‘Entrenched car culture’ leaves millions of Britons in transport poverty

Study finds drivers spending up to a fifth of pre-tax income on running a car as lack of infrastructure deters people from cycling.

Traffic jams in Westminster, London, UK.
Traffic jams in Westminster, London, UK. About three-quarters of drivers believe they will always own a car, the study by Bike Is Best found. Photo by Jay Wennington / Unsplash

Peter Walker, political correspondent, 9th January 2023, The Guardian

Millions of Britons are trapped in transport poverty owing to a lack of alternatives to car ownership, with some spending nearly a fifth of their pre-tax income keeping a car on the road, a study has found.
Those who own a car spend on average 13% of their gross income on it, above the 10% generally seen as the indicator of transport poverty. For those paying for their car with a finance or loan deal this proportion rises to 19%.
The report, produced by the cycle industry campaign group Bike Is Best, found that about three-quarters of drivers think they will always own a car, while just under half, 47%, believe they have no alternative.

Previous studies have found that while significant numbers of people say they would happily cycle for shorter trips, a lack of safe local infrastructure for cycling puts them off.

But these can be expensive, with some models costing about £4,000, and finance deals are harder to find than for cars.
The Bike Is Best study, based on a nationally representative GB survey of 2,000 people, found that while 34% of drivers said they would cycle if they could pick a mode that was not driving or public transport, almost half could not afford to buy a bike.
The government has ended its grant for electric car purchases, but this is still available for other types of vehicles such as vans, and also for electric motorbikes and mopeds. However, it has never been extended to e-bikes or e-cargo bikes, despite calls from campaigners for this to happen to help people switch from car use.
Scott Purchas from Bike Is Best said: “As the UK endures the cost of living crisis, there’s no escaping the fact that our entrenched car culture is locking people in to spending significant portions of their income on transport.
“UK motorists with some form of car finance spend 19% of their total annual gross income on their car. New investment in infrastructure will give people genuine choice about how they travel, which is incredibly important at this difficult time.
“Modes of transport that are efficient, sustainable and don’t break the bank should win out – not least because half the population see the bike or e-bike as an alternative to the car or public transport.”

Keir Gallagher, the campaigns manager of Cycling UK, said the study showed that a lack of other options meant the chance for people to move away from car use “is being squandered”.

He said: “The solution is simple – building networks of safe, segregated cycle routes in towns and cities across the UK would turn cycling into a genuine option for millions of people, helping them break out of car dependence and the huge costs associated with that.”