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Active travel: Government programme off-track as funding reductions hold back progress

3 November 2023

  • Progress disappointingly slow on increasing rates of active travel by 2025
  • £2.3bn spent on active travel by DfT for unclear impact and benefit

The Government is not on track to meet objectives to increase rates of active travel by 2025. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warns that funding cuts made this year by the Department for Transport (DfT) could hold back objectives to increase active travel, including cycling and walking. The report further warns that the impact of £2.3bn in funding for active travel infrastructure remains unclear.

DfT’s efforts to increase active travel have seen disappointingly slow progress. Objectives include a doubling of cycling rates, and a 6 percentage point increase in the proportion of children walking to school. There has been no sustained increase in cycling rates, and fewer children now walk to school than when targets were set. In March 2023, DfT announced a £233m reduction in dedicated active travel funding up to April 2025. The progress of Active travel objectives could be affected by funding reductions, despite DfT’s suggestion that funding has not been a key issue in its failure to achieve targets.

The report also warns that the Government has not done enough to understand the impact and benefits of the £2.3bn in taxpayers’ money it has spent on active travel infrastructure between 2016 and 2021. Too little is known about the quality of the infrastructure that has been built. DfT has an incomplete understanding of what has been built because the majority of schemes have cost less than the amount required to monitor or evaluate them. The PAC is calling on DfT to lay out its plans to evaluate active travel interventions by December.

The report calls for local authorities to be provided with greater certainty about the funding available for active travel to enable them to invest in and deliver long-term, ambitious active travel interventions. The PAC’s inquiry heard that councils are being held back from delivering successful interventions by considerable uncertainty in available funding, which is available through multiple routes, often short-term, and provided at late notice.

DfT has also not yet taken essential steps to properly integrate active travel into the public transport network, for example enabling people to safely walk to bus stops or take their bike on the bus. The PAC is concerned that a lack of available or secure bike parking, or safe paths, may discourage people from cycling or walking part of a journey.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Government itself estimates that every pound invested in active travel reaps around £4.30 in benefits, in health, in air quality, in decarbonisation. If true, these are significant levels of potential value for taxpayers’ money to be realised. But close monitoring is required to understand what works and why in active travel investment, and coherence and stability of funding is crucial should these schemes be given a chance to succeed. Our inquiry found these sadly lacking.

The Government’s executive agency Active Travel England is off to a good start, but needs firm backing for it to maintain momentum. Local authorities also require closer working and support to deliver successful schemes. Billions in taxpayers’ money appears to have been parachuted in by DfT on active travel without its impact properly tracked. Without the evidence-based, collaborative and holistic approach now needed, the Government’s ambitions in this area are likely to continue to go into reverse gear.”

Further information

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