The government must show more leadership in encouraging people to embrace forms of active travel like walking and cycling, a committee of MPs has said.
In a new report, the Transport Select Committee has called for ministers to set more ambitious targets for active travel, saying it will boost health and local economies and help the UK hit its environmental targets.
The committee has also urged the government to give local authorities extra funding for active travel, saying a lack of ring-fenced funding leaves councils reluctant to prioritise walking and cycling projects.
Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: ‘We know that getting active by walking and cycling as part of our daily routine is good for us. It’s good for our health and saves on the cost of healthcare. It can reduce congestion, improve air quality, increase productivity and drive footfall in our town centres.
‘The government must stand up for active travel. It must show real leadership by setting ambitious targets for cycling and especially walking. It must give local authorities the support and funding they need to engage the public and make active travel a priority in their areas.’
The report, Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England, welcomed the government’s current Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which aims to increase levels of walking and cycling and make them the natural choice for short journeys.
Currently only 2% of journeys between one or two miles in the UK are made by bike, with surveys showing that would-be cyclists feel unsafe due to a lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure.
However, the committee accused the strategy’s current targets of not being ‘ambitious enough’, urging the government to revise it and set bolder targets, especially for increasing walking.
The report added that current funding for active travel is not only ‘too piecemeal and complex’ but also is not ring-fenced, leaving it unprotected from other uses.
While the government says it will invest £2bn into active travel in this parliament, MPs pointed out that this equates to only £400m a year – just 1.5% of transport spending in England, and a ‘tiny sum’ compared with spending on other forms of transport.
Ministers should create a dedicated funding stream for active travel, as well as propose a long-term funding settlement for walking and cycling that will increase over time, the committee said.
‘This would give the signals necessary for local authorities to make active travel a priority,’ the report read.
The report was welcomed by the Urban Transport Group, who said the forthcoming Spending Review will provide a ‘key test’ of the government’s commitment to active travel.
The Department for Transport said the benefits of walking and cycling are ‘clear to see’, adding that the government has already doubled investment on active travel between 2015 and 2020.
‘We continue to look at ambitious plans to encourage more people to travel on foot or by bike as we refresh our strategy and look to maximise funding beyond 2020,’ a DfT spokesperson said.
Photo Credit – Tejvan Pettinger