Travel within London has also fallen away drastically on the Tube network, which at its nadir saw just 64,000 passengers on Easter Sunday, the lowest since the 19th century. This collapse cannot solely be attributed to commuters, but the £600m a month cost of running tubes and buses has prompted warnings of a £4bn hole in its budget.
Outside fares, there are the missed coffees, sandwiches and after work drinks. Between March and June the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated a “missing” £2.3bn as the average commuter spends £202 a month near their place of work. Senior economist Josie Dent said 30pc of employees could still be working at home on any one day in the “new normal” next year, suggesting continued losses of some £260m a month.
Some of this spending is simply displaced and will be spent locally, as TfL data shows local journeys on the rise. Richard Holt, head of cities at Oxford Economics, says: “In recent years the growth has come from inner London, and outer London has really lagged. Maybe there will be a bit of rebalancing.”
But some cash will end up sitting in bank accounts. Bank of England figures suggest household deposits soared by £56.6bn over the three months to May as spending on anything – let alone commuting – became virtually impossible. For that reason Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, distinguishes it from the traditional “paradox of thrift” of precautionary savings hindering the economy. For those in work, at least, the money will be spent on other things.
He says: “We are experiencing economic efficiency by not having to travel so much. It is a productivity gain. Big leaps tend to come with a big leap in income for the majority and concentrated losses for the minority, such as transport workers.”