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"Entrenched car culture": Brits spending up to 19% of income on cars is stifling active travel, claims cycling campaign group

Despite Bike Is Best's report showing the eye-watering figures people will pay to keep their cars on the road, 48% of respondents said they could not afford a bike...

A study by cycling campaign group Bike Is Best suggests that millions of people in Britain are trapped in transport poverty and are spending concerning proportions of their income to enable them to drive a car, with bicycles and increased investment in cycling infrastructure touted as a solution.

The report is based on nationally representative survey of 2,000 people and found that on average those who own a car are spending 13 per cent of their pre-tax income on the associated costs of driving (fuel, insurance, Vehicle Excise Duty, MOT, maintenance etc.).

It is a figure that rises to 19 per cent if the individual is paying for their vehicle with a finance or loan deal, and raised concerns with Bike Is Best that millions of Britons are trapped in transport poverty, the threshold for which is spending 10 per cent of pre-tax income.

Moreover, the report showed that around three-quarters of drivers think they will always own a car, while 47 per cent do not believe they have an alternative, prompting Bike Is Best and Cycling UK to call for more investment in safe and easily accessible cycling infrastructure to offer people that alternative.

Scott Purchas from Bike Is Best went as far to suggest the UK has an "entrenched car culture" that is "locking people in to spending significant portions of their income on transport".

"As the UK endures the cost of living crisis, there's no escaping the fact that our entrenched car culture is locking people in to spending significant portions of their income on transport," he said.

"UK motorists with some form of car finance spend 19 per cent of their total annual gross income on their car. New investment in [cycling] infrastructure will give people genuine choice about how they travel, which is incredibly important at this difficult time.

"Modes of transport that are efficient, sustainable and don't break the bank should win out – not least because half the population see the bike or e-bike as an alternative to the car or public transport."

Keir Gallagher of Cycling UK added: "The solution is simple – building networks of safe, segregated cycle routes in towns and cities across the UK would turn cycling into a genuine option for millions of people, helping them break out of car dependence and the huge costs associated with that."

The study also found that 34 per cent of motorists would cycle if they could choose something other than driving or public transport, but almost half said they could not afford to buy a bike.

Last year, a survey from Cycleplan found that one in three cyclists still feel unsafe on British roads despite Highway Code changes, suggesting that safety of routes and a lack of infrastructure segregating riders from traffic is still a primary concern of those who otherwise might cycle.

One in three of Cycleplan's survey respondents – 33 per cent – said that they had been involved in a collision or near miss within the past 12 months, and 79 per cent said that they believed that drivers were not observing the Highway Code changes.

A second survey published just months earlier found that seven in 10 respondents backed moves to encourage cycling and walking and reduce the use of motor vehicles – but an identical percentage, 71 per cent, also claimed that their current lifestyle means they need a car.

> Seven in 10 back moves to encourage cycling and walking

It also found that 44 per cent of respondents said that they would like to cycle more than they currently do – but at the same time, 47 per cent agreed with the statement, 'I'm not the kind of person who rides a bicycle'.

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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38 comments

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chrisonabike | 1 year ago
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Splendid - just in time, NotJustBikes has a video on some 50's driving propaganda.  Seems that the spirit of that tempting vision is still entirely here with us.  Even in the UK, even as we sit in traffic jams or drive round looking for a parking space. (Or at least one we don't have to pay for...)

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JustTryingToGet... | 1 year ago
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This woman thinks this comment thread is a shit-show.

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JustTryingToGet... | 1 year ago
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Edit- deleted dupe post

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NotNigel | 1 year ago
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To be fair to Martin73, if my wife spent £500 a month on hair and nails I'd probably take out my frustrations trying to wind people up on forums too.

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perce | 1 year ago
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Louboutin do men's shoes as well. I never knew that. 695 quid and they don't look any different from a bog standard shoe from Dolcis. I don't think I'll bother.

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JustTryingToGet... | 1 year ago
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Oooh, over 100 comments... let's have a wee read of the insightful and... nvm. PBUs doing what PBUs do.

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Adam Sutton | 1 year ago
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Bus service here is non-existent. Train sevice is expensive, as I mentioned on another post about this £4280 for a travel card if you need to get into London for work. If you want to use the train to get to the two nearest towns, it is hit and miss if there even is a service at the weekend. I cycle increasingly for local journeys where I am not buying a lot, unlinke a lot of cyclists I don't have a lightweight road bike that doesn't see the light of day in bad weather, I have a gravel bike with mudgaurds and a pannier rack permantenly affixed. That said I, like 80% plus of cyclist also have a car. God this tribalism is f***ing tedious.

