7 November 2023
Public Accounts Committee - Active Travel

- 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.

Commenting on the inquiry, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP said: 

“The inquiry into Active Travel, the report of which has now been published. Active Travel includes a variety of policies and projects that encourage people to make their everyday journeys, for example, commuting to work or going to school, by walking or cycling, rather than motorised transport. I took the chance to ask Danny Williams, who is the Chief Executive of Active Travel England about incorporated travel schemes which can encourage visitors and is a cost-effective way of reducing transport emissions. The Active Travel schemes are incredibly important as they can help support wider Government strategy looking to increase physical activity, improve health, improve air quality, level up, and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”