A response from Cycling UK to the Transport Committee’s inquiry on





Cycling UK was founded in 1878 and has over 70,000 members. Historically known as ‘CTC’ or the ‘Cyclists’ Touring Club’, Cycling UK’s central charitable mission is to make cycling a safe, accessible, enjoyable and ‘normal’ activity for people of all ages and abilities. Our interests cover cycling both as a form of day-to-day transport and as a leisure activity, which can deliver health, economic, environmental, safety and quality of life benefits, both for individuals and society.


We strongly welcome this inquiry. We recognise that is prompted by concerns that replacing petrol and diesel with electrically-powered vehicles, though environmentally beneficial, will deprive the Treasury of fuel duty revenue. However the question is not simply how to replace this revenue, but how to do so in a way that is politically acceptable and which, crucially, supports the wider aims of transport decarbonisation and motor traffic reduction.


We propose 3 recommendations:



1.      Reducing road traffic demand, supporting healthy and sustainable transport


Global impacts


The Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which is now expected in Spring 2021, was preceded by the publication last March ofDecarbonising Transport: setting the challenge’. Cycling UK strongly welcomed its 6-point vision for a zero-emissions transport system, and particularly its stated aim that: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less…”


Greenhouse gas emissions by sector 1990-2018 (source: Committee on Climate Change (2020), p72)


The UK’s territorial emissions of CO2 in 2018 (i.e. excluding international aviation and shipping) amounted to 365.7Mt. Transport accounted for 136.8Mt of CO2 emissions by end user, i.e. 37.4% of all domestic CO2 emissions. Road transport was responsible for 123.3Mt of CO2 emissions (i.e. 90% of total domestic transport emissions, and 33% of all territorial emissions). Cars accounted for 74.8Mt of these emissions.[1]


While other sectors (notably energy) have made good progress in reducing greenhouse gases, the transport sector’s emissions have changed little since 1990. Transport’s share of total greenhouse gas emissions (by end user) has therefore increased steadily, from 18% in 1990 to 31% in 2018.[2]


In a briefing for Friends of the Earth (published in 2019), consultancy Transport for Quality of Life (TQL) estimated that, to be on course for a ‘net zero’ economy by 2045 (i.e. 5 years before the Government’s subsequently-adopted target date), motor traffic will need to be reduced by 2030 by at least 20% – and by up to 60% under more pessimistic assumptions about how quickly we can decarbonise our vehicles and their power supply. Cycling UK is pleased that the Government has since opted to bring forward the date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2030. However, there are several reasons why we also need fewer cars, not just newer cars.


Other impacts


Other compelling reasons to reduce our dependence on motorised travel include:



In response to the Government’s recent consultation on its Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Cycling UK’s response (see full and summary versions)[10] therefore calls for policies that:



We note that the Scottish Government has recently proposed setting a target to reduce car traffic by 20% by 2030 (based on 2019 levels).


Overall demand reduction: fuel duty


In terms of tackling greenhouse gas emissions, the most important policy tool is fuel duty, as it relates directly to fuel consumption and thus to CO2 emissions.


Fuel duty has been frozen each year since 2011. As a result, pump prices were estimated to be 13% lower in 2018 than they otherwise would have been. Road traffic was therefore 4% higher – resulting in an extra 4.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions (as well as increased NOx and PM10s) – while public transport use was between 1.3% and 3.9% lower. It also cost the Treasury around £46bn in lost fuel duty revenue over that period.


Paradoxically though, success in decarbonising transport could worsen this loss of fuel duty revenue, by between £9bn and £23bn compared with the Treasury’s projections.


Local demand reduction: Private non-residential or workplace parking levies


Nottingham City Council has applied a workplace parking levy since 2012, which has successfully restrained traffic, while also yielding funding for the city’s tram system. However, a wider-ranging levy on all private non-residential parking (e.g. including out-of-town superstores as well as business parks) could be even more effective in reducing demand for travel to car-dependent locations, while also giving councils a means of reviving their high streets. Incentivising people to make more local journeys would in turn boost walking, cycling and public transport use.


Other measures for reducing demand or generating revenues for sustainable transport


A Transport for Quality of Life (TQL) report for Friends of the Earth found that:



Public acceptability


Since 2007, there has been a sea-change in the public’s willingness to support road user charging – though there are entirely understandable concerns that it should be done for the right reasons.


In December 2020, Ipsos Mori surveyed the public’s willingness to support schemes “that charge road users to drive in and around certain towns and cities … to reduce congestion and improve the local environment … or to invest in transport”. The overall result was that 62% supported these schemes in principle (with 25% supporting them strongly), while only 21% opposed them (8% strongly). These levels of support changed little if only car drivers’ opinions were considered: 60% voiced support and only 22% were opposed.


These results are markedly different to what Ipsos Mori found when it asked the same questions in 2007. At that time, support was just 33% (compared with 62% now), and opposition was 48% (it is now only 21%).


However support in principle for these schemes could be increased, or reduced, depending on how the revenues were raised. The 2020 survey found that support dropped from 62% to 39% (and opposition increased from 21% to 34%) if the revenues were returned to the road user through lower ‘road tax’ [sic]. Conversely, support increased, and opposition fell, if the revenues were used to improve public transport (64% support, 17% opposition), tackle climate change (63% support, 17% opposition), or improve air quality (65% support, 14% opposition). Support was maximised (69%, with just 14% opposed) if higher charges were levied on the most polluting vehicles.


