22.09.2011Ever considered buying a bike with a golden handlebar? Cycling is a luxury activity, says the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (ACEA)
Ever considered buying a bike with a golden handlebar? Cycling is a luxury activity, says the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (ACEA)
Brussels, 22 September 2011: “In most European cities only a few can afford walking and cycling to work or for leisure, the cost of living close to the place or work or leisure being too high”, ACEA maintains in its comment to the European Commission White Paper on Transport. The ACEA position paper is not only turning things upside down, it is also a childish (or desperate?) attempt to discredit the non-motorised transport modes, says Fabian Küster, Policy Officer at the European Cyclists’ Federation.
The automotive industry is well-known for its hard lobbying against strict CO₂, noise and air pollution emission standards. What is new is that it publicly feels inclined to discredit walking and cycling. How come?
As Brussels is debating how European transport will look like in the future and how it at last can be put onto a sustainable path in face of climate change and oil dependency[i], ACEA, the federation of the European automobile industry, has come up with a new strategy: “Cycling and walking are often assumed to be alternatives to motorized transport, at least in urban areas, but in most European cities only a few can afford walking and cycling to work or for leisure, the cost of living close to the place of work or leisure being too high. Nowadays, for most citizens, not using their cars or the collective transport has become a luxury”, the ACEA comments on the White Paper on Transport.
The logic behind this argumentation is quite abstruse. First, ACEA gives no evidence whatsoever that the cost of living close to the place of work or leisure is too high. What is close, by the way? Certainly, city planning and traffic planning has led to urban sprawl and therefore massively favoured car use since the 1960s, but societies fare a lot better when distances are kept short: It enables people to walk and cycle more [and arrive in time at their destination!], reduces transport and thereby congestion, noise and air pollution, as well as the need for expensive road infrastructure investments when public budgets are tight anyway. Secondly, it’s worth comparing the average sales prices of new bicycles and cars. Figures taken from Germany in 2009 show that the former costs on average 446 Euro[ii], the catalogue price of the latter being 21.430 Euro[iii]. In other words: A new motorized four-wheeler costs about 50 times more than a human-powered two-wheeler. Additional operating car costs also have a considerable drag on household budgets: Car owners in the lowest income quintile in the UK spend 25 per cent of total household expenditure on motoring.[iv] In contrast, cycling is affordable for everyone, ensuring accessibility to mobility and thereby strengthening social inclusion. It also has an equalizing effect on society: While people from the lowest income strata walk and cycle as much as people from the highest income class. Those with higher incomes drive a car about 3 times more than those with lower incomes.[v]
What truly is a luxury in Europe’s cities are safe roads, clean air, the absence of traffic noise, public places where people like to spend time and interact, and independent mobility for children and elderly people. In 1971, 80 per cent of seven to eight year olds in the UK walked home from school on their own. By 1990, this had dropped to just 9 per cent[vi]. One of the main reasons: Parents are reluctant to let their children travel independently out of fears of traffic danger. So, yes, in an entirely different way then set out by ACEA, not using a car has become a luxury. But that’s the real tragedy, isn’t it? Taking away a fundamental thing like independent mobility from children growing up is one of the real draw-backs of car-dependent societies. Kids are spending more time inside[vii], and guess what: obesity rates among them keep on rising in most European countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Among the adult population, overweight and obesity are at alarmingly high rates.[viii] You can't teach an old dog new tricks, can you?
Luckily, many European cities are fed up with doing business as usual. Even ACEA acknowledges this – well, only to a certain extent. “Cycling is with no doubt very successful in flat countries with no extremes of temperatures but it is surely not a pleasant or even healthy activity in mid-July in a southern hilly city. For most, motorized transport is the only option”, ACEA concludes.
Admittedly, a flat topography and moderate climate favour cycling. Cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Münster are among the most cycling-friendly places in Europe. However, climate and topography by no means guarantee cycling-friendliness: just have a look at various cities in the UK or the US. The real story is a little more complex. Hilly Brussels, according to satellite navigation firm TomTom[ix], is the most congested town in Europe. It has ambitions however to increase cycling to 20 % of the modal split by 2018 and reduce car use by 20 % at the same time.[x] Mediterranean cities like Seville and Barcelona demonstrate that cycling can be a perfect means of transportation there as well throughout the year. Within less than five years, the Andalusian city increased cycling from about 6,000 to 66,000 trips a day. So it’s more about political support, providing safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure, civilizing our streets by means of traffic reduction and traffic calming, promoting walking and cycling as a natural, reliable and pleasant form of getting around, and much, much more.
