Monday 31 January 2011

Petrol price vs. cycling rate for a range of countries

Note that even though this is almost flat between Great Britain and the Netherlands, this is the best case graph for people who think there's a correlation between car fuel price and cycling. This is because this graph concerns only the price of petrol.  If you compare diesel prices then it doesn, those are somewhat lower in the Netherlands vs. other countries. Diesel costs less here than in the UK, for instance and perhaps unsurprisingly, diesel cars are common in the Netherlands.
One of those myths that won't die is that the Netherlands has a high rate of cycling because the price of petrol ("gas" to Americans, "benzine" in The Netherlands) is high. This seems particularly to be suggested by Americans, because the price of petrol in their country is so low, and so is the cycling rate.

However, I don't believe this to be the case. If you remove the USA, and Australia to a lesser extent, many other countries have very similar petrol prices, but markedly different rates of cycling.

The graph shows the rate of cycling as a percentage of journeys in several countries in the world, plotted along with the January 2011 prices for petrol.

There are three areas of this graph which show a story.

On the left you can consider the USA, Australia and Great Britain. All three of these countries have a cycling rate of around 1%, but the petrol prices are spread widely - between 60 cents and €1.47 per litre.

You can then consider the largest part of the graph, Great Britain through to Finland. In all of these countries except Austria and Switzerland, the petrol price is very similar: between €1.40 and €1.48 per litre. However, the cycling rates vary across nearly the whole spectrum, 1% of journeys at the low end and 11% of journeys at the high end. The two end positions are taken by Great Britain with petrol at €1.47 per litre and Finland where petrol costs €1.48 per litre.

Lastly, take a look at the top three: Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. If you look hard enough here, then you can see an upward trend in both petrol price and cycling rate. However, petrol in the Netherlands is actually only 11% more expensive than Finland (€1.62 vs. €1.48) while the cycling rate is 2.5 times as high (27% vs. 11% of journeys).

But what about diesel ?
But actually, this doesn't tell the whole story. Because we've considered only petrol and not diesel, we've simplified the issue. When I last covered this, I noted that while petrol was more expensive in the Netherlands than in the UK, diesel was 14% cheaper in the Netherlands than in the UK. Considering both petrol and diesel together, the price of fuel is actually more equal between nations than it appears on my graph. For the driver of a diesel engined car (roughly half of new cars sold in Europe run on diesel), the fuel to run it is actually cheaper in the Netherlands than in Britain - yet these two countries span the widest range possible of cycling rates.

I think it's fair to say that there's no real relationship shown here between the price of fuel for cars and the cycling rate. Even when fuel for cars is expensive and congestion results in journeys being slow and inconvenient, people will continue to want to drive if driving remains the least bad option.

The cost of taxation and insurance are also not factors which make driving more expensive in the Netherlands. Insurance for new drivers in particular is much cheaper in the Netherlands than in the UK.

Many myths and excuses exist for why the cycling rate in other countries is lower. The only thing which really explains why the Netherlands stands out so far above other countries is that the experience of cycling is so different. In the Netherlands, cycling takes place away from the threat of motor vehicles on good quality cycle paths and roads which prioritize cyclists. Never is it necessary to take on busy motorized traffic by bike, or even to ride up the side of rows of stationery vehicles. This leads to an outstanding level of subjective safety, and as a result all types of people cycle.

To see the policies, infrastructure and campaigning which have lead to the Netherlands having both the world's highest cycling rate and also the world's safest cyclists, click on what works.

Fuel is actually free of charge for car commuters in the Netherlands
Because the Dutch government encourages businesses to pay their staff 19 c per km free of tax for commutes, the cost of petrol / diesel is actually zero or can even be negative for most car commuters. Yes, people are actually paid to drive in this country.

Cycling rates for the graph are taken from here and here. Prices for petrol (current in January 2011) come from here, here and here.

I covered the same excuse previously. However, it keeps coming up again, so I think it's worth repeating.


Taliesin said...

Excellent post. In my opinion, the potential for cost savings is over rated as a reason to put to people to cycle more, since it assumes that people are simply rational profit maximizing machines who will make transport choices if we can only give them the information. After all, cycling has been cheaper for the entire history of private motoring, not just in the recent spikes in fuel prices, and this hasn’t stopped the decline in the last 60 years. Of course, people aren't rational and will make decisions based on a lot of non-economic grounds, including perceive safety and a desire to fit in and keep up with the neighbours.

