Company travel, mainly by car, remains vital for business success despite pressures including congestion, soaring fuel prices and stricter health and safety responsibilities, experts have said.
However, rail operators are now actively targetting company car drivers in an attempt to get them to take the train and leave the car at the office.
Currently, 94% of small and medium sized companies use the road for their business travel needs.
This means the average business traveller will use the car for 69% of all business travel.
While pressures such as increasing fuel costs, duty of care responsibilities and a tougher economic climate are all forcing fleet managers to reassess business travel, it remains a fact that such journeys are essential to success.
“Business travel is essential,” said Gareth Elliot, policy advisor for the British Chambers of Commerce.
But Mr Elliot also raised an interesting point – and one fleet managers as well as train operators are quickly appreciating.
“If people can be productive while travelling, it takes the car out of the equation.”
So, while there is a trend back towards providing company cars, train operators are increasingly focussing on attracting company car drivers onto trains.
Increased reliability, faster journey times and simplified pricing as well as an appreciation that rail travel is safer and more productive than making an employee drive are all adding to the rail operators’ armoury.
“Travel time is no longer dead time,” said Clodagh Buckley, sales manager for Virgin Trains.
“We offer wi-fi, lounges and power points on trains.”
Train operators have already successfully targeted business travellers who take short haul flights – 65% of travel from London to Paris and Brussels is now by train.
And now they want business car drivers.
“We are looking to acquire new business,” says Ms Buckley unapologetically. “We want car users as well as air.”
This debate on the importance and future of surface business travel was highlighted at the Institute of Travel Management Wheels in Motion Focus Forum.
It found that the car, despite rising levels of congestion and the wishes of the rail companies, remains the number one choice for business travellers.
Elizabeth Dainton, research development manager for the RAC Foundation, said that public transport is still rarely seen as fit for purpose where business travel is concerned.
The Foundation, along with the British Chambers of Commerce, found that small and medium businesses are leading the way when it comes to encouraging more sustainable business travel.
However, they are showing little sign of leaving the car at the office.
“Our research finds that business travel is essential to effective and efficient business operations,” said Ms Dainton.
“The car remains the number one choice for business travellers.”