A Labour transport spokesperson has branded the Cycle to Work scheme “outdated” and “no longer fit for purpose”.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 “While it was launched with the best intentions 20 years ago, it’s outdated and frankly no longer fit for purpose – that’s plain to see in the sheer lack of Londoners using it.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 in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.