On the graph, this data could also be displayed as an XY-Scatter, where you would expect the countries’ cycling rate vs. petrol price to create a roughly straight line rising from the origin if the two data sets are correlated. Might make the lack of correlation a bit easier to see.

johnybravo said...

Its not the case at all, the petro prices in portugal are exactly the same if not more expensive, and people dont cycle much, even in flat towns.

Anonymous said...

I agree that low auto fuel prices don't entirely explain the lack of cycling in the States (and other places where fuel is cheap). However, I'm not certain that one can necessarily say that quality infrastructure alone will lead to Netherlands-level cycling rates. I think you need both infrastructure and high driving costs.

Actually, I'm not sure that we have, anywhere in the developed world, a "virtuous" city, where driving and cycling are on equal footing in cost and convenience, and where the citizens have chosen cycling at, say, twenty-percent or more. In the States, Portland, Oregon, and a few college towns are ongoing experiments. So far they've achieved around ten-percent. It will be interesting to see whether higher numbers will result from better paths and lanes.

The great example of the Netherlands, of course, is that it has made cycling safe, fast, and cheap, and then made driving slow and expensive, especially in urban environments. From what I understand, buying a car is roughly double the price compared to the States, fuel is three times more, and parking in Amsterdam is up to six times more costly compared to Los Angeles.

Is it true that some eighty-percent of automobiles in the Netherlands are corporate-leased, such that the usual experience of car availability is tied closely with employment?

Kevin Love said...

Two more facts that also indicate that its not about petrol prices:

1. Canada's petrol prices are about the same as Australia, but the Canadian cycling rate is approximately three times higher.

2. A major toll highway around Toronto, the 407, has toll rates that are the equivalent of about 4 euros per litre petrol prices. Its packed with cars.

David Hembrow said...

Examinedspoke: You may be right to say that high costs are also required, though we have no information here to support this or not. I'm not so sure, though. I think it comes down to nothing more than the relative attractiveness of the different options. Where cycling is an unattractive option, few will cycle. I don't believe there is anything inherently more attractive about motoring - however it's the least bad option for many people much of the time, as Kevin illustrates with his anecdote about the expensive toll highway.

As for other costs of driving in the Netherlands: yes a new car is more expensive to buy due to taxation, however not everyone buys a new car. A look at the most popular second hand goods website in the Netherlands reveals that there are currently 35 cars for sale within 5km of here priced between 500 and 1000 euros. That's surely cheap enough.

Car parking costs here are much exaggerated. Of course it depends where you go, but a lot of car parking in the Netherlands is free of charge, even in places where you'd pay in the UK. Since we got our car working again, I've paid for parking just once, and it cost 50 cents.

Some people do have lease cars, but most people own their own cars. I'm pretty sure I don't know anyone who has a lease car. I think 80% is an exaggeration. Perhaps it could be true that 80% of new cars are bought for leasing and that later they are sold as second hand to private owners. However, I don't have any figures for this either.

Slow Factory said...

Pricing needs to be combined with Enticing.

The effects on cycling from fuel cost, insurance, purchase tax, congestion charges, distance charges, etc are more clear when compared internally (within countries, regions and cities) and to themselves and adding relevant non-mobility data: If the Netherlands had a higher car purchase tax similiar to Denmark would it change the cycling rate? If car parking was more expensive? What if it was almost impossible?

In about the first half of the 20th century, or at least the first few decades, there was none-to-little separated infrastrcture for bikes inside cities in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen (see also here) or Dublin, but the bike vs. car modal split seems equal to or leaning way towards cycling. I would guess that at this time driving and owning a car was still relatively very expensive.

These days one cannot drive a car through the center of Groningen... this is not pricing, per se, but an indication of how much the city and its people value this aspect. So are value and pricing two sides of the same coin?...

r s thompson said...

This leads to an outstanding level of subjective safety, and as a result all types of people cycle."

what does that mean??
is it safer or isnt it??

Jim said...

For a more comprehensive (albeit somewhat out of date) assessment of car taxation, including taxes on purchase, ownership and use, see this 2002 study from the EU:

I think Fig 23 (total taxes as % of GDP) is probably the best summary. It shows that total car taxation is slightly higher in the Netherlands than in the UK, significantly higher than in Italy or Germany, slightly lower than in Denmark, and significantly lower than in Finland, Greece or Ireland.

On that basis, if you're looking for a real 'high car tax tax, high driving rate' country, I'd suggest Ireland is it.

David Hembrow said...

r s thompson: Please read this link. Cyclists in the Netherlands are the safest in the world. However, to get people to want to cycle it is most important that they also feel like they are safe. That's what actually makes people cycle, as very few members of the general public ever read statistics, and all of us are very strongly influenced by what things feel like.

inconvenient_truth said...

