Active travel cuts are deeply concerning – but we can still make the most of what we have
We were alarmed to hear of UK Government’s intention to cut spending on active travel, including a two-thirds cut to promised capital investment in infrastructure from £308 million to just £100 million for the next two years.
At the same time, the government reiterated ambitious targets for active travel in guidance published last week. These include 46% of short urban trips in England to be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2025, rising to 50% by 2030, and 55% of primary school children to be walking to school by the end of next year. It is hard to reconcile these targets with a simultaneous slashing of the budget.
But despite these cuts, local authorities can still do much for active travel. Existing pockets of revenue funding provide great opportunities to encourage better use of existing infrastructures, particularly where there have already been improvements.
In Leicestershire, for example, BetterPoints behaviour change programmes have successfully reduced the number of single-occupancy car journeys and saved thousands of kilogrammes of CO2 emissions.
At the same time, enormous amounts of data are generated that provide invaluable insights for evaluating infrastructure design, such as popular routes and pinch-points. BetterPoints programmes can also be set up for counterfactual impact evaluations.
These insights are important. Our interventions work well to change behaviour while they are in place, but long-term, large-scale behaviour change to active and sustainable travel requires better infrastructure. People are much less likely to change their behaviour if the alternatives are not at least as comfortable, convenient and safe as their current preferences.
As Chris Boardman, the National Active Travel Commissioner, said earlier this year: ‘If we want millions more people to walk, wheel and cycle to schools, shops and workplaces, we need to give them what they need to make the switch’.
According to the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, active travel contributed £36.5 billion to the UK economy in 2021, taking 14.6 million cars off the road and saving 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
We join Sustrans and others in imploring the government to rethink its cuts to the active travel budget. In the meantime, a lot can still be done to make the best of what there is.