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Businesses look to technology to help reduce travel

RAC Foundation report shows smaller businesses willing but sceptical about conventional approaches to making business travel greener

Company car drivers waste a total of 11 days per year stuck in traffic.  And it's getting worse, according to a new report from the RAC Foundation looking into business travel and the alternatives to car use.  So businesses are actively looking at the alternatives - different ways to get around, and ways to reduce the need to travel.

But it's not easy to change.  82% of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) say the car is central to their business operations. Smaller businesses, according to the report, have different travel requirements from larger corporates, as they tend to rely on a greater proportion of face-to-face meetings with clients.

However, the government and local authority agenda of pushing public transport doesn't wash, with 70% of SMEs considering that public transport is 'not fit for purpose'.  Reliability and journey time are the key problems.  Buses are seen as being particularly unfit for business travel.  Trains are used much more, but many journeys are not possible by rail.

21% of SMEs said they had taken active steps to use public transport instead of cars.  This is more likely to be the case where more than 50% of staff travel for business.

Technology initiatives at the fore

When the report looks at actual initiatives of businesses to reduce travel, use of collaborative technologies for remote and distributed work emerge as being of high importance to companies:

Initiative adopted by businesses to reduce car travel:

And businesses see technology as having far more potential to reduce business travel by car than public transport or other 'sustainable travel' initiatives:

Initiative potential to reduce business travel by car:

As the report concludes on this issue, "Technology options have been adopted more readily than automotive solutions and were thought to have a greater impact on reducing travel by the private car".

What should be done?

The report has a number of recommendations for individuals, businesses, public transport operators and the government.  Most of these are familiar elements of the sustainable travel planning agenda.

Where the report adds particular value is in its emphasis on business travel - and its necessity for businesses - which is often left out of company travel plans where the focus tends to be entirely on the commute.  Also often left out of the equation are smaller businesses.  It is easier to deal with the larger employers.  But government at local and national level and transport operators ought to have a renewed focus on how they can help SMEs to reduce the use of private cars.

Recommendations for increased use of collaborative technologies and flexible working are confined to the section on what businesses should do.  I'm sure there are a hatful of possible recommendations for government to support and encourage this too - especially as the research shows that businesses find this approach more credible.


Facing up to 'face time'

The report Business Travel: Choice or Necessity from the RAC Foundation provides important insights into the under-researched area of business travel.

The report takes an environmentally responsible and business-focused approach, and is largely based on direct consultation with (mainly small and medium sized) businesses.

In this way it provides a reality-check for those involved in developing sustainable travel options and reducing the use of cars. 

From Flexibility's point of view, we are particularly interested in the findings on replacing travel through more flexible working practices.  These are not the main focus of the report - but the results are striking.

The report can be downloaded from the RAC Foundation website (2.66 Mb pdf file).

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