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chrisonabike replied to Adam Sutton | 1 year ago
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I understand the tribalism because partly it's a label others are keen to apply.  And you do feel threatened sometimes - so that helps make this an "identity".  Some of it also comes when you do have that "aha" moment when notice just how much resources we devote (and visually here) to a problematic mode of transport (others are saying problematic, not just me).  And the fact that most people don't seem to notice this (or care).  You do feel apart when you realise how motor-vehicle-dominated we really are.  And apparently where our governments / local authorities - whatever they say - are mostly content to stay.

"Tribalism" is as you say a massive turn-off for most people.  Problem is - without some kind of challenge there will be no change.  It's difficult to have a conversation about shifting to other modes without ... mentioning reducing car usage, or that our current pattern is problematic.  Also a turn-off for people!  It's balancing carrot and stick.  And the carrot doesn't even look that good to people when we can already have a giant chocolate cake if we want!

Although we're almost all multimodal (walk + ... at least) I'm thinking of the Venn diagram of trips by mode.  (The mileage one will be even more stark).  If we ignore walking (which disappears on mileage) it's going to be mostly car.  Yes that will overlap a bit with train and even bus.  But it's "most people mostly drive".  And the "most cyclists drive (and / or use train / bus), most drivers don't cycle" is certainly true.  I'd agree that by mileage (or even time) most "dedicated cyclists" who commute are still actually fanatical drivers or train-ists by a fair margin.

FWIW - currently non-car-owner here.  I am one of those cyclists with "fair weather bike" (a not-so-light recumbent) but most of my time is on a 80s tourer, doing utility trips.  Still drive a few hundred miles in the average year, and by mileage I am still a "trainist / train enthusiast".  Although since I started mainly WFH my weekly over-hundred-mile total is hugely reduced.

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Adam Sutton replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
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The problem with tribalism is it doesn't solve anything, it just pitches people against each other. People who regardless of their mode of transport are at the end of the day just trying to get somewhere.

The reality is we have a rising population and need to look at the situation as a whole, not from the perspective of "cyclists" or "drivers" etc. The car isn't going to go away, and for a large number of people cycling will never be an apporpriate form of transport for many journeys. 

The biggest sticking point to get people out of cars is public transport that is expensive, unreliable and doesn't go where needed. The whole thing needs joined up thinking where cycling is included but not at the exlusion of other means of transport. Out of that there London, the alternate to the car for many will be buses, which still need a good road infrastructure.

 

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chrisonabike replied to Adam Sutton | 1 year ago
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Adam Sutton wrote:

The problem with tribalism is it doesn't solve anything, it just pitches people against each other.

Yes - but it's a bit like gangs.  People tend to form tribes because of external pressures (don't feel safe) as much as "choosing to be a cyclist".

It's not really about "solving" stuff - it's just identity.

Adam Sutton wrote:

People who regardless of their mode of transport are at the end of the day just trying to get somewhere.

The reality is we have a rising population and need to look at the situation as a whole, not from the perspective of "cyclists" or "drivers" etc. The car isn't going to go away, and for a large number of people cycling will never be an apporpriate form of transport for many journeys.

I agree this is a more promising question.  So to return to the start - why are we even considering change?  What's not to like about the current situation?  Just get yourself a car, job done!

Well, congestion (with a tiny side order of "avoiding road death", though this doesn't seem to be a biggie for most people since we're globally "very safe" - unless it affects your family...)  People aren't happy it's so "expensive".  Some people say they can't afford to get places.  Plus "climate change".  Maybe that latter is mixed with "we'd like to be less dependent on oil imports"?  Finally I'd say there's also a latent "I'd like my streets to be more pleasant / kids to walk to school" but that doesn't get much prominence.

Also - broadly - there seem to be two situations - urban travel vs. travel in / via the countryside.  The latter is definitely more problematic since the population density outside urban areas is hugely lower and we've centralised so much (because cars).

Would that be a good summary?

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OldRidgeback | 1 year ago
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I am curious how many of those people who say theyc an't afford a bike because of the high costs of motoring have tied themselves into high monthly payments on vehicles they bought from new?

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Awavey | 1 year ago
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well Id have been amazed if a campaign group calling itself "Bike is Best" had concluded anything else.

unfortunately theyre just numbers they are reporting though, we dont know why people think buying a bike is too expensive if theyre spending nearly 20% of their income on a car.

and does that hold anyway ? the average yearly UK salary is £27,756, the 10% transport poverty figure is therefore £2,756.