And even for cycling in a “southern hilly city in mid-July” there is a perfect solution: It’s called a Pedal Electric Cycle (known as the “pedelec”), assisting cyclists with a 250 watts engine up to 25 km/h. Distances of 15 – 20 km are made possible for the everyday commuter. In 2009, about 750,000 e-bikes were sold in the EU, most of them pedelecs.[xi] Not that I feel any ‘Schadenfreude’, but not many e-cars have hit the market so far, despite generous government subsidies in various European countries, loans from the EIB, research money from the EU 7th Framework Programme for Research... Also in China things are not going as smoothly as expected: The government apparently is rethinking its singular focus on electric cars as its targets for mass-production in China have not materialized.[xii]
So why discredit walking and cycling? Because the love affair with the car in Western Europe is no longer hot. 80 % of young German adults think people don’t need a private car anymore because public transport is sufficiently developed.[xiii] That’s very much in line with a Fraunhofer study on a “Vision for a sustainable transport in Germany”. Car ownership is expected to plummet by more than half from 570 today to 250 per 1000 inhabitants by 2050. In urban areas, most people won’t have a private car anymore but use car sharing, public transport – and walking and cycling.[xiv] I suspect the car industry is worried about the rise of modern multi-modal Homo sapiens.
Finally, ACEA considers land and urban planning as being very important – because “nobody can afford to live close to work or leisure”. Therefore, according to ACEA, “we should not forget that the transport behavior of citizens depends on their transport needs and this depends on how the land and cities are organized”.
I could not agree more with this last statement on urban design. For too long, car centric approaches have dominated urban planning with nastily negative consequences. It’s time for a radical rethink. Short distances favour walking and cycling. Therefore we need dense and multifaceted urban centres with public spaces with a high quality of life, attractive to everyone, and in particular for families with children as well as disabled and elderly people.[xv] Try this: Research how many cars there are in your city and calculate how much concrete space they use up for parking alone. Space that could be used for lots of green, playgrounds, football pitches, gardens…anything you can think off.
And as a last suggestion: While tobacco and alcohol advertisements are highly regulated or even forbidden because they are harmful to public health, you cannot escape car advertisement nowadays. Not only that they are everywhere, they also come with false promises (freedom! status!) and wrong information, such as on fuel consumption. Hey EU and national governments, why not consider a ban on car advertisements, seriously! Because the European automotive industry “Provides direct employment to more than 2.3 million people… and invests over € 26 billion in Research & Development”, as ACEA states?
All this still doesn’t prevent ACEA from making a fool of itself.
But hang on, the day the price a barrel of oil is higher than an ounce of gold, I will get myself a bike with a golden handlebar. That’s a promise, foolish or not.
Looking for insight into current EU policy developments? Fabian Kuster is a Policy Officer at ECF and is regularly following EU Developments and Legislation, liaising with key stakeholders and drafting key position papers on transport and bicycle related issues. He has wealth of experience in and around the EU institutions, and is an expert in the EU policy field of bicycles.
Facts & Figures
- 7.4 % of the European population says they use the bicycle as their main mode of transportation[xvi] - The European Cyclists’ Federation has set the target at 15 % by 2020.
- 27 % of all trips in the Netherlands are made by bicycle. For trips up to 7.5 km, the cycling modal share is even 34 %.[xvii]
- 50 % of all car trips in Europe are shorter than 5 km[xviii]. At an average cycling speed of 18 km/h, a cyclist needs about 17 minutes for 5 km.
- In 2008, 7,435 pedestrians and 2,395 cyclists lost their lives (i.e. about 27% of fatal road accidents)[xix], many more got seriously injured, mainly due to a collision with a motorized vehicle. In the UK, for children between the ages of five to 14, the most common cause of death is being hit by a vehicle.[xx]
- Transport noise is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease in the EU.[xxi]
- Air pollution is linked to 370,000 premature deaths in the EU.[xxii]
- Landscape fragmentation caused by transportation infrastructure continues to increase in Europe and has a number of negative ecological effects, including the decline of biodiversity and loss of wildlife populations.[xxiii]
- The European Union spends 67 times more money on car and lorry road infrastructure than on cycling infrastructure (period 2007 – 2013).[xxiv] As of 2014, EU co-funding on cycling infrastructure needs to increase from 0.7 % to 10 % of the EU total, ECF demands. EU co-funding in general needs to be climate-proof.
- The European Union has no strategy on promoting non-motorised transport. ECF demands a “Master Plan on Walking and Cycling”. At least 13 EU Member States have (had) a national strategy on cycling.[xxv]
- The European Commission suggests decreasing transport CO₂ emissions by 60 % by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. ECF believes, as regards passenger transport, a modal shift should be among the key policies of the EU. The EU’s primary focus has been on technological solutions, yet CO₂ emissions from the transport sector have increased by more than 30 % since 1990, due to a massive increase in transport volumes.
Source: European Cycling Federation