
Timetables and other details can be found from on your local council website, probably under the heading ‘transport’. There will be different companies that run buses, and there might be more than one company running on one route.
Bus stops in cities are usually easy to see – either a small shelter, or a post with a sign and a timetable.
In villages or towns the sign might be very small – or there might not be a sign! Look at the timetable (you will be able to find it on the bus company’s website) – it will probably give the name of the building or street where the bus will stop. Try checking on Google Maps. Otherwise, you might have to contact the bus company.
The Transport for London website is very easy to use and its ‘Plan a Journey’ function shows all the different ways to travel across London. You just need to write in the place or street where you want to go from and to.
Although the Underground trains do not run all night, there are many options for late travel in London:
Some buses are 24 hours a day. There are also lots of special Night Buses (they have a N before the bus number). They are very popular.
On Fridays and Saturdays, Underground trains run at night on the Victoria, Jubilee and most of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines (the ‘Night Tube’). Between 00.00 and 04.29 you can use tickets bought the day before.
On Fridays and Saturday nights, Overground trains run between New Cross Gate and Highbury & Islington. Between 00.00 and 04.29 you can use tickets bought the day before.
Special ‘spider maps’ are useful because they show all the buses you can take from a particular area, including Night Buses. There are different spider maps for different parts of London. Find them on the Transport for London website.
Before coronavirus, four million journeys were made on the Underground every day, over 1 billion every year. For this reason, most engineering work is done at night during the 4 hours when there are no trains. There is a Night Tube on some lines that have been modernised and are more reliable.
The London Underground was the first underground train system in the world. This is amazing. But it is now over 150 years old and huge amounts of public money are spent to keep it updated. However, it is very difficult to make such an old system look smart and new, although there have been many improvements over the years. Some stations (like Waterloo) usually have over 1 million passengers a week, so cannot be shut for renovation.
Buses are good because there is usually space for the pram/pushchair. Be aware they can be very busy before 09.00 and after between 15.00-18.00 when people leave schools and offices. At these times it is sometimes difficult to get on the bus and you will have to fold your pram/pushchair.
The Underground can be used, but be aware most stations have steps (people will usually help you).
Traditional London black taxis can also be good because they have lots of space inside.
If you use a wheelchair, the buses have a special ramp so you can get on. There is also space for your wheelchair. You could also try using traditional black London taxis.
The Underground is not so easy to use. Most of it is old, so even in places where there are lifts, there could be stairs as well. If you can’t manage stairs, look for ‘step-free access’. There is a map on the Transport for London website that can help you plan your journey.
If you are in a wheelchair, you might also need to ask the staff at the station for a ramp to help you onto the train.
If you live in London and are disabled you might be able to get a special Travelcard called a Freedom Pass. See the London Councils website for detail.
It is very easy to hire a Santander bicycles in London. You can find them across the city in special bicycle ‘docking stations’. Just use your debit card or credit card to pay and get a code to unlock a bicycle. Bring it to any docking station when you have finished. The cost is from £2. Be aware than some foreign contactless cards don’t work or there might be a charge from the card company.
Make sure you test the bell, tyres and brakes before you ride. You might also need to change the height of the seat.
MORE INFORMATION: The Santander Cycles app has a map of places to find the bicycles and shows bicyle availability. It will also send the special codes to your phone.
You can pay for all public transport using a contactless credit card, contactless debit card, phone app or special London Transport Oyster card.
If you have a foreign contactless card, be aware it might not work or there might be a charge from the card company.
Each person in your group must pay for their own travel.
You cannot pay cash for buses. You can buy tickets using cash for Underground, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail, tram, National Rail and the Emirates Air Line cable car at their stations. These tickets are usually more expensive than using contactless cards or Oyster cards.
In busy areas there can be more than one bus stop, for example on Oxford Street. It is difficult to know which bus stops is the one you need.
First check the map showing buses from that area. There are usually maps at each bus stop. It will give you a letter of the alphabet. Make sure the letter you need matches the letter of the alphabet at the top of the bus stop sign.
Pay-as-you-go is when you pay for journeys using a contactless payment. This could be a London Transport Oyster card, contactless credit/debit card or phone app. If you have a foreign contactless card, be aware it might not work or there might be a charge from the card company.
The benefit of pay-as-you-go is that you don’t have to buy tickets before each journey. In zones 1-9, you always get the cheapest price for that journey. You can use pay-as-you-go on most public transport in London.
When you travel, you touch the payment card against special yellow or pink pads. On buses and trams, touch the pad when you get on. For other transport, you must touch the card on the pad as you go in the station and when you go out (so it knows how far you have travelled – otherwise you will have to pay the maximum daily fare). Make sure you use the same contactless card each time!
