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Business travel study says public transport is not fit for purpose

The majority of business travellers rely on the car because public transport is not ‘fit for purpose’, according to a major new study launched by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation and the British Chambers of Commerce. However despite this, Britain’s small businesses are leading the way when it comes to greening business travel.

The study, “Business Travel: Choice or Necessity”, is the first study to focus on journeys during the business day that are essential to the success of a business.

Informed by surveys among Chamber of Commerce members and in-depth research in Greater Manchester, Hereford and Worcester, the study found that business travel is crucial to successful business operations, and, while it can be reduced, it cannot be eliminated without severe consequences for the UK’s economic competitiveness.

The problems associated with business travel urgently need to be addressed as:

• 86% of businesses find that road congestion affects their business locally, regionally and nationally.

• The average business traveller wastes 11 days a year stuck in congestion.

• As a nation we are travelling 20% further for business than we did 13 years ago.

The report calls for actions which tackle congestion whilst recognising the fact that the car remains the dominant means for business travel, offering privacy, flexibility, and a door-to-door service.

• 94% of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) use the road for their business travel.

• 82% say the car is central to their business operations.

• 70% say that public transport, in its present form, is not fit for purpose.

The study finds that even those businesses most committed to travelling for work are open to change and SMEs are taking a lead in finding innovative ways of tackling unnecessary travel. Over half of SMEs are already using technology to reduce their travel footprints. 50% use telephone conferencing, and 30% use Internet tools such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Instant Messaging.

One in five businesses have taken steps to increase their use of public transport, however, unreliability and unpredictable travel times are the main barriers to increased business use of buses and trains. Trains were considered a viable business travel option for certain journeys, but improvements, especially to the whole journey experience, are required.

The report proposes a package of measures to tackle unnecessary business travel, and calls on national and local government to show more flexibility in supporting green business travel pioneers, instead of taking the rigid view that public transport is the solution for all travel needs. The report also calls for public transport improvements to tackle the barriers which are restricting business use of these modes by those business who would choose this mode if it better met their needs.

The RAC Foundation and the British Chambers of Commerce recommend the following framework for more sustainable business travel:

Individuals should consider how best to minimise the environmental and safety impacts of their journeys. This might involve not travelling at all, using video-conferencing systems, making use of the train, choosing a car for with low emissions, route planning or practicing eco-driving.

Businesses should develop business travel policies, including incentives to switch to less-congesting modes such as walking, cycling and motorcycling.

Rail transport operators should improve their services by providing door-to-door rather than station-to-station services.

Bus operators should develop services more appropriate to business needs.

Local government should take the needs of business into account and ensure that the business travel plan process is inclusive of Small and Medium Enterprises.

National government should ensure that businesses at local and regional level are able to thrive while efficiently addressing environmental demands.

RAC Foundation/British Chambers of Commerce business travel fact-file finds that:

The average business trip is 20.7 miles.

The average time spent travelling for a business trip is 39 minutes.

Business travel accounts for 22% of all personal mileage.

A higher percentage of men than women travel of business.

People living in the south-west followed by the south-east are involved in the most business travel.

People living in the north-east and London make the least business trips per year.

69% of all business travel is completed by car.

76% of business travellers will be travelling alone.

30% of businesses have 81-100% of their employees travelling for business.

Same day travel within the UK is the most common form of business travel.

Meetings with clients and company wide meetings are the cause of most business travel.

55% spend between 0-10% of their annual budget on business travel.

33% believe business expansion overseas is driving the increase in travel. 18% believe that expansion in the UK is the cause.

A company which converts 100 meeting a month to wireless teleconferences can reduce their CO2 emissions by 720 million grams per year.

By 2010 video and audio-conferencing is likely to cut business travel by 5%.

Seventy percent of all company cars are allocated to ‘essential users’. 30% are allocated for ‘status reasons’.

The average number of miles driven per company car in 2006 was 7,500. This is double the distance of those using their private cars for work.

There are three million vans under 3.5 tonnes on UK roads in 2006.

Van miles have risen by 50% in the past 12 years compared to a 19% increase for all traffic.

Edmund King, Executive Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation said “While business travel can be reduced and made greener through smarter vehicle and mode choice, it cannot be done away with entirely. The “briefcase traveller” still requires the opportunity to build relationships through face-to-face meetings and the skilled tradesman must physically travel to get the job done. The car has an important role to play and this must not be forgotten.”

“Government support and encouragement is needed, but businesses must be left in the driving seat to decide what their transport needs are and how best they can be balanced against environmental obligations and operational business needs.”

David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce said “The reality is that for many businesses there is no option but to use the car. If this is ever to change then new technologies such as videoconferencing must be harnessed and public transport become a reliable, high quality experience instead of the poor alternative it often is.”

“Business Travel: Choice or Necessity?” a joint report from the Royal Automobile Club Foundation and the British Chambers of Commerce and is available from