Cycle commuter off to work
National Travel Survey 2014: a glimmer of good news for cycling

England's travel habits: is cycling making a small comeback?

From a cycling perspective, the latest figures on England’s travel habits suggest a small revival in cycle trips may be underway, even though overall travel is declining. The average person made more cycle trips in 2014 than in 2013, as well as cycling more miles.

Specifically, the average person in England last year cycled: 18 trips (14 in 2013); 19 stages (15 in 2013, not far short of the 20 they cycled in 1995/97); and 58 miles (49 in 2013, more than the 46 they rode in 1995/97).

(N.B. cycling to the train station counts as a 'stage', but would only be part of a longer 'trip'.).

The figures come from the National Travel Survey (NTS), which is based on travel diary surveys from individuals, rather than roadside counts (n.b. the roadside count data have suggested higher and steadier growth in cycle use since 2000, compared with NTS). NTS therefore provides information not just about total traffic volumes for each transport mode, but also who is making journeys and for what purposes - e.g. it tells us about different travel patterns among males and females from different age groups. .

There is also an interesting new NTS factsheet on cycling. Other factsheets cover school, work and leisure travel, as well as an intriguing one showing changes since the NTS began 50 years ago.

Overall travel demand has been declining steadily for years - see graphic. However the number of trips, stages and mileage travelled by car or van showed small increases in 2014 over 2013, though they are still below their 1995/97 levels.  

As for cycling, NTS data have in recent years suggested increases in trips by young to middle-aged males, and for commuting and recreational purposes, while shopping and school trips have been declining.  These kinds of trips are typically shorter and less male-dominated.

So the fact that the average cycle trip length dropped slightly last year from 3.3 to 3.1 miles isn't necessarily bad news. On the contrary, there seems to have been a small increase in cycling for school journeys. People seem to be making more cycle commute trips too.

The increase in cycle mileage is particularly interesting in road safety terms. If the number of miles cycled rises more steeply than the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured, it suggests that the risk of cycling per mile is decreasing. This does seem to be the case for 2014: the number of miles cycled per person on average went up by 18% from the year before, whereas the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) went up by much less at 8%.

Happily, people do seem to be have spent more time out on their bikes last year: seven hours on average in 2014 - it’s been either five or six hours since 1995. Also, 8% of people - or about 4.3 million - cycled three or more times a week (7% in 2013).

Less encouraging, though, is the news that, in terms of our overall travel habits, we appear to be covering a lot more miles for very little gain. Since 1965, the number of trips and the time spent travelling has hardly changed, yet the distance has gone up by 71%! The figures also show that women make more trips than men, but men travel 25% further.

For cycling though, the results for 2014 look somewhat positive, but we are talking about small numbers. Long-term trends are more telling than year-on-year results, so we’re hoping to see the same upward trends in 2015 too.

Cherry Allan