Jul 22, 2019, 07:01pm
Using cars for almost every journey leads to congestion, air pollution, and unhealthy citizens, argues a report from the U.K. parliament’s transport select committee, published July 23. To reduce the number of such unsustainable journeys the MPs on the committee recommend that the British government should prioritize cycling and walking over motoring.
The economic, human and environmental costs of inactivity and traffic congestion are huge, warns Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England, stressing that everyday motoring also hastens climate change.
Despite the well-known downsides of mass motoring, the government is institutionally wedded to car use, suggests the report, urging that the Department for Transport (DfT) should redefine its project-funding algorithm which places more economic value on long-distance motoring than walking or cycling trips.
WebTAG, the DfT’s guidance on pricing the benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) of transport projects, currently prioritizes “business” motorists who travel long distances over pedestrians and cyclists who travel over short distances. Motorists are assigned an hourly value of £22, while the time of pedestrians and cyclists is valued at £17 an hour, one of the committee MPs revealed during an evidence gathering session.
When it comes to evaluating the supposed economic benefits of road schemes, the WebTAG modeling skews BCRs in favor of motorists, and the benefits of active travel are often downplayed. The WebTAG algorithm incorporates some benefits of active travel—including reduced mortality and increased healthy life years; reduced absenteeism; journey quality; mode shift; and congestion benefits, noise and air quality benefits—but, a DfT official told the MPs, it “does not capture some other things that we care about, such as the impact in terms of health on the young and the old or the impact on health costs in the NHS in dealing with the improved health that comes from being more active.”
The transport committee’s report suggests the DfT should revise WebTAG modeling because, in practice, it “means that the business case for active travel improvements fails because of the apparent disbenefits to motorists.”
If the many societal benefits of more walking and cycling were added to the DfT’s modeling, the schemes funded in the future would look very different. The MPs complain that the government’s £400-million annual budget for active travel in England equates to just 1.5% of the public expenditure on transport. In 2017/18 the government is spending £26-billion on transport in England.
“This low level of investment in active travel is despite the often excellent value for money of many active travel schemes,” points out the report.
Current targets to increase active travel are “not ambitious enough,” say the MPs, and the government has to “invest more in active travel.”
There is an “increasingly compelling case for policymakers to give active travel the attention and funding that it has not historically received,” the MPs add.