Transport for London drops its cycling mode share target: what does this mean?

There’s been some concern that Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its target for cycling to have a 5% mode share in London by 2026. We have posted on the target question before,  but it’s time for an update.

Targetsforgrowth

This was the graph shown in 2012 by TfL. Was it “on track” then, and is it “on track” now?

(Click on graph to enlarge)

While some think we spend too much time on TfL and cycling in London, we’re unapologetic. Cycling has such a small modal share in the UK now, and is so crucial for a sustainable transport future, that it needs attention. And TfL is the one Highway Authority trying to invest significant resources in changing things.

So what should people make of the headline in LTT  that “TfL axes 5% cycle trips target”?  While studying this I suggest you look at  Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio:  in particular Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 [Source: TfL Group Planning, Strategic Analysis] which is the same as the graph above before my additions to it.

 

TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – setting the scene

  1. The 400% question.

The idea of having a 400% increase in cycling’s modal share was first raised under the first Mayor of London, and was regularly quoted as the target under Mayor’s Transport Strategies and other documents. For anybody with the most basic knowledge of statistics, 400% is a five times increase – although it seems to have been thought of as four times greater.

So in the TfL Board presentation on 5 February 2014 we have Item 6: Cycling Vision portfolio

4.17 In his 2010 Transport Strategy, the Mayor set an ambitious target to increase levels of cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2026 (from 2001) and to achieve a five per cent mode share of all journeys in the capital.”

Multiplying by 5 instead of 4 would mean:

A. The 2026 target – of 5 x 320k (daily) cycle journeys – would be 1.6 million cycle journeys, not 1.5 million. That is some 100,000 journeys more. In context, the well-known Cycle Hire programme aims for 40,000 journeys daily.

B. The modal share would be 5 x 1.2% (the share in 2001), which would come to 6%, not 5%.

2. The axing of the target

On  26 March 2015 Item 10: Cycling Vision Annual Update was presented by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, Better Routes and Places, TfL Surface Planning directorate.   She is reported as saying: “Mode share is not appropriate to be used as a target, as it is changeable due to population flux.”

What’s the justification for this? Presumably she’s saying that the increase in London’s population (known about for some years) means that modal share targets for cycling journeys go down, but go up for all other modes. Why? Transport planners are used to employing modal share as an indicator, even with population changes.

The only rationale I can think of is that while TfL are keeping the 1.5 million journey stages by bike by 2026 target – this “remains a relevant challenge” – they can’t really cope with the idea of having to get beyond it.

 

To explore this further, let’s look at TfL’s conceptualisation of cycling trips by studying the graph (whether as shown above or directly from Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 in Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio).

 

 

TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – what’s the trend?

The main issue is the two lines on the graph as supplied by TfL: these are ACTUAL in light blue font and TARGET in red font. I have no quarrel with the blue line, although TfL could have done a lot more to get good figures on the numbers and types of cycling trips. My problem is with the red line.

Or, to be more precise, the red curve. I have added a straight BLACK line on to the graph, which runs straight from the 2001 baseline point to the target point.

The characteristic of the red curve as it has been drawn by TfL is that it allows a lower number of trips to be presented as “on target” in the early years.

To be specific: If we used my straight black line, the “on track” number for 2013 – the last year for which we have figures – would be something like 900,000, not the much lower 585,000 for cycle journey stages on an average day announced by Lilli Matson. (Even on the red curve the number should be c. 620,000, but 585,000 is not very much lower.)

Of course, it is quite legitimate to give a curve such as the red one as the indicator of likely growth, rather than a straight line, because it represents a constant percentage increase each year. But this projection has to be based on evidence. In this case it would mean that the rate of growth increases very significantly from about 2016 – 2017. It should also be made clear that this assumption is being made.

Now, there are good reasons for making the assumption. It could be said that TfL has done very little since its inception to generate an increase in cycling. We are now due to have the much publicised measures of changes in highway layout coming in shortly, and these could result in a significant increase in take up of cycling from about 2016/2017 when the changes become apparent – and this would justify the sudden increase in rate of increase in cycling journeys.

 

 

So is TfL’s forecasting right?

TfL certainly has plenty of transport planning tools: The Cycling Policy Evaluation Tool (CYPET) which “provides a reasonable estimate of the impact of different infrastructure programmes in different locations”, development of modelling capacity through the Cycle Network Model London (CYNEMON) and the Cycle Demand Evaluation Response working group (CYDER) .

