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Young will be left behind unless their transport needs are met, says new report from Sustrans and UWE

16-24s rely less on cars and use range of travel options, including cycling – but miss out on work, study and social opportunities

New research from Sustrans and the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol says that young people will be left behind and denied access to work and educational opportunities, as well as social events, unless their needs are taken into account when planning transport policy.

The findings come at a time when there has been a sharp fall in the number of young people obtaining a full driving licence, with just one in four of those aged 17-20 currently doing so, compared to half of the same age group around 30 years ago.

The Sustrans and UWE Bristol research, which was funded by the Health Foundation, focused on people aged 16-24 and found that they make 21 per cent fewer trips than other working age adults, ie 25-64s, and that the gap has widened during the past two decades.

Their report, Transport to Thrive: Why we shouldn’t ignore the transport needs of young people, which they describe as “groundbreaking,” with the transport needs of this age cohort not previously examined in such detail, highlights the barriers that young people face in their work, study and social lives as a result of poor transport provision.

It says there is a risk of economic and social exclusion for young people without access to a car, good public transport, or cycling, with availability and cost of transport cited as the two principal barriers to travel, with a number of people interviewed citing one or both of those factors as having prevented them from pursuing work experience opportunities or taking up employment.

The report, which notes that young people are less likely than older age groups to rely on a car and instead use a range of travel options including public transport and cycling, urges policymakers to:

1 – Ensure that the needs of young people are better recognised in transport planning
2 – Provide long term dedicated investment for walking, cycling and public transport and
3 – Help young people to walk, cycle, use public transport and use shared mobility.

> Removal of bike lanes hits the young the hardest, says Cycling UK

Sustrans’ head of policy, Tim Burns, commented: “This report shows national and local transport policies are denying young people opportunities to education and work. This has a knock-on effect on our future economy and in our communities, which will be profoundly damaging.

“Investment will be key to removing barriers, especially those identified by young people, including improving the quality of public transport, and access to cycles and safe cycle routes.”

Dr Kiron Chatterjee, Professor of Travel Behaviour at the UWE Bristol added: “There has been little research on the ways that young people manage to get around using the transport system and the barriers they experience.

“This report is a crucial step in showing how young people, a key demographic for everyone’s hopes of achieving net zero, are affected by the transport system in place. The situation for young people is worsening and we need to see a change in transport policy that prevents further decline. The findings make the way forward very clear.”

The findings have been published shortly after figures from the Department for Transport revealed that the vast majority of young people are putting off trying to obtain a full driving licence, whether for lifestyle reasons, cost, or a mixture of both.

Three decades ago, around half of people aged 17-20 had a full driving licence, but that has now fallen to around a quarter.

According to The Times, one of the chief reasons for deferring the decision is the rising cost of motoring, including driving lessons, while younger drivers also exposed to higher insurance premiums due to the increased risks associated with that age group.

But as the Sustrans report highlights, awareness of the environmental impact of driving is also a factor influencing many, who choose to use other means of getting around.

Notwithstanding the fall in interest in driving among the younger generation, a petition currently hosted on the UK Parliament’s website is urging for the legal driving age to be reduced from 17 to 15 or 16, and has currently amassed more than 95,000 signatures.

Matteo Joseph Shirley, who created the petition in June, wrote: “I would like the Government to change the legal driving age to 15 because I believe that 15 and 16 year olds can be trusted to drive a car and should be able to get a driving licence. I belief the current situation is unfair, and inconsistent with the Equality Act 2010.”

Should the petition reach 100,000 signatures by the time it closes on 27 December, it will be considered for debate by the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee.

However, in its response to the petition once it had passed 10,000 signatures, the government said in October that it “has no current plans to lower the legal driving age. This is because young drivers remain as one of the highest fatality groups.”

The government added that “in terms of population and in the number of miles driven, 17-24-year-olds remain as one of the highest road casualty risk groups, especially male car drivers,” and that “decisions on the minimum driving age requirements have been taken and maintained based on years of detailed evidence.” 

Simon joined 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.

