Despite the government saying they would invest £1.2 billion into cycling, new research has revealed that it is still only a slim few who commute by bike, with many citing nervousness about cycling in traffic as the reason.
However, Cycling UK points out that of the £1.2 billion over the 5 years of 2016/17 to 2020/21 that “may” be spent on cycling and walking, only £314 million was specifically earmarked by central government for investment in cycling and walking. This sum is split into four funding lines, only two of which were going to last the full 5-year duration:
- £99 million for eight Cycling Cities Ambition Grants in 2018/19.
- £50 million for Bikeability cycle training to 2019/20
- £85 million for Highways England to deliver walking and cycling improvements along or across its network of roads
- £80 million for an Access Fund to promote sustainable travel.
It probably comes as no surprise therefore that a survey of more than 7,600 UK adults published by Decathlon in their Activity Index 2018 shows that only 7% of the nation are commuting by bike. This Activity Index tracks rates of participation in sport and other physical activities across the year through a monthly, national survey.
Even with some cities such as Manchester, Cambridge and London making drastic changes to accommodate cycling, just over 1 in 4 (26%) still feel it is too dangerous to cycle.
This was followed by 21% who said they are still too scared to commute by bike to work.
Philippe Rebelo, UK marketing director at Decathlon commented: “It is clear to see that not many of us actually choose to commute to our workplace with a bicycle. This is despite the Government increasing the spend on cycling, with improvements for cycle to work schemes and even overhauls of roads in cities to accommodate cyclists.”
Meanwhile, 21% also said that the distance to their place of work is too far to travel via bike, although the 2017 National Travel Survey showed a slight increase in the average distance per cycle trip from 2.1 to 3.3 miles. Nevertheless the same survey showed that the average person only cycled 18 times in 2017, although this is up from 16 times in the year before. This does at least indicate a latent demand for e-bikes that would help some of this reluctant 21% segment to get out of their vehicles.
A further 17% admitted they don’t even own a bike, even though cycle to work schemes are making this more affordable for commuters, with 183,423 employees picking up this scheme in 2014*.
An additional 1 in 7 confessed that they actually don’t like cycling which explains why they currently are not going to commute by bike to work.
Rebelo continued: “There are many advantages of cycling to work that people seem to be missing out on – commuting by bike is a great way to form a healthier lifestyle, it is cheaper and is better than other options. Even better, those without a bike can get one via the government’s bike to work scheme – and there are a number of bikes that can be rented in UK cities too. It is extremely inexpensive in the long run as you only need a bike, lights and a helmet and you’re off. We want to help the UK fall back in love with sports – we believe that sports should be accessible for all – cycling included. It is after all one of the sports that the UK is best known for competing in, thanks to homegrown talent like Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Laura Kenny and Geraint Thomas.”
Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster calls the Government aim of doubling cycling by 2025 implausible and Transport Minister Jesse Norman as much as admitted it, telling the FT that “as a cycling and walking nation, the UK has a long way to go to match the best international models”.
Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore points out that the Government’s spending is due to decline from £95m in 2016/17 to just £33m in 2020/21. This equates to a fall from £2.07 per person annually outside London to a mere 72p per person. He contrasts that with the £40 per person annually outside London in 2016/17 which will have increased to £84 per person outside London in 2020/21.
Back in 2013 the Parliamentary All Party Cycling Group called for an investment of at least £10 per person annually on cycling, rising over time to £20. This was forecast to increase cycling from its current rate of 2% of all trips to 10% by 2025 and to 25% by 2050.
The Government’s own Post Opening Performance Evaluation (“POPE”) reports found that motorway and trunk road schemes
- generate more traffic – often far above background trends over the longer term;
- lead to permanent and significant environmental and landscape damage;
- show little evidence of economic benefit to local economies; and
- cause widespread damage to biodiversity and worse than expected increases in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as encouraging car-dependent housing and retail development.
It looks like it’s going to be an uphill struggle to get more people commuting by bike!