Call for more safe cycling & walking routes as latest National Travel Survey published

Increased costs means many cannot now afford to travel to shops or to visit family and friends, says Sustrans

by Simon_MacMichael   December 14, 2012  

Female Cyclist, London. (copyright Simon MacMichael)JPG

Sustrans has called on the government to create “safe routes for short, everyday journeys” following the publication on Thursday of official statistics that reveal the sustainable transport charity growing numbers of people are falling into transport poverty, and are finding even basic trips such as going shopping or visiting friends unaffordable.

The figures, contained in the annual National Travel Survey published by the Department for Transport (DfT), show that there is a continuing drop in car use, but the journeys people are making in them are longer.

The survey also found that nearly two in three trips to school of between one and two miles are made by car – just 3 per cent of all journeys to school, meanwhile, are made on a bicycle.

Commenting on the survey results, Sustrans policy advisor Joe Williams said: “Our transport system is becoming more and more polarised, with basic journeys like shopping and visiting friends becoming unaffordable for many families.

“As petrol prices continue to rise, car ownership has already become too expensive for many. A quarter of households are already without access to a car and simply can’t get around without other transport options.

“Evidence shows there is a real appetite to walk and cycle more, but to meet this demand we must create far more safe routes for short, everyday journeys.

“If we are to recover economically, the Government must invest in public transport and enable far more walking and cycling to give people safe, affordable, independent ways to get around.”

As far as cycling is concerned, the National Travel Survey says that on average, men undertake three times as many trips each year as women do, but the numbers, and the percentages of all trips they comprise, are tiny – men make an average of 23 trips each, 2 per cent of the total trips they undertake, while the average woman takes to her bike just 8 times a year, representing just 1 per cent of all trips by females.

The DfT acknowledges that it is in effect impossible to draw accurate trends regarding cycling from the National Travel Survey data because of the comparatively low number of trips made by bike – the report even refers to the bicycle as a “relatively uncommon mode of transport.” Due to the low level of data available, there are also some big variations year on year.

Evidence from elsewhere is that cycling is on a steady upward curve, as found in the Sport England Active People Survey, published last week, but wild swings can take place from year to year as a result of factors such as the weather.

Different approaches to cycling by different local authorities also render national trends in effect meaningless – in some areas, cycling is booming and has been a common form of daily transport for decades, in others it has grown as a result of initiatives such as the former Cycling Towns scheme, and elsewhere it is near invisible.

Those regional differences, for England at least, were clearly shown earlier this year in analysis conducted by the DfT of the Active People Survey, which found for example that more than one in three people in Cambridge, for example, cycle five times a week or more, compared to just one in a hundred in places such as Luton and Bolton.

The Active People Survey, it has to be acknowledged, provides a far more robust dataset – that particular edition was based on more than 166,000 respondents, and found that 10 per cent of people living in England cycled once a week or more.

That means that the number of regular cyclists responding isn't far short of the total number of people involved in the National Travel Survey, which is based on face-to-face interviews with respondents plus a diary covering a week’s travel that is completed by 7,700 households, covering 18,000 people.

In normal market research terms, that’s a big sample, and while that's valuable for the more popular modes of transport it isn't when looking at cycling alone – 2 per cent translating to just somewhere either side of 360 people, depending on rounding.

This too leads to issues that the National Travel Survey acknowledges, saying that “This is not usually a problem when considering large samples but may give misleading information when considering data from small samples, such as cyclists in a particular age group.”