Private car usage: The last unknown in travel?

02 June 2017

Corporate deals don't always work for rail companies but uncovering expense data may help

David Gardner-240By David Gardner, head of sales and new business, Great Western Railway


Heading up sales at a major UK train operating company, I am often asked by our corporate clients and TMC contacts if GWR offers any deals in the marketplace. My response is that I’m always happy to look at opportunities which deliver incremental traffic to my company, but otherwise ‘no’, we do not offer commercial deals as a matter of course.

Instead travel managers need to look at ways that there can be a win/win for both sides. For example, aside from a couple of regional flights, GWR’s routes remain free of domestic air competition and our major competition results from the use of company and private cars running up and down the UK’s M4/M5. A good degree of the cars observed are undertaking journeys for what most of us would understand as ‘business travel’, but company cars have disappeared at a more alarming rate than Arctic Sea ice, with many replaced by employees using their own vehicles. It is this area that intrigues me.

My impression is that many companies may be good at checking the suitability of a person to source and use their own transport, backed up by proof of insurance for business purposes, etc. Yet I know of very few that attempt to record in any details what journeys are being made by this mode and this could be a missed opportunity when you meet with your local friendly train operating company. Show me an ability to move such journeys to rail and you’ll have my full attention.

On a more serious note, employers need to be mindful of their responsibilities and the real risks of not managing car usage. Have you considered the following:

  • Checking that the employee’s motor insurance covers business use
  • Is the vehicle being used in a road worthy condition?
  • How you can track where your employee is in the case of emergency?
  • Whether validation of the miles claimed in expenses matches those for the trip undertaken
  • Who would take ultimate responsibility for accidents caused through driver fatigue?

The treatment of the rail product may give us some clues as to what the future of private car usage might be. I recall a time in the not too distant past when company rail travel expenditure was deemed too hard to manage, yet with the march of technology it is now possible for it to be precisely managed and procured accordingly. With private car mileage I think that the solution is likely to come from the world of online expenses management, which is rapidly streamlining its functionality to ease use at the business end and present usable data to the ‘payment’ end.

It is this data that could prove to be very valuable in discussions with rail suppliers. Imagine when I commence my private car mileage journey that I also commence my expenses claim, with my location and destination recorded accurately by GPS. My expense claim is raised automatically with the correct mileage and paid direct to my bank within a couple of days or maybe even a couple of hours. The journey will also have been logged and where this happens there is also the potential for it to be mined to identify those key routes and flows. Show me where you’re allowing staff to drive to on the routes where I have a train service and you’ll have my full attention.

So far I know of just one company that has approached Great Western armed with such data, which related to business journeys taken between its two locations in the Bristol/Bath area - each also close to a railway station. In this instance, as well as wishing to see a cost saving, the client was equally concerned about the staff time being wasted as the route is notorious for traffic delays. They also wanted to assess the additional expense of car parking and had a genuine desire to remove these journeys from the roads for the sake of fresh air, less pollution and the overall public good.

In conclusion, I would urge every travel manager to venture into the murky world of employee expenses as there could be some real gems there, just waiting to be found.

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