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Bike sales and public transport suffer slump

Cycling-in-Edinburgh
People took to two wheels during lockdown (pic: Terry Murden)

Attempts to encourage commuters to switch to cycling and public transport are struggling, according to new data showing bicycle sales have fallen and fewer travellers are using trains and buses.

Figures from the Bicycle Association reveal that pedal bike sales fell 22% last year to 1.88 million – more than a quarter below pre-Covid levels. Sales of children’s bikes slumped even faster, falling by 28% compared with 2019, to 700,000.

People were urged to exercise more during lockdown, leading to a surge in sales of bicycles, while millions of pounds of taxpayers money has pumped into cycle lanes and concessionary travel schemes to reduce carbon emissions.

But the data suggests many have lost their appetite for getting on their bike, with one estimate suggesting only half of those who bought one during the pandemic are still riding it.

The reasons for the sales decline range from the cost of living to the return to offices which has also made roads busier. There are also concerns over the safety of pot-holed roads.

Some, however, believe the bike craze has plateaued, raising concerns about the investment in infrastructure to encourage more people to switch to two wheels.

Bicycle retailers have felt the effect of the slowdown. The value of Halfords is down nearly 60% from its peak in the summer of 2021.

Further concerns for travel planners have emerged in data revealing that the use of public transport has failed to recover from the Covid lockdowns.

Transport Scotland figures show bus passenger numbers down by 40.3% from 392 million in 2016-17 to 234 million in 2021-22.

ScotRail passenger numbers are down by 50.5% from five years ago, from 94.2m to 46.7 million. Ferry passenger numbers have also slumped, down 23.8% from 10.1 million to 7.7 million.

Car-borne traffic is down by just 12.5% since 2016-17, indicating a resistance to government pressure for motorists to abandon their vehicles.

The decline in bus travel has been blamed partly on the number of public service buses in Scotland falling from 4,800 ten years ago to 3,700 in 2020-21.

Colin Howden, director of the sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland, said the sector was working hard to recover patronage since the pandemic and there were signs of that bearing fruit.

“However, the end of the Covid support grants for bus services at the end of this month risks undermining this progress,” he said.

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