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chrisonabike | 7 months ago

More chicken and egg problems / self-reinforcing systems.

We have to drive our children to school because they can't walk to school (and certainly can't cycle) because it's too dangerous!  Why - oh, all the people driving their children to school...

Children can't cycle because there are no safe spaces separated from motor vehicles (and pavement cycling is a menace to pedestrians...) and nowhere safe for them to leave their bikes.  We don't change that because no children cycle.

Children can't walk or cycle to school because it's too far, and no-one has time to supervise several children going to schools several miles from your home.  And what happens when one goes to a different school?  It makes sense for us to centralise schools (economies of scale).  And for parents to pick the best schools you can reach by car.  Children can't take the bus - we're worried about them getting lost / strangers - because young kids don't take buses.  Anyway buses don't go from near us to near a school.  There's little demand for decent public transport because everyone drives.

Children can't walk or cycle in the rain / snow / sun because they might fall over / get cold / sweaty / wet / dirty.

Children can't carry sports equipment without a car.  They need to have lots of accessories, because they take part in lots of activities because we can drive them there (with any amount of equipment) in our cars.  You can't carry your kids' longbows on a bike or bus!

We can't afford to keep buying bikes for our children.  We are already paying so much to have a car.  Plus bikes get stolen - especially when we don't provide any safe places to store them at destinations.

Meanwhile in Finland...

cyclisto replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago

I would trade all the fancy activities for kids of the world if there were safe segregated infrastructure where kids could cycle to school and then take care of their own bicycle.

Just think for it a little. Think in how good physical condition they would get and learn to have some basic responsibilities.

chrisonabike replied to cyclisto | 7 months ago
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Amen.  Who are the happiest children in the world (according to UNICEF, 2017)?  Dutch children.  Why?  Obviously lots of reasons (here's another article) but "independence" features - and "independent mobility" would be a major part of that.

Actually, all "cycle campaigns" should first and foremost be campaigning for the freedom of children to cycle.  (We can add in the elderly and those with disabilities also).

Why?  This is the most effective argument with most people and is where we can gain the maximum long-term benefit to society (not just "makes us money").  We need to look beyond "commuters"!

Children don't just regularly cycle to school in NL.  They cycle to access before / after school activities such as sports.  They cycle to events.  They cycle socially, with their families or together with their friends.

This last freedom is almost completely absent from cycling in the UK.  It's not just that we don't provide for it but we actively deny it to cyclists (uniquely of all transport modes).  Hence the "but two abreast!" concerns, and our skinny "shared use" paths.

chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 7 months ago
1 like

Actually, any cycle campaign should be first and foremost for the right of children to cycle.  This engages with the largest audience / is the most persuasive, plus this is where we can get the most benefits to society long-term.  (Not just "provide for cycle commuters because that facilitiates business, which makes money").

We can add in the elderly / those with disabilities also of course.

However - this requires a concept which seems not just alien but something people in the UK actively seek to prevent cyclists doing - side-by-side social cycling.  Side-by-side travel being something so natural to humans we provide for it in every other transport mode...

It's not just about the school run either - in NL kids cycle to pre- and post- school activities e.g. sports, to events, they cycle socially with family and friends...

Patrick9-32 | 7 months ago

We made driving the only option. -> We realised driving was killing us. -> We made driving more expensive to put people off driving. -> We had a recession. ->Young people can't afford to drive and there are no viable alternatives so young people don't go places and do things. 

Boomer: Its them darn phones...

Dnnnnnn replied to Patrick9-32 | 7 months ago

Agreed, and lots more reasons besides - more of that age group in higher education (less need of, and less money for, driving). Possibly less money for young adults in general - wages for young people have fallen behind and for those who've left home, rents have eaten up a bigger share.

Phones too - you don't need to leave home to connect with friends or be entertained. We all connect across a far greater area these days by - ironically - not moving anywhere.

There's good and bad in these trends but it does seem to present an(other) opportunity for long-term policy to shift to more active travel. Except that... well, there aren't many Tory votes to be won among the young, and "long-term policy"... well, no interest to any party in that.

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