Average fuel spend per year is around £1100, average insurance about £400, average VED is £165, MOT around £50, that leaves you around £2.70 per day to maintain/repair your car, and we havent even accounted for congestion charges, bridge tolls, car parking, breakdown cover.

Im pretty sure anyone who owns a car would be considered in transport poverty based on those stats.

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KDee | 1 year ago
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Can't afford a bike...because I spend 100 quid a month on petrol sitting in stationary traffic 

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IanMK | 1 year ago
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Its seems to me that increasing numbers are actually just leasing their car. Given that we know the average car is only used 5% of the time it surely makes more sense to lease the car you need when you need it. 

The problem is the status value of having a car parked outside your house. This is a huge obstacle to moving to more efficient car use. I think that driverless cars probably solves this problem for most.

Also, whilst the motor industry seems to be suggesting that in the future we'll all just drive EV cars. What do we think the entry price for an EV will be? (I'd like to know what the scrap value on a battery is? I have seen it suggested that actually when the car dies we'll be using the batteries in the home to store our solar power) I just can't can't imagine that there will ever be cheap (first) cars, so increasing numbers will have to buy on finance which will just exagerate these numbers.

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argiebarge replied to IanMK | 1 year ago
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All valid points. EV's feel a way off for the masses as the price of entry and lack of public chargers is an issue. There were a few articles floating around last year about how at busy times chargers simply werent available if you were away from home.

re: the status symbol the car outside my house definitely doesnt help in that regard! Would be much better if next door parked out front of mine.

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kil0ran replied to argiebarge | 1 year ago
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Public chargers are getting built at 25% of the rate necessary to get everything in place for 2030. In short, without radical investment and changes to planning laws we ain't gonna get there. Over the Christmas break I saw several examples of massive queues for chargers at motorway services. Perhaps this might actually be a way of weaning people off private vehicle ownership as it would make other long distance options (coach, rail) more attractive and cheaper. If you're taking the family on a trip and you stop at a motorway services for a couple of hours it's inevitable you're going to end up chucking a fair chunk of change at your fast food/coffee shop of choice. I'd argue that erodes any saving over using an ICE vehicle for the same journey. Currently electric only really makes sense for (a) short regular journeys and (b) if you have a driveway to charge the vehicle. This time last year I bought what I expect to be our last ICE car because the sums didn't add up for electric. That was before massive energy price rises hit so I can't imagine electric works for most users at the moment.

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nosferatu1001 replied to IanMK | 1 year ago
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Next gen battery tech should really reduce the price point - twice the energy density and cheaper components.  
 

renting a car for when you need it is a good idea but suffers the density issue, and that dealing with rental companies sucks. 

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kil0ran replied to nosferatu1001 | 1 year ago
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I think the way forward is to have cars rentable like bike hire. Enterprise run a scheme like this, probably some others do too (e.g. Zipcar). We have a big family estate which gets used sparingly, mainly for holidays and longer journeys. If I could walk over to the town car park and wave my credit card at a similar vehicle when I wanted it, and pay a fixed cost per mile (fuel included) I'd probably do that. As it is the route I've taken is to own a classic car for this purpose so there's no capital cost. If I didn't have that option I don't think I'd consider spanging £25k on a sparingly-used big car, that's an awful lot of hire fees.

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quiff replied to kil0ran | 1 year ago
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My city has Enterprise Car Club, and there are a number of their cars on-street within a very short walk of me. I very seldom use our car now, so it should be viable for me, and I know I should try it out. But my quick calculations suggest that the annual cost for our occasional use, plus a regular 2 week holiday car hire, would be twice as much as running my 15 year old Golf (and that's in a year with higher than usual servicing costs)

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kil0ran replied to quiff | 1 year ago
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The fact you have a 15yo Golf means you're not the target market. Same as I'm not with the Volvo 940. I may still try it, not least because I still like driving different cars, mainly so I can bitch about how utterly dull and soulless modern cars are (even compared to a Mk5 Golf which lets face it is not VW's finest hour  1

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quiff replied to kil0ran | 1 year ago
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kil0ran wrote:

The fact you have a 15yo Golf means you're not the target market.... Same as I'm not with the Volvo 940. I may still try it, not least because I still like driving different cars, mainly so I can bitch about how utterly dull and soulless modern cars are (even compared to a Mk5 Golf which lets face it is not VW's finest hour  1

No, I'm not the target market - but I am exactly the sort of person who should be suited to a car club - city dweller, occasional use (3,000 miles last year). It seems ludicrous that it's cheaper to keep a private car which sits unused 95%+ of the time. Of course, if the Golf becomes uneconomic to repair, then car club costs will look more favourable compared to shelling out on a new (used) car. (Re: Mk5, I'm sure this doesn't trickle down to my TSi, but the GTi seems to have garnered a bit of a petrolhead following compared to its successors. I'm sure it wasn't that well thought of at the time.)            

