Published: 19th APRIL 2024

The need to help people access a cycle

Sustrans is delivering vital research to help make the case that people on a low income or not in employment should be given financial support to access a cycle. This project is generously funded by the Financial Fairness Trust.

A man riding a bicycle down the street with a car passing nearby.

The Government’s Cycle to Work scheme has helped two million people access a cycle.

Participants save between 32% and 42% by not having to pay tax and National Insurance on the cost of a cycle and accessories.

Four-in-five participants say they cycle every week, up from the just two-in-five before joining. It’s pretty safe to say the scheme is successful.

However, the Cycle to Work scheme is a salary sacrifice scheme. This means it excludes anyone not in employment, people on low incomes, as well as self-employed people.

In 2023, our Walking and Cycling Index found only 40% of residents on low incomes had access to a cycle. This compared to 59% in professional occupations.

Currently no national schemes exist in the UK that offer financial support to people on a low or no income to access a cycle, despite standing to gain most from cycle access.

People on a low or no income are less likely to own a car and more likely to struggle to make journeys due to transport costs.

This can put people in danger of losing their job, and can prevent them from accessing work, education, community and nature.

Three cyclists waiting a red traffic light alongside traffic. A petrol station is in the background.

A cycle can be the answer, be it a bicycle, e-cycle or non-standard cycle.

Cycling is a proven low-cost form of transport. Research by insurance providers Cycleplan suggests that cycling can save people between £750 and £771 each year outside of London, and even more in the capital.

But for many people, the initial purchase cost of a cycle is too much.

In 2019, Sustrans Bike Life research (now known as the Walking and Cycling Index) revealed that 19% of residents from low-income households found the cost of a cycle stopped them from cycling.

This is approximately 2 million adults across the UK.

We estimate the lowest price to purchase a standard bicycle is at least £200, including accessories like locks, lights and helmets.

Women, people of colour and disabled people are overrepresented amongst those who live on low incomes.

These intersections may combine to produce additional financial barriers to having a bike.

The barriers around the cost of a cycle are also reflected in the local projects we deliver with people experiencing financial difficulty.

Sustrans’ provision of free refurbished cycles and cycle training are oversubscribed, and we often have waiting lists.

Blockquote quotation marks
It would mean I can keep my job... I am a single mum with no support. I have an evening job I just make it to on time as I currently drive... I cannot afford to keep up with the cost of running my car which needs repairs... If I don't have any transport I will lose my job as it’s not on an accessible bus route and I couldn't afford that either... A bike would be a life saver for me right now! Blockquote quotation marks
Participant from a cycle access scheme in Nottingham

It's for these reasons that Sustrans is undertaking research to demonstrate the demand for, and benefits from, providing financial support to people who need a cycle.

We are developing a business case for Government by modelling the costs and economic benefits, to individuals and society, from financial support.

If such a scheme was implemented, the benefits would be realised quickly, critical for the economy and for people during the cost-of-living crisis.

Our work will include surveys, focus groups and economic modelling, alongside visiting communities to understand and film their lived experiences, and understanding how accessing a cycle could transform their lives.

Similar schemes from other nations will also be explored, such as France - who already support people on a low or no income to access cycles and electric bikes.

Inclusive of recommendations for local and national government, we aim to produce our final report by July 2024.

We hope the UK Government and other decision-makers recognise and adopt a scheme to provide economic support to people on a low income.

To find out more about the project, contact Tim Burns, Head of Policy at Sustrans.

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