You only pay up to a set amount each day or week (the amount depends on which zones you travel in). It can be cheaper to have a Travelcard if you travel 6 days a week or do more than 3 journeys a day.
An Oyster card is a special contactless card just for travel in London. Each person in your group must have their own Oyster card.
You pay a £5 deposit for the card. After that you add money onto it (called ‘topping it up’ – easy to do in any Underground station or using the Oyster app). You can use an Oyster card for single journeys, or pay for a Travelcard. Oyster fares are usually lower than cash fares for the same journey.
When you travel you touch the card against special yellow or pink pads. On buses and trams just touch the pad when you get on. For everything else, you must touch the card on the pad as you go into the station and when you go out (so it knows how far you have gone and what you need to pay – otherwise you will have to pay the maximum daily fare).
You need to have at least £1.50 on your Oyster before you travel. From Gatwick Airport you must have at least £14.70 (peak times) or £8.30 (off-peak).
You can buy Oyster cards in all Underground and Overground train stations, and at newsagents and shops with the sign ‘Oyster Ticket Stop’. In these places you can also add money to the Oyster card and buy 7-day and monthly Travelcards.
Special ‘visitor Oyster cards’ can be bought at Gatwick Airport (at the Gatwick Express ticket office) and Stansted Airport (at the Stansted Express ticket office).
If you travel on a lot of public transport, buying a Travelcard can be a good idea. You can choose which zones to travel through. Travelcards let you travel in those zones as much as you like for 1 day, 7 days, 1 month or 1 year.
A Travelcard is not always cheapest. For example, it is better to use pay-as-you-go if you only travel 1-4 days a week, or if you don’t do many journeys.
If you use a lot of buses or trams, you can add a Bus & Tram Pass to your Oyster card. You can buy passes for 1 day, 7 days, 1 month or 1 year. For example, a 7-day pass is good if you make 15 or more journeys on bus and trams within a week.
Sometimes it is better to pay-as-you-go. For example, if you travel on different buses during 1 hour, you only pay for the first bus (£1.50).
On buses and trams, the price is the same all day. On the Underground, Overground, National Rail, TfL Rail and DLR the most expensive times are Monday to Friday from 06.30 to 09.30 and usually also from 16.00 to 19.00.
There are ways to make your journey in London cheaper:
Travel at a cheap time of day (see previous question).
Use a Travelcard or Oyster card (see above).
Add a Bus & Tram Pass to your ticket (see above).
Choose a bus or tram instead of a train.
There are also some people who can get cheaper/free travel:
Over 18+ Students: You get 30% off the price of a Travelcard or Bus & Tram pass f you can prove you are studying in London and living in London during term time, or on a work placement in London as part of your course (for example, in a hospital).
Apprentice: You get 30% off the price of a Travelcard or Bus & Tram pass if you live in London and can prove you are in the first 12 months of an apprenticeship.
Bus & Tram discount photocard: If you live in London and get benefits like Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit you might be able to travel on buses and trams for half the normal price.
Jobcentre Plus Travel: Unemployed people looking for work can apply for this card at their local Jobcentre Plus. It can give half price pay-as-you-go fares and other discounts.
Over 60: You can travel free on buses, the Underground, tram, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail and many National Rail trains (check the website for the full list).
Freedom Pass: If you are older than 65 or have a disability, you might be able to get a Freedom Pass. It allows you free travel on London buses, the Underground, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail. You can also use many National Rail trains (check the website for the full list).
The Cyclestreets website allows you to choose the best route anywhere in Britain. You can choose quiet/fast routes. It also tells you how busy it is and how difficult or dangerous it is for cyclists. For some routes there are also useful photographs that show you what the route looks like.
Be aware cycling on roads can be dangerous. In 2016, 3,500 people were killed or seriously injured while cycling. This was not just because of other road users, but also because of damage to the road surface.
Yes, there are cycle paths in many places, but unfortunately they are often not well designed so you will probably need to cycle on the road as well. Be aware that some cycle paths are not well maintained. Many do not have a smooth surface so they might not be the best option if you have a bicycle designed for road use.
Yes you can ride an electric bicycle. Bicycles with a motor of 250W or below do not need a special license if they have pedals. You must be over age 14 to ride it. Bicycles with a motor 250W or above are classed as a motorbike and need to be taxed. You will also need a driving licence and helmet.
Only rental scooters can be driven on public roads (but not pavements). The riders must be over 16 and have at least a provisional driving licence or a moped licence. The top speed is 15.5 miles per hour (25 kilometres per hour). The rules about alcohol are the same as for a car.
There are only a few places that offer rental scooters, including Nottingham, Derby, Portsmouth and Bristol.
Other types of electric scooter can only be used on private land. They are not legal on public roads or pavements because they can reach up to 40mph (63kph). If you don’t follow the law, you might have to pay a fine. You might also get penalty points on your driving licence.