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Jetmans Dad replied to IanMK | 1 year ago
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IanMK wrote:

Its seems to me that increasing numbers are actually just leasing their car. Given that we know the average car is only used 5% of the time it surely makes more sense to lease the car you need when you need it. 

That's true, but the type of leasing that is taking off is simply a different form of "ownership". You pay a monthly fee to the leasing company and the car is your for the duration of the lease (3-4 years usually). It lives in your drive/street permanently just like a car you owned would. 

People lease because they can pay £300 per month for a brand new SUV rather than having to shell out £30,000+. At the end they can pay a balance to keep it or give it back and get another. 

Very few people simply rent a car when they need one rather than having permanent use of one. 

My wife and I have two cars, and would love to drop the bigger one and just rent one when we needed it (we often lug a stage piano and PA around with us), but can't always car share to work and the thought of regularly dealing with a rental company gives me a migraine. 

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kil0ran replied to IanMK | 1 year ago
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I'd love a car-as-a-service option. Runabout for the week, bigger car for the weekend. My small rural town has a large long-stay car park which is full throughout the day. Imagine if those cars were pool cars - driven there to start work at 9am, and then used throughout the day by others.

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hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
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I was reading in the BristolPost the other day about the new Clean Air Zone and it transpires that the government imposes strict rules about how Bristol City Council can spend the fines - it all has to be prioritised for helping people to buy electric cars.

The problem is that the oil/car industry is now so rich and powerful that we can't even stop them from destroying our planet as all our 'leaders' are fully in their pockets.

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
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hawkinspeter wrote:

I was reading in the BristolPost the other day about the new Clean Air Zone and it transpires that the government imposes strict rules about how Bristol City Council can spend the fines - it all has to be prioritised for helping people to buy electric cars.

The problem is that the oil/car industry is now so rich and powerful that we can't even stop them from destroying our planet as all our 'leaders' are fully in their pockets.

Does that mean giving (some) money to help poorer people buy EVs, or does it mean building the EV charging infrastructure (so that people who might not be able to afford to buy either a newer ICE car or an EV are paying the fees and helping to subsidise the people who already can afford an EV?).

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
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Yes - the only solution to the car / energy industry taking all our money to help us destroy the planet with ICE vehicles is pay them more money to help us trash different parts of the environment with emit (less) elsewhere vehicles...

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like
brooksby wrote:

Does that mean giving (some) money to help poorer people buy EVs, or does it mean building the EV charging infrastructure (so that people who might not be able to afford to buy either a newer ICE car or an EV are paying the fees and helping to subsidise the people who already can afford an EV?).

Found the article: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristols-clean-air-zone-agreement-7975260

Quote:

The Government and Bristol City Council has agreed a list of priorities that the CAZ money will be spent on, in order.

The first is: “Supporting the delivery of the ambitions of the Scheme and promoting cleaner air by offering packages for non-compliant vehicles to upgrade or retrofit their vehicles to meet the standards required by the Scheme.”

The council secured a £43 million package of money from the Department for Transport in the first place for setting up the Clean Air Zone and putting it towards grants and loans for people who want to change their vehicles.

The third priority after paying for costs of running the CAZ and the financial incentives to get people to change their vehicles is, according to the Government agreement: “Supporting active travel and incentivising public transport use”.

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Patrick9-32 | 1 year ago
3 likes

If this data holds somewhat true for the nation as a whole you are looking at between £300,000,000,000 and £400,000,000,000 of personal spending on running and maintenance of motor vehicles. 

Imagine the public transport network you could build with that kind of budget. 

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mitsky | 1 year ago
2 likes

I haven't done the numbers, but I'm assuming that the average basic running costs of motor vehicle ownership far outweigh that of a bike.
Sound like Rishi Sunak's plan to get everyone to learn more maths is a good idea.

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Griff500 replied to mitsky | 1 year ago
4 likes
mitsky wrote:

Sound like Rishi Sunak's plan to get everyone to learn more maths is a good idea.

I understood Sunak's plan to increase maths education had been scrapped, when somebody pointed out it could lead to increased division

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