Mike Waters' Blog: 12 August 2008 - Is there really transport choice?
13 August 2008
Mike Waters is senior insight & consultancy manager at Arval, the leading vehicle leasing and fleet management company.
Many of us rely on the use of a car each day, which as we are constantly reminded, has an impact on the environment.
With a focus on the growing number of less polluting models coming onto the market it seems that in some areas attention has shifted away from encouraging transport choice, but why?
For business drivers looking to use their car less the alternatives fit broadly into three categories: walk, cycle or use public transport. For these options the classic response tends to be along the lines of, "they aren't as good, or convenient, as using my car".
Now let's be fair, for most, walking or cycling is only an option for a short daily commute, important in itself but not really an alternative for the majority of work related journeys.
So we are left with public transport and for many journeys this means letting the train take the strain. My experience in this area is mostly limited to the GWR line from Swindon into Paddington and here's my assessment.
The first challenge comes when you arrive at Swindon station. If this happens to be after 8am the main car park is full and overflow parking consists of a waste ground where you can only pay and display, so if you don't have £7.50 in change, you can't park.
The second shock comes in paying for your ticket. Let's assume I haven't been able to pre-book a ticket and its 8.15am. The peak time cost of a day travelcard on this route is £103.50, so it's certainly not cheap compared to driving. However, it is quicker (generally) and you can use the hour to do some work on the train.
If that is you can get a seat, often at peak times the trains pulling into Swindon are busy but you will get a seat, if you get on at Reading it's a different story and you will probably have to stand. Combine this with reliability problems, which admittedly are sometimes outside the operators' control, and rail travel is not looking like such a viable alternative.
So what we really need is more trains to offer effective choice. Unfortunately, this is at the heart of the problem the rail industry has to deal with, putting fare costs and punctuality to one side. The challenge is; how to provide more capacity at peak times at a reasonable cost but avoid having masses of rolling stock idle for the rest of the day. Answers on a postcard for that one then!
Until this is resolved Government can't encourage too many people to use the rail network at peak times because it simply couldn't cope with the increased numbers.
So is train travel really an alternative? Well yes, particularly if you can travel off-peak and book in advance.
You can use the time more productively if capacity allows, and if it doesn't. I for one will be staying in my car.