The majority of small firms use cars for business travel because they do not regard public transport as sufficiently reliable. This is the key result of a recent British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Royal Automobile Club Foundation survey. The two organisations have come together to work out some possible solutions to this problem.
The study concentrated on journeys made during the business day rather than on those made commuting to and from work. It found that 94% of small businesses use the road for their business travel, while 82% regard the car as central to their business operations. Seven out of ten small businesses believe that public transport, as it exists, is not fit for business purposes.
Essential though the car is to the vast majority of small firms, traffic problems make even travel by road difficult. Some 82% of those who responded to the survey reported that congestion affects their business both on a local and a national scale.
The average business traveller wastes up to eleven days each year stuck in traffic jams. Small businesses are, however, taking steps to find ways of avoiding unnecessary travel.
Half use telephone conferencing and a third internet tools, such as Voice over Internet Protocol and Instant Messaging, to cut down on the amount of business journeys they make.
But while a fifth of SMEs have increased their use of public transport, issues surrounding reliability and travel times still limit the viability of buses and trains as practical alternatives to the car.
The report makes a number of recommendations that could reduce the number of journeys that businesses make and improve the UK’s public transport system. These include minimising the environmental and safety impacts of journeys by not travelling at all, using video-conferencing systems, going by train, choosing a car with low emissions and route planning.
The report also suggested that rail transport operators should improve their services by providing door-to-door rather than station-to-station services, and that bus operators should develop services more appropriate to business needs.
For its part, local government should take the needs of business into account and ensure that the business travel plan process is inclusive of smaller firms.
David Frost, the director general of the BCC, commented, “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.”
Mr Frost added, “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.”
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