‘Reverse gear’: Cycling rates plateau as DfT pulls funding for active travel

The government is not on track to meet objectives to increase rates of active travel by 2025 and risks wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, according to a committee of backbench MPs.

In a scathing report published last week, the Public Accounts Committee warned 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 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.

The committee said DfT’s efforts to increase active travel had seen “disappointingly slow progress”. The government had set targets to double cycling rates by 2050, and the proportion of children walking to school by six percentage points.

However, there has been no sustained increase in cycling rates, and fewer children now walk to school than when targets were set, according to the PAC. In addition, the committee 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.

Norman Baker, chief executive of the charity Campaign for Better Transport, told ENDS: "The government's efforts to promote active travel, and indeed public transport generally, have gone off the boil as No10 reaches for the divisive war-on-the-motorist rhetoric. Not only has progress stalled but we are in danger of going backward. No 10 clearly values carbon-spewing SUV hulks over cyclists and pedestrians."

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, according to the PAC.

The committee also found that “too little is known about the quality of the infrastructure that has been built”, and that “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 therefore calling on DfT to lay out its plans to evaluate active travel interventions by December.

Chair of the Committee, Dame Meg Hillier, said: “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.”

The DfT said it welcomed the report and would  give careful consideration to its recommendations before formally responding.

Active travel in England is available here.