'Road tolls and charges needed to encourage cycling'

British transport policy flawed, claims report

New research from the University of Derby suggests UK transport policy is fundamentally flawed when it comes to encouraging cycling.

The report says the current push to get people onto bikes and simultaneously improve and extend the road network will be counter-productive.

It argues that these moves will reduce pressure on the roads, and when people realise the roads have become quieter, they will revert to using cars.

Report author Dr John Stubbs, the university's senior lecturer in geography and an avid cyclist, has looked at official bicycle and car usage figures from the past half-century.

He said: "By trying to improve cycling and car use at the same time, you effectively ensure that cycling will always lose out.

"There is immense difficulty for any government in deciding to get out of this vicious circle by drastically cutting back on its roads investment, with plenty of people ready to say it would harm the economy. But how much is traffic congestion actually costing the UK every year?” 

Official estimates suggest congestion in England will cost £22 billion by 2025, in terms of lost working hours (Eddington Transport Study, 2006).

Dr Stubbs said: “My intention with this research is not to ‘bash the car driver’, but the beauty of taking a mathematical approach to this problem, looking at the government’s own figures from the past 50 years, is that the results are there for anyone to see."

So what is the solution? Dr Stubbs says future governments may have to look at unpopular measures like toll roads and congestion charges, as well as promoting other modes of transport, such as cycling, through financial incentives like the Cycle to Work scheme (which enables employees to buy a new bike tax-free).

As Dr Stubbs points out, £140 million is to be spent by Cycling England by 2010 on trying to increase the number of people cycling. This is an enormous amount of money, but in the overall scheme of things, is it enough?

A look at Department for Transport figures underlines the seismic nature of changes that have occurred in the past 50 years. The number of vehicles licensed in Britain rose from 7.8 million in 1959 to 28.3m in 1999, to 34.2m by the end of 2008.

The number of kilometres travelled by bike was 14 billion in 1959. This had fallen to 4bn in 1999 and is still at about that figure.

The Stubbs research predicts further substantial rises in car use and a further fall in cycle use unless there is a radical shift in government policy.

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