Today’s Autumn Statement was another in a long line of missed opportunities by the UK Government to support low-income households with investments to improve local travel choice with alternatives to car travel such as cycling and walking.
Investing in infrastructure
The Chancellor’s announcement of a further £1.1 billion of investment for English transport networks to improve large scale roads to support the existing £15 billion Road Investment Strategy will do nothing to improve the majority of journeys that we make every day - that are made on local roads and pavements.
Although announcements were also made today for a £1.8 billion of Local Growth Funding and for a £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund there is no guarantee that this money will be invested in improving local travel choice. Our experience is that small changes can lead to big results a different story was laid out today by The Chancellor.
Rather than further investment in the motorways and A roads – investing in alternatives to car travel such as cycling and walking as well as tackling the poor condition of our local roads should be made a priority. All road users, whether they travel by cycle, on foot, car or lorry consistently rate road surface quality as a top concern. One in five local roads in England and Wales are now described as in poor condition.
Improving travel choice has wider benefits, we estimate that there is a net benefit of 67p to society for every mile cycled rather than driven. Yet, improvements to large scale roads and reducing fuel-duty will do nothing to realise these benefits.
The need to invest in local solutions
We know that investing in cycling and walking has huge and wide ranging benefits. A recently published evaluation of the 2013-14 Linking Communities programme that links people to areas of economic activity and local facilities through improved cycling and walking infrastructure. The programme of 45 schemes have large health benefits of £1.5million over 30 years per scheme and 6.2 FTE jobs per £1 million spent.
Furthermore, as part of our collaboration with seven cities in the UK towards making cycling an attractive and everyday means of travel we now understand that there is a huge appetite for change. Results from the biggest survey ever conducted on attitudes to cycling in the UK couldn’t be clearer: there’s a desire to cycle more, but that a lack of safe places to ride bikes is off-putting.
Freeze in Fuel Duty undermines long-term prosperity
As fuel duty rates have fallen in real terms under successive governments, the levy’s contribution to total exchequer receipts has fallen by a third over the past 15 years; essentially losing the treasury billions on lost receipts for a government bent on reducing national debt.
Freezing fuel duty also fails the public as it serves only to lock people into having to use their cars, when a greater focus on walking, cycling and public transport would make other low cost transport options a reality.
The needs of millions of households that already cannot afford a car are being ignored together the many benefits that further investment cycling and walking would bring to local economies. Now is surely time for action on the many challenges facing us, such as deteriorating air quality - giving us a transport system that gives everyone a choice about how they get around and an economy that works for all.