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Spending Review special: Stemming the tide towards a car-led recovery

Alice Ridley's picture
bus and bikes on a busy road

We know that investing in sustainable transport brings a myriad of benefits: it helps clean up our environment, creates jobs, supports economic growth and has direct physical and mental health benefits. In an ideal world public transport and active travel would be the first choice for most journeys.

But we don’t live in an ideal world and far too many roads are only designed for cars, which means people are left with fewer transport options. As well as cleaning up the vehicles themselves, in order to decarbonise transport we must also reduce the volume of traffic on the roads by encouraging more people to travel by public transport, walking or cycling.

To help do this the Government should rebalance the way road space is allocated and ensure that roads are designed for all users, not just car drivers. 

The Chancellor should use the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to prioritise active travel, bus, rail and electric vehicle capital infrastructure investment. New road building represents poor value for money and is proven to induce more traffic generating more congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It would make sense, both economically and environmentally, for a significant proportion of the £27.4 billion second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) to be allocated towards active travel and bus network infrastructure projects to help deliver the decarbonisation agenda the Transport Secretary has rightly championed.

One of the unexpected benefits of the Covid-19 pandemic was a substantial increase in walking and cycling – with cycling doubling during the early weeks of lockdown and trebling at weekends. The £250 million emergency active travel fund for England was something we welcomed and the Government should encourage all local authorities to take full advantage of the funding to enable more people to safely walk and cycle for short journeys and to reach public transport. We also welcomed the Government’s plan to improve walking and cycling across England; it is now up to the Chancellor to ensure that the £2 billion funding is safeguarded – and potentially expanded – for the next investment period, and that the new Active Travel England inspectorate is well resourced to carry out its role of ensuring all local schemes uphold the highest quality standards.

People’s travel habits have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some for the better, but with many people feeling they have no option but to use their cars more, the Government must step in to stem the tide towards a car-led recovery.

In Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, the Government outlined a bold vision: ‘Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network’. Next month the Chancellor has a chance to start to make this vision a reality.

"If even more people, post-Covid, are encouraged to travel to work and shops by car, instead of walking, cycling or using public transport, our roads will be more congested, our air quality poorer and demand for car parking will exceed supply. I believe that the climate crisis is the greatest threat to our future, and sustainable transport can play a big part in mitigating carbon emissions."
- Wendy, Northumberland

Read the third blog in our special Spending Review series, Transforming the transport fleet to zero emission vehicles