The old debate of whether to drive or take public transport is one that many fleet managers are faced with daily, and getting driver buy-in and an overall framework in place to help make these decisions on a journey-by-journey basis is no easy feat.

Promoting the use of public transport has its advantages: reducing overall fleet mileage, in some cases improving driver safety, plus helping to do ‘your bit’ for the environment are just some of its positives.

However, it doesn’t always make sense, especially if your meeting is somewhere out of a city where public buses get less frequent or if the destination is far enough away from the office or the driver’s home where it’ll be much quicker and more efficient to travel by car.


According to the Energy Saving Trust, promoting alternatives in-house can provide business mobility solutions that are flexible, cost-effective and environmentally friendly and the agency recommends that introducing a travel hierarchy is often the best place to start, which includes asking key questions like: Is a conference call possible? Can you use public transport? Is the trip longer or shorter than the car hire breakeven mileage?

Traffic on the rise

Most of us know using public transport is better for the environment, can help reduce grey fleet usage and can often be a cheaper and quicker route. But in reality the number of cars on our roads is continuing to rise.  Transport statistics show a record 320.5 billion miles were travelled by vehicles in Britain in 2016, 1.2% higher than in 2015 and 2% greater than the pre-recession peak 10 years ago. All these extra miles mean one thing: more vehicles on the road and, in turn, more congestion.

Both A roads and motorways recorded new record levels last year, rising by 2.5% and 2.1% respectively. The greatest increase in road presence was for vans, which saw a rise of 3.4% while the amount of cars was up by 0.7%. Heavy goods vehicles also increased by 2.8%.


A recent study from TomTom claims that last year 11 UK cities made the list of the 100 most congested areas in the world, with drivers spending as long as five days a year stuck in traffic.

According to the report, Belfast is the most congested city in the country where drivers spent up to 200 hours in traffic, followed by Edinburgh and London, both of which experienced an average 40% increase in journey time.

And Department for Transport projections show that car journeys are forecasted to increase further in the future from an average of 453.4 journeys per person in 2015 to 503.9 by 2040.

Public transport pros and cons

Public transport can get a fair amount of stick, especially when strikes or adverse weather conditions grind everything to a halt for days at a time, but if you look at the stats, for the most part, it’s easy to use and regularly on time, although arguably not as comfortable as sitting in your own car, which is a big reason for many opting to drive.

For fleets there can be lots of cost benefits for drivers using public transport too, especially for shorter trips into the capital when other charges like London’s Congestion Charge and parking need to be considered, and with road transport steadily on the rise each year, as we’ve already mentioned, it may sometimes be the quickest route too.


If you’re regularly visiting a place, or planning a trip in advance, you can get season tickets or advance booked tickets for a cheaper price, plus you get the added bonus of sitting back, relaxing with a book (or the latest issue of BusinessCar) and letting someone else do the driving.

We all know that it makes a great deal of sense to use public transport in London, but what about when you want to go further afield? Is it quicker to go by train? Is it easier to drive? Will it be cheaper to fly?

The BusinessCar team decided to travel to Edinburgh to find out which method of transport would work best, with Editor Debbie Wood behind the wheel of our long-term BMW 5 Series, Features Editor Rachel taking to the skies, and Web Reporter Daniel catching the train.

The rules

Although in some ways this was a race, we had strict rules that we each needed to follow. Both Rachel and Daniel were not allowed to use a car for any part of their journey – so no Uber taxis or black cabs allowed – and once on the pavement, there would be no running either.

Debbie had to comply with safety standards and stop every two hours for a break and also needed to stick to the speed limits (of course).  They agreed to leave the office at the same time – 8.30am on a Thursday – after which they were on their own until they reached their destination, the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Festival Square, Edinburgh.

The costs

Probably one of the most important factors in a transport manager’s mind when looking at alternative transport is how much it’ll all cost. The price of public transport, especially when travelling further afield, generally goes up the later you leave it, especially flights, so planning ahead is essential.

For our Scotland trip, both the flights and train tickets were booked almost a month in advance, which helped to keep costs low. There were other costs to factor in too, including the tube into central London, a bus from the airport to central Edinburgh and parking too.

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Overall the car comes out cheapest with the journey costing £56.66 including the £7 parking charge in Semple Street, Edinburgh. Rail comes in second place despite the air fare being cheaper than the train ticket from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverly, due to the other tickets needed to get to Gatwick Airport.

