Cycling policy bypassed by most EU states in Covid recovery plans

According to analysis of policies by Cycling Industries Europe describing post-pandemic recovery plans, more than half of EU member states have yet to develop meaningful bike-based transport initiatives, despite strengthened 2030 climate targets.

A deadline of April 30th looms large for submissions of Recovery Plans to the European Commission and 21 of 27, thus far, do not prominently detail cycling for transport incentives, with many defaulting to electric cars and public transport as a means to bring down CO2 emissions. Funding is on offer in order to help drive Europe’s progress toward net zero goals, but as it stands active travel is again broadly overlooked as part of a solution.

Manuel Marsilio, General Manager of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, said: “A total of almost €1.3 billion has been committed so far through the National Recovery and Resilience Plans to improve the cycling experience across the EU. But this is still modest compared to what we could see if more member states committed to cycling in these Recovery Plans. EU countries need to recognise that cycling investments are the best way to structurally improve people’s mobility patterns while creating green jobs and boosting the economy.

Long criticised for its car-centric policy making and subsidy generosity, Germany is one member state focusing energies on the car with €3.2 billion in grants for electric and hybrid car uptake, but noting for lighter electric vehicles such as e-bikes; this despite having a outlined a vision to become a ‘cycling nation’ by 2030.

Elsewhere there are very ambiguous references to sustainability in transport and tourism, with Spain pledging safe and connected mobility, but without any specific cycling references. Both Croatia and Finland outline sustainability drives in tourism, but omit any specific references to cycle tourism which has been shown to deliver strong economic benefits, even breaking records in Covid times.

Kevin Mayne, CEO of CIE, said: “A lot of Europeans are purchasing bikes, especially e-bikes. In 2020, more than five million e-bikes were sold, almost four times the number of electric cars. And this is creating more jobs: half of companies surveyed by CIE have more staff today than in 2019, and 94% say they will add staff over the next two years. EU governments can take advantage of this massive economic growth potential by earmarking at least 10% of their recovery plan mobility budgets to support cycling. We need to create a level-playing field for cycling and other modes of transport.”

The six countries recognised by CIE as including progressive policy goals are Belgium, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia and France.

Among the visions put forward by those committing to firmer active travel policy, Belgium is to budget €473 million, or 8% of its Recovery Plan budget, for investments into a network of high quality cycling highways connecting the northern region of Flanders (which has a unique and successful speed pedelec policy) and also a network in Brussels.

France, widely praised for its Covid transport policy turning Paris into a cycle-friendly space, will earmark €100 million to finance a national cycling plan, as well as offering up a scrappage policy for old cars in exchange for money off e-bikes.

Italy is committing to build 1,700 km of cycle paths and will invest €600 million in reinforcing bike-based mobility. Romania will invest €120 million to develop 3,000 km of touristic cycle routes and complete the EuroVelo 6 long-distance cycling route. Slovakia has budgeted €100 million to build 200 km of high-quality cycling paths. Latvia has included the development of cycling infrastructure for daily mobility in its Recovery Plan.

Jill Warren, CEO of ECF, said: “Cycling emerged as the most resilient mode of transport during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling millions of EU citizens to stay active and healthy. More Europeans than ever are cycling because of new bicycle lanes and infrastructure in European cities. EU governments must now step up and sustain this positive momentum by including dedicated budget lines for cycling in their recovery plans.”

According to a 2014 study, doubling cycling levels could lead to more than 1 million cycling-related jobs in Europe.

In the assessment by CIE, policy from Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden was not able to be analysed due to lack of public availability.