A Labour transport spokesperson has branded the Cycle to Work scheme “outdated” and “no longer fit for purpose”.
Elly Baker, a member of the London Assembly for Labour, claimed that the initiative, which has now been running for two decades and enables people to gain tax breaks on purchases of bikes and accessories through salary sacrifice, needs “wholesale reform” to help boost “affordable, healthy and greener travel options for Londoners”.
Labour’s call to reform Cycle to Work comes just over a month after a number of organisations, including the Cycle to Work Alliance, the Co-op, the Federation of Small Businesses, and British Cycling, published a letter urging then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and cycling minister Trudy Harrison to open up the scheme to lower-paid workers and the self-employed.
The letter said that, under current guidance for participation, access to the scheme – the benefits of which have been enjoyed by millions of employees – is barred to those whose earnings are at or slightly above the National Minimum Wage, as well as people who are self-employed, groups identified by active travel advocates as having the most to gain were they allowed to take part in it.
This week Labour revealed that, according to figures from the Department for Transport, between January 2017 and December 2021 there were 242 Cycle to Work applications approved for the department's London-based workers, with 138 of those coming since January 2020.
Baker, Labour’s transport spokesperson at the London Assembly, compared the apparent lack of recent interest in the scheme under its current access restrictions (though the numbers highlighted by the party only apply to the DfT) with the success of the city’s bike-sharing initiative, Santander Cycles, which recorded a monthly record of 750,000 hires in February.
“The Cycle to Work scheme needs wholesale reform,” Baker said in a statement. “While it was launched with the best intentions 20 years ago, it’s outdated and frankly no longer fit for purpose – that’s plain to see in the sheer lack of Londoners using it.
“It is vital that people have easy and affordable access to healthy forms of transport, particularly those on low incomes.
“The success of Santander Cycles has had an impact on people taking up the scheme, but it also shows the increased demand for cycling in the capital.
“If the Government updated the Cycle to Work scheme to make it more accessible for Londoners, it could have the potential to play an important role in boosting health, clamping down on air pollution and helping efforts to reach net-zero.”
This article has been amended to clarify that the figures supplied by the Labour party apply only to London-based employees of the Department for Transport. Labour has since recalled the press release.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.