Although the car comes up as the winner, if we were to take a whole-life cost approach taking into account depreciation and other motoring costs, the journey for our 5 Series would actually total around £330 – something fleets may need to consider.

Time vs comfort

Although no running or speeding was allowed, all the BusinessCar team were competitive about arriving at the Sheraton Grand Hotel first, although all were pretty sure the car was the most likely to come last.

The route up to Scotland was not exactly filled with driver excitement either. Long stretches of the M1 and M6 made for a pretty boring drive and was, for the most part, traffic-free, apart from later in the journey on the M6, which was set at 50mph for 20 miles due to the road being upgraded to a smart motorway.

One of the big surprises was how close the train and car came at the end, mainly because Daniel was held just outside of Edinburgh for close to 20 minutes due to signalling problems. The train has many benefits and has very little to contend with in terms of traffic. There’s no lengthy check-in process either and it goes from city centre to city centre – out of the three travel options, opting to go by rail is in most cases the most simple and direct way to travel.  

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Flying was by far the quickest way to get to our destination, though. Even with Rachel needing to get the bus from Edinburgh Airport into the centre of the city, her 14:36 arrival was one hour and 30 minutes ahead of Daniel and nearly two hours ahead of Debbie.

So the car is the slowest, and proved the least productive (and unhealthy) in terms of steps taken (nowhere near the 500 miles claimed by The Proclaimers), however there’s a lot to be said for being able to sit in your own surroundings, have the music as loud as you like which you can sing along to (badly in some cases) – neither the train or plane have this luxury as Daniel found when he was sharing a carriage with a screaming baby, plus the trolley service wasn’t running thanks to the card machine not being charged up. Travelling standard class means that legroom and seating can be very cramped too and you’ve got no choice who you sit next to either.


One area that can often be overlooked when travel planning is how much work is lost when you’re behind the wheel all day. This is where both rail and air travel gain significant ground over the car because you can work while travelling on either.

Depending on what your at-work policy is, some drivers can make phone calls via Bluetooth when behind the wheel so can get some work done this way, but there isn’t a great deal that can be achieved.


Daniel was on the train for nearly five hours so was able to get a great deal of work done as he was hooked up to the Wi-Fi, while Rachel, although her journey was more broken up, moving from one place to another, was also able to be productive on the work front too, with over an hour sat on the plane and with some spare time waiting at the airport.


Public transport can get a fair amount of stick, especially around reliability, but on this occasion it proved to be the easiest, most productive and quickest solution to get to Edinburgh. It’s not the cheapest if you’re basing your sums on fuel costs versus ticket price; however, other factors like lost productivity need to be taken into account.

Then there are hotel costs to consider, as it’s unlikely you’ll meet duty of care guidelines if you let your driver return home the same day if the journey is anywhere near as long as ours was.

If traffic volumes are to increase as much as predicted, further use of public transport when necessary needs to be encouraged to help ease congestion and improve air quality in the future.

But it is completely dependent on the location. A rail ticket from London Paddington to Newquay, for example, would cost £64.10 (the cheapest ticket we could find) and takes around five hours, whereas the car would take anything between four and a half and six hours, traffic permitting, and would cost only £32.33 based on current diesel prices and an average fuel economy of 45.9mpg.


Flights to Newquay are not as regular than Edinburgh but leave from Gatwick and Stansted and cost from as little as £35, maybe even less if you book far in advance. So on this occasion travelling by car is probably the most convenient and cost-effective route.
London to Manchester, however, takes around two and a half hours on the train and booking even just a few weeks in advance can mean early-bird tickets of around £30.

To drive you’re looking closer to four hours, and although it costs less at around £24 for fuel, this doesn’t include parking costs. Flights are dependent on how far you book in advance, but we found a direct flight for as little as £38, although flying time is around an hour, you’ve still got to get to the airport with plenty of time and Manchester Airport is outside of the city centre so you’ll need transport the other end. So we think the train is the best route on this journey.

Every journey needs looking at on a case-by-case basis to see which method could be best. Travel to cities and public transport creates a good argument for itself; have a meeting in the Snowdonia National Park and the argument is less appealing.

Steps taken during the day

4,471 – Debbie

18,797 – Daniel

21,714 – Rachel

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Screen Shot 2017-07-20 At class=

 Screen Shot 2017-07-20 At class=