A detailed report into the government’s Fix Your Bike voucher scheme, launched in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, has found that less than half of the 400,000 vouchers issued were actually used by those who had applied for them. However, it said that scheme had managed to meet its core aim of encouraging people who cycled rarely, if at all, to ride bikes more often.
The vouchers, worth £50 each towards the cost of repairs and maintenance, were aimed at helping people in England get unused bikes back on the road as former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps put active travel at the heart of the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
Some 500,000 vouchers at a cost of £25 million were initially promised when the scheme was launched in May 2020, although the number actually released to the public in four tranches between July 2020 and April 2021 stood at 400,000.
While the £25 million scheme was in operation, some businesses reported delays in receiving payment for vouchers they had submitted to its operator, the Energy Saving Trust.
Others said that the launch of the scheme had disrupted the normal flow of workshop bookings as bike owners waited to see whether more vouchers would be made available, and operations were also affected by a global shortage of parts and components.
Now, a 78-page report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) and published on its website last week has revealed that while fewer than half of the vouchers issued were actually used, the scheme succeeded in achieving its aim of getting more people cycling.
The independent report, compiled by researchers from Transport for Quality for Life with support from the University of Westminster and Sustrans, also addressed other issues such as whether the scheme had resulted in cars being replaced with bikes for shorter journeys, and whether changes in the number of cyclists and in modal share of trips had lasted beyond the lifting of lockdown measures.
According to the report’s authors, people who applied for vouchers came from all parts of the country, with all demographic groups represented.
Less than half of people who applied for a voucher – 46 per cent – actually used it, and according to the report, of the 400,000 made available, just under 189,000 were ultimately redeemed by participating businesses by the deadline of 31 October 2021.
But when it came to analysing the previous cycling habits of people who applied to the scheme, the report found that people who did not ride a bike regularly were more likely to have used their voucher.
Around one in three (35 per cent) of those who applied for a voucher had cycled once a week or less in the preceding 12 months, and 6 per cent had not ridden a bike at all during that period – but among people who had work carried out, 43 per cent said they cycled once a week or less, and according to the report, businesses participating in the initiative believed it had attracted new customers.
Among people who used their voucher, around 37 per cent said that they had not previously paid for a bike to be repaired or serviced, and only 29 per cent agreed that they would have been likely or very likely to have had such work carried out in the absence of the scheme.
“Taken together, this evidence suggests that, as well as attracting existing cyclists, the scheme attracted people who had previously been only occasional cyclists, or non-cyclists, who would not have otherwise got work done on their cycle,” the report said.
“To understand the impacts of the scheme, the behaviour of voucher users was compared with that of voucher applicants who did not go on to use a voucher, treating the latter group as a ‘control’ for what would have happened without the scheme.
“At the time of applying, on average, voucher users were cycling slightly less than non-users. By October 2021, when the follow-up evaluation survey was conducted, voucher users were cycling more than non-users according to a range of questions.”
The key findings of that follow-up survey in that regard were:
73 per cent of voucher users reported that they were, on average, cycling at least once a week – compared to 56 per cent of non-users.
In the seven days before the survey, 64 per cent of voucher users had cycled – compared to 47 per cent of non-users.
66 per cent of voucher users reported that, since applying for a voucher, there had been a period of time when they had cycled more than they did when applying – compared to 33 per cent of non-users.
57 per cent of voucher users reported that, at the time of the survey, they were cycling ‘more’ than when they applied for a voucher – compared to 24 per cent of non-users.
24 per cent of voucher non-users reported that, at the time of the survey, they were cycling ‘less’ than when they applied for a voucher – compared to 7 per cent of users.
In terms of whether the scheme had succeeded in encouraging people to use a bike instead of a car for short trips, the report noted that around nine in 10 people who applied for a voucher had access to a car, and half of those had access to two or more motor vehicles.
“When applying, 39 per cent of applicants indicated that their main intended purpose for using their repaired cycle would involve replacing car trips with cycle use,” the report said.
“In the follow-up survey, 53 per cent of voucher users reported that they had started cycling for some trips previously made by car or van, compared to 27 per cent of non-users.
“Voucher users also reported that, in the previous week, they had cycled for an average of 8.9 miles that they would previously have driven. The equivalent distance reported by voucher non-users was 7.0 miles, a statistically significant difference of 1.9 miles.”
The follow-up survey was conducted some 16 months after the release of the initial tranche of vouchers, and according to the report’s authors, “analysis of two measures of cycling behaviour by length of time since voucher use suggests that changes in cycling behaviour lasted beyond the Covid-19 lockdown period, and were largely sustained by the time of the follow-up survey.”
Analysis of vouchers redeemed under the scheme found that around six in 10 were used at smaller and independent business, and 40 per cent at major chains – Halfords, which accounted for more than half of those, Cycle King, Decathlon, Evans and Go Outdoors.
The average value claimed under vouchers was £48.60, while the average cost of repairs and servicing that involved a voucher being redeemed was £75.88.
The report also puts forward some suggestions of lessons that could be learnt for the rollout of any similar scheme in the future.
“Participation in the scheme could be encouraged by providing vouchers on a rolling basis and enabling unused vouchers to be reallocated,” it said, adding that “it is important that terms and conditions explain clearly whether vouchers can be used for servicing (as well as repair) and that businesses are fully aware of any requirements before participating.”
It also said that while in most cases, a £50 voucher was sufficient, higher-value vouchers might be appropriate for owners of specialist cycles, including e-bikes, and that both businesses participating in the scheme as well as voucher users had suggested that it could be extended to purchase of safety equipment, or towards the cost of a new bike.
“The high levels of satisfaction with the scheme, and the impacts reported, suggest that it was a popular and effective way of increasing cycling and reducing car use,” the report concludes.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.