You sometimes hear people say, in a sanctimonious tone, "I use public transport wherever possible." Well, I use my car wherever possible, because I can't afford public transport.
Let us take a journey I do quite often, from London to Leicester – 100 miles, which makes the maths easier. If you book online the day before, or turn up at St Pancras station, the cheapest fare you'll be offered is £46 – for a single. So, if you're not quite sure when you'll be coming back, or if you have to travel in the busier times, you're looking at the thick end of £100. So that's £100 for 200 miles, then, or 50p per mile (I told you the maths would be easy). Plus taxi, bus or tube fares each end. It all adds up. Now compare that with the cost of fuel. A typical family hatchback will return at least 40 miles to the gallon these days, so that's around £25 in fuel, tops. Ah, but what about insurance, maintenance, and, most expensive of all, depreciation? It's still cheaper by car for most of us. In the case of my car, a Skoda Octavia, the cost is a mere 37p per mile: £74 return to Leicester. And for that you get to choose when you leave, arrive – and you don't have to listen to someone else's iPod. It's freedom, you see, a natural human need.
Skoda call themselves "manufaturers of happy drivers". I agree. All the car companies miraculously deliver us safer, greener, comfier cars every year – and at less real cost to motorists. That's their mission. Cars have never been cheaper or better. Can you say that about the trains?
Sean O'Grady is the former motoring editor of The Independent