Azara Blog: More special interest pleading for cyclists

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Date published: 2010/09/13

The Cambridge News says:

The Government has been warned its plans to scrap two national cycling schemes would have a "disastrous" effect on Cambridge.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) has written to Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, and Norman Baker, Minister for Cycling, urging them not to axe the projects.

The schemes ministers are considering scrapping under strict cutbacks are Bikeability and Cycling England.

Bikeability is the new modern cycling proficiency test, designed to give youngsters the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on roads - which has had a "huge" impact in Cambridge, according to the campaign.

Once again the Cambridge News publishes what amounts to a press release by the CCC. At least here they have put the word "huge" in quotes, because needless to say, every special interest pressure group in the country wants their special interest protected from government cuts, it's just everyone else's budget that should be cut.

The official press release from the CCC is the "open letter" itself, which has more details of the special pleading (their emphasis):

Bikeability cycle training is the flagship scheme which must be maintained. It has been enormously successful, seeing a huge uptake by children, schools and local authorities for what has been a professional and well-marketed scheme.
Around 300,000 children per year are now doing Bikeability and 80% of local authorities have signed up, all at a cost of only £15m.

Well it's good to know that the government "must" maintain the scheme and that it "only" costs £15m (well, presumably local authorities have expenses related to this scheme, on top of the headline figure). Along the same lines we get:

And you will be aware that Cycling England's budget is £60m - a grain of sand in the overall £15.36bn Department for Transport budget. Destroying Cycling England would make virtually zero difference in terms of finding savings.

This is one of the ridiculous arguments that people come up with to try and save their pet budgetary items. Pretty much every budgetary item (certainly if you break it down into smaller and smaller parts) is only a "grain in the sand" of government expenditure. With this kind of vacuous argument nothing could ever be cut from the government budget, and it's a bit embarrassing to see the CCC fall into this trap. But wait, we find out that:

The Department for Transport's own model (WebTAG) for economic appraisal of cycling schemes give a very high rate of return in transport terms: a benefit:cost ratio of 3:1. Work by Sustrans also gives even higher benefit ratios, up to 33:1 in some cases.

In other words, you can achieve a lot more by putting small amounts of money into cycling, than spending much larger amounts on anything else. Yet current funding of around £60m/year is well under what places like the Netherlands spend. So there is actually much more that could be done.

Funnily enough, there is always "much more that could be done", if only someone else would pay for it. (And the main purpose of a special interest pressure group like the CCC is to force the rest of society to fund their special interest.) Sustrans is another cycling lobby group so, surprise, they can cook up huge alleged benefits from spending money on cycling. Why would anyone treat their numbers seriously? And if you even want to believe the lower 3:1 alleged benefit:cost ratio then the relevant follow-up question is at what budgetary level is it true? If you ignore that issue then you might as well claim that the UK should be spending a trillion pounds on cycling and then magically we would get 3 trillion pounds back and solve the budget deficit in one easy stroke.

The "open letter" also claims (their emphasis):

Cycling is also a perfect solution to the obesity epidemic: it promotes active lifestyles without requiring any extra time or money.

One of the advantages of cycling is that it is extremely efficient and so it is not obvious whether it has any impact on obesity. And note how the CCC uses the phrase "obesity epidemic". Academic middle class control freaks have latched onto the alleged "obesity epidemic" the last couple of years as just another way to demonise ordinary people (this time, for not eating "healthily").

As with the special pleading of all special interest pressure groups, the CCC has completely missed the point in their press release. The real question that needs to be answered is whether Bikeability and Cycling England provide value for money in comparison with all the other budgetary items that might, or will, be cut.

And although it makes sense for government to be involved with creating cycle paths, and the like, there seems less point in having a scheme like Bikeability. After all, the government does not pay for anyone to learn to drive a car, yet driving a car is a more useful skill in life than cycling. So why should the government pay for anyone to learn to cycle? Why should it not be the responsibility of parents? Well, the academic middle class are convinced that cycling is some kind of holy activity, but they are wrong. It is just another form of transport.

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