Folding Bikes Blog

Great Britain and Great Transportation

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Just last week, we told you about the 2 Mile Challenge. CLIF Bar is trying to encourage people to ride more, especially for shorter trips, by providing a way for participants to track their mileage, and then converting the mileage to the amount of pollutants that were not released in to the environment because of it. The effect of vehicle emissions on the environment is not to be taken lightly. For example, The Economist article, “A drive for change”, describes how in Great Britain, environmentally-informed financial policies are shaping people’s driving habits. In particular, as the government increases the fuel duty, the price of gas (or “petrol” as they would say,) rises ever higher, causing people to re-evaluate their transportation choices.

It’s an interesting question, of course. Is the British government really raising the fuel duty in an effort to encourage people to drive less? Or are they raising the duty because 1) they can and 2) they can use the extra money? It’s impossible to know. But here’s something to think about: imagine the government were considering raising some duty. This duty would bring in more money to the government, and in addition, it would have some devastating environmental consequences. Giving no regard to these consequences, the government raises the duty. Is the government then responsible for the devastating environmental consequences? Intuitively, yes.

And now imagine that the government were considering raising some duty (say the fuel duty). This would bring in more money to the government, and in addition, it would have some positive environmental consequences. Giving no regard to these consequences, the government raises the duty. Is the government then responsible for the positive environmental consequences? This is more difficult. Intuitively, it seems the answer is no; but for consistency’s sake, since the government was responsible in the previous case and nothing has really changed between that one and this, it seems that the government is responsible for the positive consequences. How would you reconcile your intuitions in the two cases? Maybe we just don’t like to give a government moral credit when they stand to gain financially? Hard to say.

Regardless, due to a combination of car-related policies and fuel duties enacted by the British government, half of Britons surveyed said they “felt that at some point rising fuel prices would ‘force’ them to change to a more efficient car or alter their driving habits.” This is supported by further research that shows that people have been driving less over the past 5 years. And while 23% of car trips in Great Britain are 2 miles or less, this does compare quite favourably to the U.S., where the number is at 36%. But there is still room for improvement: The Economist notes that over the past 10 years, more children are being driven to school, “That’s partly because people live slightly further from school than they did a decade ago – but only slightly further. It should come as no surprise that Britons are also fatter now than they were a decade ago. There is a correlation.”

If you’re looking to drive less, for either environmental, financial, or health reasons, a folding bike can really help you out. With a folding bike, there are so many ways to increase the amount you ride: you can take the bike on the train with you; you can fit it in your trunk; you can do a park-and-pedal commute – so many options and so much flexibility, because, of course, you can also just ride.

Fold for Thought

Do you think ethics/morals are responsible for government policy? Or is it purely driven by financial concerns and political expediency? As people drive less due to increased fuel costs, is the government doing enough to compensate by providing viable transportation alternatives, in particular cycling infrastructure? Are you driving less than you used to? How has a folding bike changed your transportation habits?

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  1. Ryan Charlesworth
    Posted December 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Like most Britains who commute the decision to do was taken initially purely based on a desire to save money. Whilst I throughly enjoy the pursuit now it was never my intention to be doing it 2 years on.

    I would like to say our politicians are different and that increasng fuel and road duty was a way of encourging more people to comuute via other routes or modes of transport. The fact our public infrasructure is so poor or expensive as well does not really support that theory. The answre is simply a way of filling the public coffers.

    They realise with the large majority of workings having to commute to work the requiremnet for car is an every day essentual and thus an easy target for revenue.

    I guess one of the reaons why unlike many Americans we are able to ditch the car and take up the bike is our commutes are often smaller. My ride of 18 miles each way is considered massive by many I speak to and is an unusual distance to ride to work. I doubt this would be an uncommon distance in t US due to the sheer size of the country.

    As nation we are not as self sufficient either as regards our ownnatural resources and thus fuel costs are far higher so the 5 litre gas guzzlers are are s rare as a mountain leapard.

    We have solid and progressive transport policy granted, but it is born on revenue generation rather than an environmental or health of the nation concern. As a way of proving this point they are now in earlt talks to tax cyclists and introduce a bucycle worthiness test every year?? they have realised the potential of the cyclists, after years of hammring the motorist they need a new enemy

  2. Posted December 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your feedback. Good to hear you are bike commuting. There have been talks about licensing/registering cyclists over in the U.S. for some time now, but they have all failed because it would cost much more to implement the administrative system than they could reasonably expect to make back in fees…so it has been dismissed every time it comes up for discussion. Otherwise, the cost of riding a bike would be astronomical – and one of the best things about it is that it’s virtually free.

    And for a straight bike commute, I think 18 miles each way would be among the longer commutes – at least in the Boston area. I think a lot of people who have long commutes here will either drive part way and ride the rest, or take the bike on public transit. So the commute may be long-ish, but the cycling part is shorter (or shorter than 18 miles at least).

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