Travel patterns are changing and people are claiming better infrastructure for cycling and walking, with bigger investment in those modes of transport. Raising the amount of investment to £10 per person in Northern Ireland per year, would bring the total amount of investment per year to about £18 million per year, which is around the same amount of investment in cycling in the past 9 years.
This is an investment that almost 40% of this year assembly election’s candidates are willing to support and commit to (about 60% of candidates are yet to respond).
However, this willingness disappears once they get to the assembly for numerous reasons, being the most common the lack of funds to allocate to active travel.
So, what can be done to overcome this challenge?
The first and foremost is to keep a relevant slice of the annual budget to create and improve space for walking and cycling. This shows commitment not only towards active travel, but also to improve overall health and to stimulate growth of local businesses.
Outside the regular budgets we need to get a bit creative on how can we get enough funds to support active travel.
Tax is the easiest and quickest way for a government to gather funds to provide services to improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, there’s generally a lack of transparency on how these taxes are used overall. What can be done is to collect taxes with a specific purpose.
The UK government has listened to all the health campaigners and studies and is looking to implement a sugar tax on soft drinks starting from the 1 April 2018. The current outlook for earnings is £520 million in the first year and just a bit less than £1.5 billion in the first three years.
This kind of revenue applied to Active Travel would greatly improve the conditions to increase the shares of walking and cycling.
However, soft drinks are not the only added sugar that people consume in large quantities. The image below shows that other not so healthy food with sugar are also being consumed in large quantities, namely cakes, biscuits and sweets.
With this in mind, why not establish a sweet tax where all earnings would be used to fund active travel?
Finally, last but not least, is the option of European funds. This depends on the results of the referendum at the 23 June, but if people living in the UK choose to stay in the EU then this is a very valid option.
On the recent international Cargo Bike Festival 2016 in Nijmegen, Michael Cramer (Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism of the European Parliament) has stated
The European Parliament is ready to fund projects, but regional and local authorities must ask for these funds.
So what do we need to do to apply to the funds? The European Cycling Federation provides some clues in the video below.
This would be a great way to complement any budget funding for the NI Greenways project. However, we are already midway the current funding period and, as such, most of the priorities have already been defined and applying successfully for funding might be more challenging.
Commitment and creativity are key words to create conditions to improve conditions for active travel. Fortunately some political candidates are understanding it and hopefully they will act during the next term to provide and improve active travel.
Belfast Bikes is a project that celebrates its first year today with a total of 191,000 journeys within this time frame. This is an impressive achievement for a city so hostile towards cycling and should serve as a reference for all the candidates to show how willing people in Belfast are to get on a bicycle if the provisions are safe and convenient.