UK Government Announces Plans for Cycling Grants
On 27 July 2020, the UK government announced plans for a £2 billion scheme that will promote cycling across the nation.
This comes after months of lobbying by the Bicycle Association towards improving government support for the industry; for the benefits that cycling offers to reducing congestion, helping the environment and improving public health. But the announcement is also closely related to the sharp uptake of cycling seen during lockdown. As a result of having more free time and limited need for traditional transportation, Britons have increasingly taken up cycling as a form of stress relief, exercise and as a way of getting around; with regular biker usage between March and July having doubled from 6% to 12%.
Among the government's proposed initiatives were vouchers to be used on bike repairs, to encourage lapsed cyclists back onto the roads. When the first 50,000 of these vouchers were released digitally at 11:45pm on July 28th, the site crashed in its first minute due to such high demand. Hopefully future rounds will accommodate for how eager Britons are to get back on their bikes.
Announced also were long-term plans for redesigning towns and city centres, allowing for thousands of miles of new cycle lanes, more bike racks, as well as restricting the use of motor vehicles in these areas. In addition, the creation of the first zero-emission city centre was proposed, as well as a dozen 'mini-Hollands' to be built, where bikes will dominate. Already the congestion charge in London has been temporarily increased, as part of restricting population density in the capital to battle coronavirus, but it is highly likely this measure will stay in place to further encourage bike-users in the city.
Changing attitudes has been at the crux of this initiative; in particular making people feel safer cycling on the roads. Free cycling lessons will be provided for both adults and children, alongside a strengthening of the Highway Code to enforce better driving etiquette toward cyclists, and an improving of safety standards for lorries. Bike theft will also be tackled more harshly, which has perhaps previously dissuaded many would-be cyclists from splashing out on a premium model.
Similar schemes have been rolled out in previous years, but the size of the budget here is unprecedented. Of particular importance is the government subsidy for e-bikes, which offers a third off the price.
This is following the announcement of a further tax break for MPs wanting to cycle to work, which has been extended from £1,000 to £2,500 to accommodate for the generally higher price of e-bikes. Now figures like Sadiq Khan have foregone the government car for an e-bike, and have joined the likes of e-bike early adopter, Matt Western. But the public subsidy is most significant for several reasons.
As a 2019 report by the Bicycle Association outlined, the stronger uptake of e-bikes in Europe over recent years has not been the result of gradual adoption but by financial incentive, similar to what the UK is planning to roll out now. Not only is this good for cycling industry, but a huge step forward for tackling the twin public health and environmental crises.
E-Bikes are used generally for longer trips than conventional bicycles, and more often, so their average calorific expenditure is higher. Additionally, they are a more economical method of promoting alternative transport. For example, the cost per purchase of an e-bike is less than one tenth of an electric car, and would also reduce carbon emissions. Likewise, it is believed that, on average, half of all trips completed by e-bike replace those that would otherwise have been by car. This means less congestion, less pollutants and less noise, which is especially important in city centres.
The benefits of lockdown to the environment from reduced car usage were conspicuous. As this proposal moves forward, and cycling continues to be promoted as a safe, sustainable and fun form of transportation, hopefully a return to these conditions might be seen.