For a number of years between 1996 and 2006 I drove a diesel van full of organic wine between Bremen and the UK via Ijmuiden/Amsterdam. Every trip I arrived from the UK with an empty fuel tank and filled up at the petrol station in Ijmuiden because it was so much cheaper than the UK, and indeed for most of the time it was cheaper than Germany as well.

Paul Martin said...

Excellent post, David.

Trying to rebut these excuses here is like a game of 'whack a mole'... it is never-ending and 'avid' cyclists just don't understand that it is the non-cyclist (ie. 98% of the population who needs convincing) - they're as unhelpful as 'motorists'.

Subjective safety (feeling safe) is important. Cycling in Australia, if you look at the figures, is still safer than driving (per hour) but it doesn't feel like it when you have to 'share' the road with large metal vehicles. I don't care who has the right of way - I know who will be worse off in a collision and the usual SMIDSY & slap on the wrist punishment.

It is no surprise that the separated cycleways are the busiest cycle routes in Australia - but they are too few in number, are poorly connected most don't go anywhere useful for the majority. As a result they are largely used for 'recreation' on weekends and little more.

Meanwhile we (not me though!) complain about our unfairly high petrol prices. It's shameful. It's about time we started paying a fair price for the energy. I read recently that the energy contained in a car's fuel tank is the equivalent of having 5000 humans toiling for 24 hours non-stop... that should be expensive.

Unknown said...

Most will always find an excuse as to why they won't cycle in Canada.

I've read and heard on the radio the following:
1. Weather. Too cold and snowy in the winter. Too hot and humid in the summer. Other areas it's too rainy.

2. Unsafe. Which isn't a completely bogus excuse. Some Canadian cities are downright dangerous to walk in, let alone cycle in.

3. Some areas; helmet laws.

4. Perceived notion that you need special clothing.

5. Lack of showers. I personally don't understand why this is needed, but it's an excuse used.

6. Only the athletic types ride.

7. Only the poor who can't afford a car ride a bike.

Those are just some of the excuses that people use daily in Canada.

If we jack the price of petrol up, add new taxes etc. people will still drive here. Many actually believe it's their right to do so.

Although in 2008 when petrol prices were at their highest, the increase in cycling in my city was significant.
It is far too cheap to own and drive a car in Canada, despite what motorists say.

sheffield cycle chic said...

Petrol/Diesel prices are irrelevant unless you are on a very low income. The increasing numbers of students owning cars shows that costs are not high enough to put most people off. Most people in the UK make the decision to own a car (or a second or third) on the pragmatic basis that public transport costs are so high or routes so inconvenient that a car is the only sensible way to get from a to b. Once the car is there ready and waiting it is so much easier to use it rather than considering other options when they actually are viable. Petrol/diesel costs have risen quite a lot over the past few years, but an increasing number of journeys under 1 mile long are being made! The only reason for this I can suggest is that as fewer people walk then subjective safety reduces making even fewer people willing to walk. And with all those extra short journeys being made by car, bus journey times go up and vehicular cycling is an even less attractive option.

David Hembrow said...

Ryan: I know that individuals make excuses, but that's not what I'm getting at. Those go away if the conditions are such that cycling becomes a pleasant thing that people actually want to do.

When I talk about excuses, I really mean the things which even cyclists from other countries use as a reason why "it can't happen here".

That means things like "our streets are too narrow", "it's too expensive", "our population is too spread out", "we have hills", "our distance are too great", "it's because of the price of gas", and "it's too cold in the winter" (something which to be fair, is perhaps more true in Canada than most places where the excuse is made).

Sirius7dk said...

@ Jim

I read a blog post somewhere a few weeks ago that the car tax system has changed in Ireland recently but I cannot remember where (got the link from a cycle blog).

A further comment to the debate about cost of a new car is this table comparing the same new Saab 9-5 in different markets worldwide which makes it clear that Singapore is the most expensive country for a new car.

While I do not know anything about cycling in Singapore, a quick look in Street view shows a lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure and more cars and pedestrians than cars.

Rasmus Jensen

Meredith said...

I'd like to see a similar graph showing investments in bicycle infrastructure and/or transportation infrastructure in general.

Obama claimed in his State of the Union address that European countries invest much more heavily in transportation infrastructure and I *know* they that invest a greater percentage of that in bicycle infrastructure. I bet that there is a correlation to # of trips by bike and amount of $$ invested in bike programs/facilities.

