There is evidence that individuals engaging in physical activity through active travel or other forms of exercise, take fewer days of sickness absence than their non-active counterparts (Rissel, et al., 2012; Flint, et al., 2014; Petrunoff, et al., 2016). Research found that cyclist commuters take an average of between one and three days less all-cause sickness absence than their non-active commuter colleagues (Davis & Jones, 2007; Hendriksen, et al., 2010; Davis, 2014; Department for Transport, 2016; TRL, 2018). The effect is subject to a dose-response relationship, such that the more individual’s cycle, the less days they take in sickness absence (Hendriksen, et al., 2010). Importantly, the evidence indicates that significant differences in absenteeism between non- and active commuters are only apparent in the long term, possibly requiring at least a year of sustained exercise levels, prior to which any difference is not statistically significant (Davis & Jones, 2007).
At a societal level, reduced absenteeism would result in savings for employers, both through reduced sickness pay and increased levels of productivity. There may also be health co-benefits through associated health-care savings.
Translating active travel modes into a value of the cycling or walking industries is complicated due to the absence of robust quantitative data on retail sales and employment (Grous, 2011; Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, 2017; Transform Scotland, 2018). The value of walking appears to be absent from the literature but attempts have been made to estimate the value of the bicycle industry drawing on available sources of information. These include HMRC’s import statistics which are limited to units and their monetary value (Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, 2017), consultations with industry representatives (Grous, 2011), or data available on the EU bicycle market from which the UK’s share (and sometimes subsequently Scotland’s) is extrapolated (Transform Scotland, 2018).
The UK manufactures about 80,000 bicycles per annum (Brompton and Pashley holding the largest shares) with the majority of the merchandise sold principally imported from Asia (Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, 2017). Grous (2011) estimates a £2.9 billion gross cycling contribution (£230 per cyclist) to the UK economy in 2010 through the combination of bicycle and accessory sales and cycling employment. This is the most frequently cited monetary estimation in the literature, however Küster & Blondel (2013) point out that COLIBI/COLIPED data contradicts the average bicycle cost used in the Grous report (€280 instead of the €505 used in the analysis) which more than halves the estimated turnover. This is a result of studies often obtaining a value for the average cost of a bicycle from the range of prices on popular retail websites.
Transform Scotland (2018) estimated Scotland’s share of the UK’s cycling industry based on an evaluation of the secondary information in the literature and the assumption that Scotland has an 8.45% share of the UK market (reflecting the percentage share of the UK population). They report that in 2015, the Scottish cycling industry was worth between £75 - £251 million in bicycle sales and £30 million in accessory sales in 2015. In addition Scotland produced an estimated £0.58 - £1.94 million in bicycle manufacturing and £1.2 million in the manufacture of accessories.
International case study evidence indicates that retailers consistently underestimate how much cyclists and pedestrians contribute to their sales (Department for Transport, 2016). The literature suggests that while cyclists and pedestrians spend less per visit than motorists, they make more frequent visits (Clifton, et al., 2013; Department for Transport, 2016; Transport for London, 2016). Whether this results in higher overall spending than motorists is disputed (Rajé & Saffrey, 2015; Department for Transport, 2016) but it suggests that active travellers make up an important portion of the sales for small businesses (Transport for London, 2016; Living Streets, 2018).
Additionally, bicycle parking is more space-effective than car parking and case study evidence indicates that it generates a higher value per hour/m2 than the equivalent space devoted to cars (Lee & March, 2010). However this effect is likely to be more pronounced in city centres which are more accessible and characterised by a higher concentration of retail space than in other locations (Department for Transport, 2016).
Valuing the difference in spending between active travellers and other transport users is complicated by the variation in the methodology and data collected across case studies, limiting cross-comparison and generalisability. As a result, meta-analyses and reviews generally refrain from citing specific monetary figures to substantiate the positive impact that active travellers have on retails sales (Department for Transport, 2016).
Cycle freight refers to the process of transporting merchandise through the use of a bicycle. A number of bicycle designs are available that are equipped with cargo holds into which loads can be secured for transportation, although the term also encompasses couriers using traditional bikes. The case for cycle freight is disputed with some case study evidence suggesting that it can offer a cheaper (in terms of maintenance cost and fuel savings), quieter and more environmentally-friendly alternative to motorised vehicles for certain types of businesses (Transport for London, 2018; Cycle Logistics, 2017). However other case studies indicate that there are a number of challenges to achieving the expected productivity gains. These include the costs of delivery being underestimated, the unreliability of riders, and the limited viability for payloads under a certain size and weight (Transport for London, 2009).
There appears to be a link between the proportion of a population that cycles for utility purposes and its propensity for cycle tourism (Rajé & Saffrey, 2015; European Parliament, 2012). While this may currently limit the growth of domestic cycle tourism in Scotland, data collected by the Great Britain Tourism Survey and reported by Visit Scotland (2017a, 2017b) gives an indication of the magnitude of cycling and walking tourism. They report that between 2013-2015, an estimated 383,000 cycling trips and 5,127,000 walking trips took place, with an estimated expenditure of £1.9 billion. The spending is not uniformly distributed however, with the North and East parts of the country appearing to receive a higher share than the rest of Scotland. This is in line with research indicating that there is a significant difference in the economic distribution made by tourists depending on the type of visitor they are and the region they are visiting. Tourists for whom walking and cycling constitutes the primary purpose of a trip may visit more rural areas and may stay longer than other tourists, thus possibly contributing more extensively to these local economies (Rajé & Saffrey, 2015).
However, assessing the economic impact of cycle tourism is complicated by the difficulty in obtaining quantified information on spending behaviour and international vs domestic cycle and walking tourism (Transform Scotland, 2013). Additionally, the available data doesn’t currently discriminate between trips that have cycling or walking as their primary purpose as opposed to those where it only constitutes one of the activities engaged in (Bryden, et al., 2010). Consequently, the estimates found in the literature vary greatly on the elements included and the level of impact considered (e.g.: UK-wide, Scotland-wide, activity-specific).
For example, (Transform Scotland, 2013) found that estimates of direct expenditure from cycle tourism can fall between £106 and £228 million depending on which elements are included in the calculations. A later report estimated the total value of leisure cycle tourism at £345 million and mountain bike tourism at £141.4 million (Transform Scotland, 2018). However part of the data was based on survey information which asked cyclists along a route to estimate their spending during the trip, the duration of their stay, and of the trip devoted to cycling as a primary purpose. Additionally, it is not possible to determine to what extent spending is being displaced from other activities, thus not resulting in net economic growth. Transform Scotland stresses that growth in cycle tourism is expected to come from such displacement (Transform Scotland, 2013).
Individual level savings
Finally, on an individual level, active travel modes represent substantial savings compared to the cost of owning or driving a car, and even possibly of using public transport. Davis (2014) states that “the operating and maintenance costs of a bicycle are around 5% of the equivalent cost for a motor vehicle. Walking is, arguably, almost cost neutral.” Additionally, cycle scheme website estimates that an individual cycling a 10 mile round-trip commute, 50 weeks of the year can expect to spend £365 per annum compared to £625-1320 if using public transport or £3727 if driving a car. While this is based on London prices, it provides an indication of the potential savings from engaging in active travel and suggests substantial savings if scaled up to a population level.