Walking and Cycling
Shank's pony and a bike are the only two truly economical means of transport. It's amazing how whole swathes of the population seem to have lost the use of their legs over the last few decades.
There's not really much advice you can give on walking other than if it's going to take you less than twenty minutes to get there on foot, put your shoes and coat on and open the door. That applies particularly to schools and local shops.
The excuse most people use for not cycling is that they're scared or they'll get sweaty. The first of these arguments is self-defeating: the more cyclists there are on the road, the more car drivers will have to watch out for cyclists. (If the government were to spend a tiny bit less on dual carriageways and a bit more on really decent cycle lanes like in Germany or Holland that might help too...) The second is easily solved either by taking a towel and a change of clothes with you or cycling a bit more slowly. Neither of these excuses seems to deter half the population of Amersterdam.
The government has an incentive scheme to get people to cycle to work, where, in co-operation with your employer (if you have one), you can save up to 50% off the price of a new bicycle:
http://www.cyclescheme.co.uk/It will be interesting to see how effective the Boris / Barclays bike hire scheme in London proves. The main outcome of the BB partnership so far sees to have been to paint existing cycle lanes turquoise.
Britain used to have a world-class rail network - circa 1880. These days trains in this country tend to be over-priced, over-crowded and under-cared-for: an embarassment in comparison to Denmark, France, Holland, Switzerland and even Italy. It's one of the sadder indictments of successive British governments.
For long distance, do whatever you can to buy your ticket as early as possible - it's the only way you'll get a half decent price. Obviously try to travel off-peak as peak fares are outrageous for the captive commuter market. If you are a commuter you almost certainly buy a weekly, monthly or annual ticket already otherwise you'd be bankrupt.
If you're travelling with kids (at least one kid that is), a family and friends travecard at £24 for the year allows you to save a third off adult fares and allegedly 60% off kids fares:
Do be careful with buying a railcard though. We have found to our cost, that South West Trains, despite the advertising, don't in fact give 60% off the accompanied child fares into London from where we live with the railcard. We need to travel into London often enough as a family that the 30% discount on the adult fares is enough for us to make the £24 railcard worthwhile, but I can't say I'm impressed - particularly in the light of their fare increases, ticket office closures and staff redundancies.
If you're planning to travel across the haphazard mish mash of UK rail networks, strangely enough you're best off using the Deutsche Bahn website to plan your journey:
This Trainline website helps you find the cheapest long distance fares:
This article in the Observer has some other tips for finding the cheapest train fares:
and here's another more recent article from Miles Brignall in the Guardian on how to track down the cheapest rail tickets:
I haven't used one recently so can't really comment, but they do seem to offer outrageously low fares, like £10 to the other end of the country. How do they do that then? (Particularly given that they are largely owned by the same companies who charge £150 to get there by rail). It's a mystery.
Perhaps the head of Network Rail could explain it:
Buses are OK, with the proviso that if you can get there by bus, as a rule you can get there by bike (without getting stuck in the traffic). Cost for a family trip to our local big town by bus: £8, by bike: £0. We are lucky though that the quickest route is through a park rather than along a main road.
https://www.liftshare.com/uk/ lets you offer or search for a lift to destinations all over the UK. It's also free to use.
Never really an economical choice by the time you've paid for insurance, road tax, fuel, servicing and depreciation. That might be why more and more people are using cheap, self-service rental schemes like Streetcar:
Zipcar offers a similar service:
(Update: Zipcar has now acquired Streetcar, no doubt using the now apparently unavoidable logic that you can't be a proper big business unless you've bought up most if not all of your significant competitors.)
There are lots of other companies which operate in a similar way to Streetcar and Zipcar. I must admit I didn't realise quite how many there were until I looked at the Car Club website which explains how the system works and allows you to find the closest scheme to you based on postcode:
Kendalls offers the cheapest conventional car and van hire that I've come across:
Unfortunately they only cover the South East at the moment.
Given the way the UK is designed, it is still pretty difficult to do without a car if you have a family.
We've found the best ways to save money with a car are:
- Buy a diesel - you should get at least 50 mpg - current models can get 70 + mpg
- Check where your cheapest local petrol station is. Petrolprices.com regularly scans prices all across the country. (You have to register on the site to use it.)
- Look after it (i.e. get it serviced regularly) and keep it for as long as possible - we've had our Golf for ten years now and it's only in the last year or so that it has needed any repairs. By far the steepest depreciation on any car is in the first two or three years. We originally bought the Golf in Belgium for a third cheaper than in the UK. Unfortunately since the collapse in the value of the pound that's no longer an option.
- Shop around every year online for the best insurance deal - it may be a hassle but you can save yourself hundreds of pounds. We started off with Direct Line when it first got going and it was incredibly cheap at the time, but within a few years there were far cheaper offers available from other companies. (See our price comparison page for sites that will help you find the best possible deal.)
- Don't take out breakdown cover until your car is really likely to need it - probably not until the car is at least about seven years old these days. Shop around for the best deal in the same way as for normal car insurance. The best known names do not offer the best value and in reality don't offer anything you couldn't get far cheaper from smaller, less well known providers. This study by the Guardian points out the huge difference in prices and suggests some alternative good value insurers: "Is the AA taking you for a ride?"
- Once out of warranty never get your car serviced at a main dealer - look for a good local garage: you will save a fortune
- Make sure you check out what the road tax (and insurance) will be for any car you're thinking of buying - there are now enormous variations
- Check what MPG you're getting from your trip computer (if you've got one) and adjust your driving accordingly. If you haven't got a trip computer you'll need to guess how accurate your fuel gauge is and practice some mental arithmetic.
- Don't buy a satnav. A £1.99 road atlas serves just as well. Google Maps and Via Michelin are excellent for directions.
- Make do with one car (use a bike or walk instead whenever possible)
See this article for more thrifty driving tips:
Car sharing is also a good way of saving on costs and saving the environment. http://www.carshare.com/ has a list of all the car sharing sites in the UK.
If we were planning on getting a car now, we'd either get a Skoda (a more reliable Volkswagen with a different badge on the front and thousands of pounds cheaper) or a Kia (seven years free warranty and road tax from as little as £35). We're kind of hoping our car will last out until we can get a cheap electric one. Who knows, by then a UK government might even have got round to promoting cheap, renewable energy).