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Blog: Public transport vs. driving

Some heavy traffic congestionWith winter weather already making itself felt, it's easy to be tempted by the convenience of a car for getting around.

But driving comes at a cost – and it’s not one that I'm prepared to pay.

To buy a car, even a banger, along with tax and MOT and motor insurance would see me down at least £1,000 pounds and that’s before I’d driven a single mile – and to do that I'd have to put fuel in the car, another expense.

So I, like many, rely on public transport.

Fortunately, I live in a big city, so public transport is pretty decent. The bus to work costs me £1.70 each way and takes around 10-15 minutes – not bad.

Admittedly, there are problems with getting the bus.

Get on the bus

It's often standing-room only and in winter you're sure to catch a cold from the amount of coughing – no surprise when there’s a strange aversion among passengers to opening a window to let in some fresh air.

But the affordability makes it all worthwhile.

However, if I faced a longer commute, especially by train, I would be upset at the high cost of getting to work and not being able to get a seat despite having spent hundreds or, in some cases, more than £1,000 a year for a season ticket.

It’s easy to see why, in such cases, many workers turn to their cars.

I go driving in my car

If you already have a motor, the cost of driving to work might not end up much more expensive than public transport.

And then there are the added benefits – coming and going when you please and not having to wait in the cold for buses and trains that are running late or fail to appear.

Much is written about motorists being hard-done by, with the likes of car insurance, tax and fuel costs.

But a report by the think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that it is actually public transport users who lose out most when it comes to government policy.

The report The War on Motorists: Myth or Reality? says Chancellor George Osborne should avoid further delays in fuel duty increases and, instead, improve rail and bus services.

Rising rail fares

The report says that rail and bus users are being hit twice by the high cost of fares and cuts in services while many poorer families have no access to alternative transport.

It argues there is no war on motorists and shows that between 1997 and 2010, rail fares rose by 66.2 per cent, with further increases in the pipeline.

This is while all motoring costs rose by only 32.5 per cent, equivalent to a 6.6 per cent fall in real terms. 

Bus and coach fares rose most of all, by 76.1 per cent.

No 'war on motorists'

Will Straw, IPPR associate director, said: "Compared to users of public transport, there is no war on motorists.

"Rail and bus users have seen fares spiral out of control while the cost of driving has actually fallen over the last decade.

"Users of public transport rarely have an alternative, while car drivers can switch to smaller and more fuel-efficient cars and cut out non-essential journeys."

But for me, despite increases - my bus fare went up twice this year from £1.50 to £1.60, then a couple of months later to £1.70 due to government cuts, according to the bus company - it’s still cheaper for me to get on the bus than drive my (non-existent) car.

How about rural areas?

But it’s different for everyone of course.

Motoring journalist Maria McCarthy found herself without a car earlier this year after her vehicle broke down.

She says: "I've got a car again now but estimate I saved about £90 a month during my car-free time, even factoring in the cost of buses and taxis.

"But living in a rural area it can be difficult without a car.

"I'm based in a small town so trips to the swimming pool, some socialising and most errands can be done on foot or by bike as the facilities are nearby.

"However I often need to travel for work so managing without a car wouldn't be viable for the long-term.

"If I lived somewhere like London I'd seriously consider doing without one though."

What do you think?

Public transport versus driving: Which do you prefer? Or should that be which can you afford?

We want to hear from you! you can share your views on the message board below. 

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick covers all things consumer for She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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