My experience is that TfL’s evaluation of cycling potential comes up with some interesting data. For example through the MOSAIC (a marketing tool used by transport planners) assessment, it is possible to see where he groups least likely to give up car usage live. It all helps TfL to work out where the “low-hanging fruit” – the easiest areas to invest in to get visible return – are.

But that could be the problem.

My suggestion is that TfL are generally cautious about their ability to support cycling as an everyday form of transport, and that this leads to limited initiatives for cycling, combined with an unwillingness to engage with the sustainable transport policies required to have a genuinely equitable approach towards cycling.

This is reflected in the ditching of the 5% modal share target and in another target – the Cycle Safety Action Plan target – chosen by TfL.

 

 

The Cycle Safety Action Plan target

We have reviewed the current TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) here.

A key problem with it is – against continual reassurance to the Cycle Safety Working Group – the failure to base its approach on an exposure-based measure of cyclist casualties. As I said at the time:

The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails… Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate…”.

This is not a technical or abstruse issue. It is an approach which would see as a failure any increase in cycling which outstrips a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate – where the rate is based on a measure of exposure such as journeys or distance travelled by bicycle, or time spent cycling. It means, for example, that if the number of cycle journeys doubles, the main official casualty (Killed and Seriously Injured, or KSI) rate would have to be halved. Along with a greater willingness to report injuries, and a higher concentration of children and elderly people (who are more likely to be seriously hurt after a collision) the casualty rate would have to go down by 60% or more in order to have a cut in overall cyclist KSIs. Such a cut would be very dramatic.

The conventional “road safety” way of assessing safety on the road is embedded in TfL’s culture. And it is inherently biased against a target of more than some 100% of extra cycling trips.

 

What TfL’s current targets mean:

TfL’s targets, as with forecasting, are indicators of what goals it is prepared to pursue. In fact, cycling targets in the UK have historically been way higher than those achieved, and it could be that TfL has simply been unwilling to risk a shortfall. On the other hand, one can point out that no proponent of a sustainable travel target – the most obvious case being John Prescott’s commitment to cutting car usage – has ever had to suffer public ignominy when that target has not been reached. And the target is anyway twelve years away from assessment.

So I would suggest that the current state of targeting within TFL is indicative of caution, based on its reluctance to really push forward towards a genuinely healthy status for cycling as an everyday form of transport in London.

Let’s examine why this is, and what would be required.

The “Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London” is discussed at length here  and in previous posts. We have argued that measures necessary to support cycling are weak in terms of failures in:

  • Law enforcement. TfL has a major role in determining what law enforcement in London could be.
  • Concentrating on limited amendments to the highway layout, with funding levels (albeit far higher than elsewhere in the UK) that are minimal compared to those of other modes.
  • Dealing with the greater attractiveness – through what is, in effect, subsidy – of motoring.
  • reallocating road space and highway capacity away from motor vehicles towards cycling and other modes, not least because of the limitations of current forms of cost benefit analysis
  • Provision of so-called “complementary” programmes of support for cycling: there remains a failure to address issues of inadequate availability of appropriate bicycles, cycling equipment and accessories, secure and convenient home parking, maintenance and repair of bicycles, and genuinely supportive cycle training.

The above are just parts of the car-centred culture that TfL operates in. It features abuse and victim-blaming of cyclists, and what is in effect discrimination against cycling as a form of everyday transport. Transport for London is, of course, limited in what it can do to deal with deep-rooted beliefs. It is, after all, a highway authority with what it calls “cycling customers” on its TLRN roads.

But it could do a lot more, in our opinion, through its role as funder of the boroughs to address issues away from its roads, and indeed away from the context of highway infrastructure. Of course, that would in turn mean looking critically at its own belief system.

So do the Mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London really want to see cycling have its proper status as a mode of transport in London. Because, if not, maybe cutting back on targets is the appropriate thing to do.

2 thoughts on “Transport for London drops its cycling mode share target: what does this mean?

  1. ORiordan

    Speculation on my part – TfL only control the TLRN roads and the rest are under control of the boroughs. The boroughs have a very mixed attitude to cycling infrastructure – Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea seem to be actively opposed. The fact that London has underspent its cycling budget seems to be down to the difficulty of getting projects implemented by the boroughs.

    It may be that TfL don’t want to be held accountable for a target because the boroughs haven’t signed up to a target and ultimately TfL can’t deliver the target on their own and need the boroughs to step up.

    Reply
    1. rdrf Post author

      Good point: but TfL do allocate funding to Boroughs through the Local Implementation Plan process.

      Reply

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