Accessing employment across Central London

We are delighted to share this blog post by Helen McKenzie summarising the findings of her report on how transport shapes who can access the areas of high employment in central London. The report looks at London before 2020, before Covid-19, but the issues it raises are vital to how we plan for the future of central London. As we recover we must ask ourselves: who is excluded from the opportunities and successes of our economy by the financial or time costs of travelling to those opportunities? We at CLF want to work with others in London on creative and equitable answers to that question.

Accessing employment across Central London

Guest blog by Helen McKenzie, Senior Consultant, Steer

Photo by Krists Luhaers


It’s easy to think about London – and particularly Central London – as a city where everything is accessible; where anyone can get from A to B with a tap of their Oyster card. The reality is much more complex than that.

London is a city with 9 million residents, all with different needs and challenges. It’s also a city with complicated physical and economic geographies. These factors mean that not every resident has equal opportunity to access the employment opportunities that the city offers.

Where are the employment opportunities?

In the Central London Forward area, the majority of employment and employment growth has been focused around London’s Central Activity Zone, including areas such as the City and the West End. However, there is evidence of more dispersed growth with less central areas such as King’s Cross, Paddington Basin and High Street Kensington showing a high percentage of jobs increase between 2011 and 2018.

The map below shows employment growth across the Central London Forward area, and highlights areas with high employment and employment growth.

Understanding transport catchments

As would be expected, areas furthest from employment sites have the longest travel times to these locations, including neighbourhoods such as Downham & Grove Park in Lewisham and Northumberland Park in Haringey. Slower journeys are also experienced in areas without direct rail or underground access (e.g. Roehampton in Wandsworth) or by those relying on slow or infrequent services.

It is also necessary to consider bus-only travel to employment locations, as this represents a lower cost means of travel which many Londoners rely on. The average CLF resident would spend only 4.6% of their earnings on a bus-only travelcard, compared to 8.6% of their earnings on an all-mode, Zone 1 inclusive travelcard. People reliant on bus services typically experience far longer journey times, especially over longer distances, which in many cases are almost double the time of an all-modes journey. Additionally, some fairly central neighbourhoods such as Wapping, Surrey Quays and Battersea South still experience poor travel times to employment sites. This can be caused by a variety of factors including congestion and geographical barriers.

The map below shows the number of employment hubs accessible within a 60 minute journey time by bus, and identifies some example neighbourhoods which have poor access to these sites.

What barriers exist to accessing employment?

Of the neighbourhoods which were identified as having poor accessibility to employment opportunities, many experienced a range barriers and inequalities which include – to varying extents:

  • Long journey times caused by a range of issues including geographical barriers, congestion, distance and service frequency. In particular journeys made by bus are significantly longer which may be caused by factors such as slow bus speeds and interchange likelihood.
  • Pay a higher percentage of their wage towards transport if travelling by all modes.
  • Lower levels of education – residents of these areas are particularly more likely to be without any, or NVQ equivalent Level 1 or Level 2 qualifications.
  • Lower incomes – households living in ‘low accessibility neighbourhoods’ on average earn 8.5% less than those in the Central London Forward area as a whole.

What should we consider when trying to improve access to employment opportunities in these areas?

Steer identified 10 factors which should be considered when trying to improve access to employment.

  1. Geographical barriers: It’s easy to think of London as a city where everything is accessible, but large parks, railway lines and rivers can act as major barriers for active and bus-based travel.
  2. Transport costs: Travelling by all modes can be prohibitively expensive, limiting some residents to bus-only travel. Working patterns and earnings may impact residents’ ability to take advantage of season tickets.
  3. Slow bus journey times: in many cases bus journey times can be at least twice as long as journeys made by all modes.
  4. Active travel: Some of the sites – particularly those closer to Central London – are within walking/cycling distance to many employment sites. Active travel represents a cheaper, and often faster, way of commuting.
  5. Through routes: Journeys that require travel across Central London by bus often require people to interchange or encounter slower times due to congestion. Trips made by underground or rail lines which traverse the city are less likely to encounter these issues.
  6. Dispersal of Central London: London’s transport network is structured to serve the city’s Central Activities Zone and employment sites outside this areas do not benefit from as many services connecting them to as much of London.
  7. Transport Capacity: The Central London Forward area is a very densely populated area and requires a high-capacity transport network to match this. In many cases, the services which connect its neighbourhoods to employment sites have already travelled through suburban London and beyond.
  8. Boundary bias: Many of the neighbourhoods identified as having poor journey times sit adjacent to or across borough boundaries. A holistic approach to tackling employment access is needed.
  9. Education: Residents of many of the sites are less likely to have the qualifications needed to access many employment opportunities.
  10. Place-based solutions: All low accessibility neighbourhoods face different challenges and a one sized fixed all approach will ignore local nuances.