The 2021-22 update for comprehensive journey costing

The cost of getting from A to B is becoming ever more important, whether you are a delivery business, fleet manager or planner. Many companies use the straight line distance (“crow fly”) but that doesn’t reflect road layout or type, or the UK’s geography, e.g. estuaries and islands. Nor does it help with estimating the time it will take, especially at peak or off-peak times.

TimeTravel is our dataset of drive times and distances between any postcode sector or district. It provides a way to accurately plan and measure multiple journeys, whether that is for fleet, field team, or customer travel around the UK.

Working at postcode sector level means we can pre-calculate every possible sector-to-sector journey across the whole country. This removes the longer calculation times required for point-to-point calculations and makes it practical to implement in systems where a quick response is required for multiple users.

One of the main strengths of TimeTravel is that it uses up-to-date data to make realistic journey times. With the road network and postcode geography constantly changing, our clients should ensure that they update the data they use every year, to get the most accurate results from the tool.

So how does TimeTravel work and how does the latest update improve it?


Travel distance and time radii on map.

How does TimeTravel calculate drive times?

To make otherwise complex calculations simple to the end user, we use the following process for each update:

  • We locate the population weighted centroid of each sector to use as a drive start point. This means that the most frequent journeys are represented because most start points will be from the major population centre in the sector.
  • For each source sector, calculate the time to drive to every piece of road that is navigable - usually every junction on the same landmass.
  • In every destination sector, we calculate the drive time to all the road junctions in the sector and average the time taken.
  • We then calculate the fastest (shortest time) journey time and distance using peak, off-peak and HGV speed tables.

The journey distance is the distance of the fastest route rather than the shortest distance. This is because the shortest distance is the absolute minimum distance possible and does not take into account different road types or conditions. However, the shortest distance is available within the data to those for whom mileage is more important than time.

We’ve released the 2021-22 update because:

  1. The road network is constantly being revised
  2. The postcode sector geography changes with new build and redevelopment. There are 9 new postcode sectors in 2021 and the boundaries have been refined.
  3. The average speeds that people travel have reduced this last year

The road network we currently use for the mainland UK is supplied by Ordnance Survey (OS) and contains more than 1.2 million road links. The latest update also includes improved classification and speed models of the road network.

What about ferry crossings?

Of course the road network can’t take you everywhere, especially on a group of islands like the UK. To allow for ferry crossings we assign each sector to its appropriate landmass (e.g. mainland UK, Northern Ireland, Isle of Wight, or Mull). Then, using published ferry routes we work out the journey options between each landmass. We calculate the best route to use depending on the start point of the journey. For example, the Isle of Wight has three possible ferry routes and those travelling from Bournemouth would use a different ferry to those travelling from Chichester.

What about business postcodes?

As well as the postcodes we are all familiar with that we use for letters and pizza delivery, many businesses have postcodes called large-user postcodes. Where we can, we append these postcode sectors to the database making the total number of sectors 11,116 in this release. Sometimes the group of postcodes that form a logical sector are not contiguous enough (closely grouped) to represent a single unit so we exclude them.



Case Study: Calculating time and mileage required on site visits

McGinley Support Services needed detailed time and distance data as a means of verification for their automated expenses system.

What else has changed in the latest update?

In addition to the transport network, the UK’s fundamental data geography changes every year. Royal Mail are constantly changing their postcode sectors and boundaries to rationalise this long-standing system. They need to add in new sectors to allow for new housing and business developments, whilst removing retired postcodes as larger businesses close or areas are reclassified. The latest TimeTravel data includes about 12,000 postcode changes that have taken place since the previous update.

How is TimeTravel data supplied?

The full TimeTravel dataset for the whole of the UK and maximum detail comes in at more than 123 million data rows in the latest version and is almost 4 gigabytes in size. However, TimeTravel data is scalable to meet your specific geographic and detail needs, so the version you receive is likely to be a compressed .txt or .csv file via FTP or Google Drive transfer. The data is too large to be seen in its entirety in Excel or Access and is more likely to be integrated into an enterprise database in a CRM or website for use in staff or customer-facing travel tools.

If you prefer, we host the data on a server with an API interface to allow it to be available 24/7 to support your staff or customers. The API provides TimeTravel data online with the convenience of avoiding large downloads, database loading, and annual updates. In addition, it can provide a richer and more efficient set of common request types. We have a demo account to showcase this functionality at work, so get in touch if you’d like a demonstration.

Our existing TimeTravel clients benefit from an annual TimeTravel update. So, if you are an existing client, we will be in touch very soon about how you can get hold of the latest version. If you are considering TimeTravel for your own business, please get in touch and we can talk you through your requirements and the data’s capabilities in detail. We can also share a sample of the data with you to ensure that it meets your needs.

We've spent more than 25 years visualising complex data and making it easy to understand.
If you'd like to see if we can help you please get in touch.

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