Former Chancellor George Osborne decided to hypothecate the revenues from vehicle excise duty to support road building. The Ipsos Mori data suggest that there would be significantly higher public support for using road user charging revenues (however they were raised) to support sustainable transport instead.


The Government should adopt a package of traffic restraint measures that seeks to reduce demand for both longer-distance and urban travel, thereby aiming to tackle both the local and global impacts of motorised traffic, while earmarking the proceeds to improve the provision of (and support the use of) healthy and sustainable alternatives.


2.      Boosting access to pedal cycles, including ‘e-bikes’


In July 2020, the Government issued ‘Gear Change’, its vision for the future of cycling and walking. Cycling UK strongly supports its vision (though we remain concerned that the Government has allocated only a fraction of the funding needed to achieve its admirable objectives). One of its commitments was to Establish a national electrically-assisted bike support programme.” It noted, correctly, that e-bikes “are particularly useful for people who, for example, need to ride in business clothes without breaking sweat, or to ride up hills, or to travel long distance, who are older or less fit, or who are otherwise put off by the physical effort of an ordinary bike. As such, they could be hugely important in our goal of bringing non-traditional groups to cycling including older and disabled people.”


So far though, no funding has been announced for this, nor any details of how the scheme will work, nor any timescales for implementing it.


The European market for e-bikes grew nearly 12-fold from 2006 to 2014 (from 98K to 1,139K units annually). Yet the UK’s e-bike market is very under-developed, compared with countries like the Netherlands (where e-bikes account for 21% of bike sales) or Belgium (50% of sales). Hence there is a very strong case for the Government to support increased use of e-bikes as part of the its Industrial, Clean Growth and Clean Air strategies.


Projects to promote e-bike use have been shown not only to increase cycle use but also to reduce car use, and hence pollutant emissions.  Initial feedback from demonstration projects run by the charity CoMoUK (previously known as Carplus Bikeplus) found that that 46% of participants were using e-bikes for regular trips that they had previously made by car or taxi. A separate e-bike hire project in Brighton found that participants reduced their car use by an average of 20% during the project. These results match findings of reduced car-use from other e-bike projects in the UK and the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and California.


Taken together these studies also indicate that:



The Government’s Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles (OZEV) provides generous subsidies for the uptake of electric cars and vans, but no support for e-bikes other than cargo-bikes. This is despite evidence that, per pound spent, subsidising e-bike purchases is at least twice as cost-effective as electric car subsidies as a way to reduce CO2 emissions. It would also deliver reductions in congestion, road danger and physical inactivity that cannot be achieved by supporting electric cars.


It is however worth considering how a general e-bike purchase subsidy could be complemented by a more targeted support package, including ‘try before you buy’ schemes e.g. for health patients and/or people with disabilities. This could be done by providing more generous support for people who are registered as disabled and/or receive disability welfare benefits, or who are recommended to take up cycling as a form of ‘exercise on referral’ by their GP.


This last point potentially links the proposal with another commitment in Gear Change, namely “to work more closely with the NHS, incentivising GPs to prescribe cycling”. This will involve “deliver[ing] personalised care to incentivise GPs to prescribe cycling wherever appropriate. A stock of cycles would be available to lend, with training, access to cycling groups and peer support; in some cases, if they used them enough, patients would be allowed to keep them”.


This could have been a description of Cycling UK’s Cycling for Health and Community Cycle Clubs programmes:



We therefore urge the Government to consider a general e-bike subsidy scheme, complemented by more targeted support for people who are either registered disabled or who receive disability welfare payments, or who receive a referral from their GP to take part in a cycling on prescription scheme.


Finally, cargo-bikes, particularly electric-assisted cargo-bikes also have the potential to replace vans, particularly for ‘last-mile’ goods deliveries in urban areas.  The EU-wide Cyclelogistics project (to which Cycling UK contributed) found that 51% of motor-vehicle trips in EU towns involving the transport of goods could be accomplished by cargo bikes.


We therefore strongly urge the Government to reconsider OZEV’s remit, tasking it with providing support for e-bikes as well as electric cars, vans and other vehicles.


Roger Geffen

Policy Director, Cycling UK


February 2021


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875508/final-greenhouse-gas-emissions-tables-2018.xlsx, table 20.

[2] www.gov.uk/government/statistics/final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics-1990-to-2018, table 19.

[3] www.clearview-intelligence.com/blog/were-jamming-and-not-in-a-good-way-the-cost-of-congestion-on-the-uks-roads-is-30-billion

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/734799/COMEAP_NO2_Report.pdf

[5] www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution

[6] www.clientearth.org/government-loses-third-air-pollution-case-judge-rules-air-pollution-plans-unlawful

[7] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833803/ras60004.ods

[8] www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/publications/statistics/physical-inactivity-report-2017

[9] www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health#why-promote-physical-activity-in-your-professional-practice

[10] www.cyclinguk.org/blog/decarbonising-transport-being-led-science