The use of travel time by rail passengers in Great Britain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

economics - value of time, mode - rail, place - europe


Travel time, Time use, Economic appraisal, Passenger rail


In the face of a society that exhibits an increasing dependence on motorised mobility, the response of transport policy is one that remains grounded in the pursuit of quicker journey times. Less time spent travelling is assumed to convert ‘unproductive’ time into economically valuable time. This paper explores an alternative perspective on travel time. It seeks to examine the notion that travel time, rather than being wasted, can and does possess a positive utility. This brings into question the extent of assumed economic benefits derived from schemes and policies intended to reduce journey times. Specifically the paper reports on a national mail-back questionnaire survey of 26,221 rail passengers in Great Britain conducted in autumn 2004. The survey examined how passengers used their time on the train, how worthwhile that time use was considered to be and the role of mobile technologies. The results paint a picture of travel time use in which the behaviour and opinions of commuters, business travellers and leisure travellers are compared and contrasted. A substantial if not overwhelming incidence of positive utility of travel time use is revealed, especially for business travel but also for commuting and leisure travel. In light of the survey evidence the paper points to the challenge of understanding the notion of productivity and offers some critical comments concerning the current approach to economic appraisal in Britain.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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