Is there an alternative to car transport?

At the end of September 2018 there were 31.6 million cars licensed for use in Great Britain. Surprisingly the average time a car spent in use was only 4%, the greatest time – 80% was spent parked at home, with about 16% of the time parked elsewhere. Of course that is an average of the whole, some will be parked more than this and others driven more than this.

Considering those statistics, it does appear that there should be a viable alternative means of transport which meets the needs of the traveller, is cheap, kind to the environment and sustainable. But is there?

Before looking for alternative means of transport we need to look at the types of journeys we make by car at present as passengers or driver. The main categories are

  • Commuting/business
  • Education
  • Shopping
  • Personal business
  • Leisure

About 50% of the miles travelled were between 1 and 5 miles, 38% between 5 and 25 miles and 6% over 25 miles.

Then we look at what we require (or expect) from our transport.

  • Safety
  • Convenience
  • Protection from the elements
  • Comfort
  • Ability to carry luggage/passengers
  • Affordable
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Fun (I for one enjoy driving)

Public Transport

Public transport
London bus

Firstly, 80% of people of working age are able to reach 7 or more large employment areas within 45 minutes by car. This figure drops to just 20% when reliant on public transport. So for commuting and business, public transport is not viable.

In some of the larger urban areas such as London that have a comprehensive public transport system and congested roads, then public transport can work. However in more rural areas where public transport is less readily available and increasingly expensive, public transport will never win against the car. I am unable to use public transport (bus) due to timetable cuts making it impossible to reach my place of work on time.

I score public transport as 3 out of 7 as in general it is not very convenient, not as safe as a car, not particularly comfortable (I always end up sitting next to a drunk or someone suffering from some form of contagious disease) nor particularly affordable. It does provide protection from the elements – except for when you are waiting, you can take luggage and if full can be reasonably environmentally friendly.


Electric bicycle
Electric bicycle

The bicycle is a great way to travel short distances, but not very practical for longer journeys or shopping, or socialising, or business, or taking the kids to school, bad weather, safety etc. etc.

The increasing popularity of the electric bicycle does help to make it more suitable for commuting and leisure with prices coming down but still very expensive. A whole selection of used cars with 12 months mot can be found for under £1000 but a decent electric bicycle can be several thousand pounds and currently will only provide assistance up to 15 mph.

The motorcycle ups the ante a bit more. With a sidecar attached luggage and/or passengers can be carried, they are good for longer distances, can provide some additional weather protection and can be fun. In addition there are some three wheelers around now that lean and behave like a motorcycle but can be ridden on a car licence.

I give the bicycle 3 out of 7 as well. It is not very safe, you are at the mercy of the elements, unable to carry much luggage and is not very comfortable. They are environmentally friendly, affordable in the long term and provide health benefits.

The motorcycle/three wheeler scores 5 out of 7 due to the extra comfort, longer distance capacity and additional weather protection.

What else is there?

Rail transport comes under public transport, taxis rely on the car and air travel is really not practical for everyday journeys. Water transport can be viable – if you live and/or work near suitable water! Walking, running, skateboarding, scooters, roller blades and animal power are not really alternatives to the car.

What I would like to see

I would like to see a combination of a quadricycle (four wheeled pedal powered vehicle) or trike with battery assistance. This would provide luggage/passenger carrying ability, weather protection, be safer than a bicycle, have comfort designed in – suspension etc., be environmentally friendly and could be fun!

The technology is available to make the vehicle light, efficient and practical but costs at present would be inhibitive. In addition legislation would need to be relaxed enough in relation to licencing, taxes, speed etc. to make the vehicle a real alternative to the car.

In the meantime I am off to look for a three wheeler I can ride on my car licence!

What do you think?

Do you have any ideas or thoughts? Can you see a time when there is a viable alternative to the car? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Justin – founder of twitway.

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