England's travel habits: was 2015 déjà vu for cycling?

2015 travel habits in England

England's travel habits: was 2015 déjà vu for cycling?

People in England made fewer trips on average than ever recorded in 2015, according to the Department for Transport’s (DfT) annual travel habit survey, but it’s largely déjà vu for cycling.

The latest annual National Travel Survey (NTS), which is based on travel diaries from around 7,000 households covering about 18,000 people of all ages, reveals that on average individuals made 914 trips each in 2015, 180 fewer than in 1995/97 and the lowest on record. Cycling’s share of these trips, however, has been dancing around the 2% mark throughout.

Apart from a decline in walking over the years, nothing much else has changed, with car travel accounting for around 63-64% of trips per person on average since 2003.

On cycling specifically, the average trip length remains at around three miles; although males made slightly fewer cycle trips in 2015 than they did the year before, it continues to be around three times as many as females do (this is despite the fact that, overall, women make more trips a year than men on average); and there’s been hardly any change in the percentage of children aged 5-16 usually cycling to school (2%), although usually walking to school has declined a little (43% down from 45%).

It’s hard to say whether a string of ‘slight drops’ between 2014 and 2015 is a matter of concern given how low the levels of cycling already are (and, indeed, how small the NTS sample is), but this isn't to say there's any room for complacency.

For example, 7% of people said they cycled three or more times a week last year, as opposed to 8% in 2014. The figures also suggest that people didn’t use their cycle as their ‘main mode’ for quite as many trips, but the drop was only from 18 in 2014 to 17 in 2015, implying that the fall from 17 in 2012 to 14 in 2013 wasn’t anything much to worry about. When asked about using cycles for parts of a journey (i.e. rather than how often they used a cycle as their main way of getting somewhere), another slight drop was evident - 18 ‘stages’ a year in 2015, as opposed to 19 in 2014.

The average number of miles cycled per person during the whole year went down too: 53 in 2015, as opposed to 58 in 2014, but this is still more impressive than the 46 miles per person per year reported for 1995/97. Another notable change, perhaps, is the fact that commuting distances seem to be growing - up from 20 miles in 2014 to 22 in 2015. In fact, commuting and leisure always accounts for more trips than any other purpose, including shopping and education, possibly indicating that the appeal of cycling isn't as strong for people nipping to the supermarket, or for students off to college. Clearly, there's still some way to go before we truly 'normalise' it.  

As in previous years, more people said they usually cycled ‘mainly on the road’ in 2015 than ‘mainly on pavements, cycle paths or cycle lanes that were not part of a road’ - the share was 38% and 29% respectively. However, 19% fewer people said they usually cycled on the road than they did in 2002, while around 21% more now prefer pavements, cycle paths and lanes etc. This may well reflect the alarming findings of the DfT's public attitudes towards transport survey, namely that around 64% of people in Britain agree that “it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the road”. Also, cycling in parks, open country or private land has gone up by a whole 64% since 2002.

Cycling also seems (as ever) to be more popular with people in managerial/professional and ‘routine and manual’ occupations than it does with any other group of workers (i.e. those in ‘intermediate’ jobs or those who have never worked or are long-term unemployed). On the other hand, while those in the higher income quintiles (third and up) also make more cycle trips, people at the ‘lowest real income level’ are not far behind.

Another source of cycle use data is roadside traffic counts, which don't and can't look at who's cycling, how far or why. These counts, however, have by and large reported higher and steadier growth in cycle use since 2000 than the NTS would suggest. According to the latest published earlier this year, the number of miles cycled in 2015 was around 10% higher than the 2007-11 average. Estimates for 2014 (3.5 billion vehicle miles) have been revised upwards since they were first published in 2015, suggesting a very healthy c.13% increase on 2013 (3.1 billion vehicle miles). This makes figures for 2015 look less healthy at 3.2 billion vehicle miles, but it remains to be seen whether these figures will be revised too at some point, and if this is a reversal of the previous upward trend.

Yet another statistical collection is Sport England's annual Active People Survey, which produces the only national scale annual data available on walking and cycling levels in different local authorities. While some areas are doing relatively well - in Cambridge, for example, 39% of adults are cycling at least three times a week - the latest results suggest that overall cycle use in England is flat-lining.

It is thus, unfortunately, very hard to see any spark whatsoever of our long-awaited 'cycling revolution' in any traffic or travel figures at all. We therefore continue to campaign for adequate investment through the final Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (due soon, we understand). Without serious action, the strategy will never reach its long-term goals for cycling and walking to become a normal part of everyday life by 2040; and to double cycling, where cycling activity is measured as the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025.

The collaborative national Space for Cycling campaign, led by Cycling UK, is also urging local politicians to create the conditions where anyone can cycle anywhere. Do come along to one of our roadshows and make things happen at last.   

Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Join Cycling UK to help us change lives and communities through cycling
Join Cycling UK to help us change lives and communities through cycling
Membership gives you peace of mind insurance, discounts in cycle shops, rides & routes