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New Report: The British Cycling Economy

A new report from the London School of Economics looks at the "cycling economy" that is taking the United Kingdom by storm and the economic benefits generated by individual cyclists. The 24-page report investigates the factors that have all played a part in driving the growth of the cycling industry, which includes the 200 percent expansion of the National Cycle Network to more than 12,000 miles and the addition of dedicated cycling lanes in urban and city areas. The study also credits environmental concerns (83 percent of people in the U.K. believe that environmental issues are a priority) and health considerations (80 percent of men and 70 percent of women in the U.K. are forecasted to be overweight or obese) as factors that were drivers in the growth of the cycling industry.

The study cites five socio-economic benefits that cycling can bring to the U.K.:

  • £2.9b (US$4.7b) total contribution to U.K. economy
  • 28 per cent increase in volume of cycle sales in 2010, generating £1.62b (US$2.6b)
  • £853m (US$1b) further contribution to the U.K. economy through the purchase of cycling accessories and bicycle maintenance, resulting in total retail sector sales of £2.47b (US$4b)
  • Over £500m (US$800m) generated in wages and £100m (US$160m) in taxes from 23,000 employed directly in bicycle sales, distribution and the maintenance of cycling infrastructure
  • Health benefits save the economy £128m (US$2m) per year in absenteeism

The expansion of the cycling industry can also mean a savings of US$3 billion within a decade to the British economy in reduced absenteeism. According to an empirical study on cycling and absenteeism, regular cyclists took 7.4 sick days per year in comparison to the 8.7 sick days taken per year by non-cyclists, concluding that people who cycle more often and longer distances are absent on fewer days.

In addition, if the existing cycling levels increase by a rate of 20 percent by 2015, the British economy can see a US $300 million savings in terms of reduced traffic congestion and a US$116 million savings in terms of lower pollution levels. And finally, the report cites that the latent demand for cycling holds a US$840 million untapped economic potential.

As profitable as an expanding cycling culture may seem, the good news comes with a bit of caution and hesitation. The study reports that safety, road confidence, self-belief and time availability are all barriers to an emerging cycling culture. And although 80 percent of children own bikes, the study reports a doubling of the proportion of children being driven to school over the past 20 years. If these economic benefits are to come true, a financial commitment from the U.K. government is an essential component, but sadly the report claims the proportion of GDP spent on public cycling infrastructure by the government has been lower than many other countries.

Download the full report here.