The Green Party says that the government is promoting an “anti-cycling narrative that is making things far more dangerous for cyclists” in response to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ call earlier this week for people on bikes to be required to display number plates, carry third party insurance cover and be subject to the same speed limits as motorists.
The cabinet minister’s comments, initially made to the Mail in an article published on Tuesday evening, made for prominent headlines in both print and broadcast media yesterday, and are in direct conflict with repeated assurances from his own ministers and from civil servants at the Department for Transport (DfT) that imposing such requirements on cyclists would be counter-productive.
While Shapps subsequently rowed back on his remarks regarding licensing of cyclists, his comments have been seized on with glee by some media outlets and commentators with a history of anti-cycling rhetoric.
Indeed, much prominence has been given in some quarters today – including in the Mail and on Talk TV – to a poll run by pro-motoring lobby group FairFuelUK, which is part-funded by the haulage industry, which claimed that 91 per cent of respondents (who had to enter their email address on its website to be able to vote) were in favour of cyclists having to display registration numbers.
The self-selected nature of the poll – it’s entirely possible that many participants would be aware of it because they already follow the lobby group through social media and agree with its aims – mean that its results, which also include 80 per cent wanting to see cyclists fined for speeding and 70 per cent supporting compulsory insurance, should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and may not be as reflective of general public opinion as say a survey undertaken among a random sample by an independent market research company, but the prominence given to them by some outlets does help fuel an anti-cycling narrative.
And while many interpret Shapps’ intervention as being aimed squarely at Conservative Party members as the leadership campaigns of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss continue – perhaps in an attempt to save his job once one or other becomes Prime Minister – and to deflect from issues such as rail strikes, the cost of living crisis, or water pollution, there has been widespread dismay among active travel and environmental campaigners that they have inflamed existing anti-cyclist sentiment from some quarters.
Green Party Transport and Healthy Streets spokesperson Matt Edwards, who also sits on Bradford Council accused Shapps of ignoring facts and attempting to deflect from problems currently facing the country.
He said: “If we are serious about tackling the Cost of Living Crisis and the Climate Emergency, we need to get people out of their cars and – for many people, especially in urban areas – cycling is the cheapest and easiest way for people to get around.
“This latest announcement is not based on facts and is another example of Grant Shapps trying to shift focus from a Conservative government that has no idea how to tackle the big problems we all face. The Netherlands and Denmark have much higher rates of cycling than the UK and they know that a registration scheme for cyclists is an expensive folly that would be impossible to administer.
“Most road traffic accidents in the UK, especially those with fatalities, are caused by reckless car drivers – not cyclists. The anti-cycling narrative this government is pushing is actually making things far more dangerous for cyclists,” he added.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.