How many Londoners are switching from public transport to bicycles?
Statistics compiled for the Guardian by Transport for London offer clues about the type and scale of changing travel habits in the capital
Wednesday 21 September 2016 21.19 BST
The brand new Transport for London (TfL) board and its chair, Sadiq Khan, will on Thursday consider an upbeat account of the progress of cycling policies introduced by Boris Johnson. TfL commissioner Mike Brown’s written report documents a record-breaking July for Santander cycle hires, progress on delivering superhighways, quietways and suburban infrastructure schemes, and a 5% year-on-year increase in cycling journeys within central London’s congestion charge zone. See pages 24-27 (pdf).
But there are many ways of measuring cycling’s effects on London’s transport habits. A “key outcome” listed in Johnson’s Vision for Cycling was creating hospitable routes on over-stuffed parts of the Underground and bus network with the aim of “prompting transfers to the bike and relieving crowding for everyone”. So how much switching from the Tube and the bus has been going on in London and are the trends encouraging?
It’s difficult to quantify any distinct impact from Johnson’s policies, including cycling initiatives while he was mayor that pre-date the Vision (published in 2013), not least because their implementation is ongoing and much of the most ambitious stuff is still new. Even so, data TfL supplied me with from its annual London Travel Demand surveys of about 8,000 households provide interesting pointers to transport “modal shift” patterns over the past ten years.
The short story told by the figures is, firstly, that increasing numbers of frequent Tube and bus users alike have also been getting around by bicycle and, secondly, that the rise has been greater among Tube-travellers. For example, in the 2005/08 period just under one in a hundred Londoners who used the Underground five or more times a week also made a trip by bicycle during that week. By 2012/15 the number had risen to 3.7 in every hundred.
By comparison slightly more five-or-more-day-a-week bus passengers also cycled during that week – 1.36 in every hundred to be precise – between 2005/08 and by 2012/15 that frequency had risen to nearly three. So, an increase of more than double but a smaller one than the nearly four-fold hike among equivalent Tube-users, which has resulted in their overall likelihood of cycling overtaking that of bus-users.
That general pattern – more cycling among both bus and Tube users, but especially the latter – holds to varying degrees almost all the way down the scale of frequency of bus and Tube use, with the largest increases among the most frequent Tube-users.
What conclusions can be drawn from these numbers? Well, maybe that over-crowding on the Tube is more hellish than on buses. Maybe that the sorts of people who use the Tube a lot are more the like the sorts of people who cycle. Maybe both. They don’t, of course, tell us anything about any switching from private motor vehicles to cycles (TfL don’t have comparable data on that). They certainly underline that cycling has been becoming more popular in London although – to take the glass half empty position – they also confirm that the amount of cycling in London, while increasing in percentage terms, remains very small in absolute terms.
Mike Brown’s report to the TfL board highlights strong growth in the use of the showcase central London superhighways, yet the most recent TfL Travel in London shows that although the estimated number of cycling journey stages – components of an excursion from A to B – rose from 400,000 a day in 2005 to 600,000 in 2014 (the most recent year for which figures were available), cycling still accounted for only 2% of journey stages by all modes of transport in Greater London as a whole throughout that period See pages 29 and 33 (pdf).
Will cycling in London increase at a greater rate in years to come and, if it does, to what extent will that be attributable to Johnson’s schemes bedding in and newer ones from his successor as mayor coming on stream? Will it be possible to tell? Discuss.