David Hembrow said...

Meredith: You're quite right that there's a correlation.

You can find a graph showing expenditure on bicycle infrastructure vs. modal share for bikes for four different cities (and one country) here.

Yokota Fritz said...

You're probably correct that gas prices aren't the only factor in 'bike friendliness,' but that's a simplistic argument anyway. There are so many other differences than just petrol prices between the nations that a meaningful comparison is impossible. Sorry to say but I don't believe your graph conveys anything meaningful.

To really test the hypothesis that petrol prices affect modal share, other factors must be held constant. The United States had a 'cycling boom' after gas prices skyrocketed in 1972. More recently, we saw modal share go up 200% or more in several American cities after gasoline prices hit record levels in 2008. When gasoline prices moderated in 2009 and 2010, we fewer bikes on the road as well.

The facilities argument in the Netherlands doesn't completely hold water -- they invest in facilities because the people prioritize cycling for a variety of cultural and historical reasons. IOW, the facilities (and the high fuel taxes) exist because the Dutch people support cycling. The policy decisions to encourage cycling come about because that's what the people already do.

l' homme au velo said...

The price of Car's have always been dear in Ireland going back a long way.The actual price is very cheap but by the time all the Tax is totted up it work's out to be one of the dearest Countries for Car's.Also the Insurance costs have to be the Dearest than most Countries.

The 2009 period was the worst year for Car Dealers with half the amount of Cars sold because of the recession.Some Dealers closed down through lack of sales, but last year they recovered back to the way they were with even more Cars sold than ever.

Petrol and Diesel has suddenly shot up in price going from €1.22 a litre for Petrol about 4 months ago to €142 a litre in most Filling Stations and €138 for Diesel but it is still cheaper than the UK. Prices vary from place to place and it is dearer in the Country area's.

The good new's is an awful lot more People are Cycling but still there is a huge amount of Cars on the Road with a lot of People with two or more Cars. Most of these journey's are under a mile or 1 1/2 km.

The Schools near me are very local and Working class and yet loads of Cars and 4+4's suv's picking up their Children. It is not posh enough to send your Child from miles away,so they are all from the one little area of a radius of around 1 or 2 km.

Some Walk with their Children and a small group of Children Cycle to School. You can Replicate this all over Dublin and around the Country,the Roads are jammed with School Runners in their Cars on Weekdays.

The high costs of Motoring does not seem to put them off Driving.

David Hembrow said...

Yokota: The price of fuel is far from the only myth that people hang on to to explain why there's more cycling in the Netherlands than their own country. Several other of those myths have already been discussed on this blog. You can find a list over on the right hand side.

One of the biggest of them is perhaps that "it's what they already do". The history of cycling in the Netherlands is rather chequered. For three quarters of the twentieth century the country became progressively more motor dominated. Post second world war, the car boomed here and cycling dropped sharply. Car ownership reached a high level. In the 1950s and 1960s those cycle paths that existed were being removed in several areas to make room for more cars.

However, starting with a campaign about child safety, this was turned around. It's easy to see now how in many places transformations were made to accommodate cars, and then to exclude them again (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4).

Oh, and that high fuel taxes and public support for investment in cycling go together is easily shown to be false by this.

Neil said...

@examinedspoke, most of those increased costs you mention about Netherlands, probably also apply to the UK compared with USA. i.e. it's the USA that has incredibly cheap motoring, not that NL is particularly expensive.

Jim said...

Cycling did drop sharply in the Netherlands, to about 40% of its 1952 level by the late 1970s. But even then Dutch people were on average cycling around 2km a day, which was more than the average Briton cycled even in 1952 (when our records began). See chart here. Cycling rates never fell as far in either relative or absolute terms in the Netherlands as they did in the UK.

David Hembrow said...

Jim: Cycling levels in the UK in the early 1950s were actually very similar to Germany now.

Frits B said...

Adding to David's arguments: there's a five minute compilation "cyclists in Amsterdam (1900-1930)" here:
which shows that cars on the road were mostly trucks and vans, i.e purely utilitarian, and that there were noticeably fewer cyclists about than there are now. And over on there is a post on "Subversive bicycle photos from Queensland" which shows that at least parts of Australia once had a bike scenery not unlike present day Amsterdam.
On a personal note: my father had a sister, born 1905, who as a girl had a job as housemaid in Delft. She lived in Rotterdam, a three hours' walk away, and went home Saturday afternoon, to return to Delft on Sunday afternoon, on foot. A bicycle was apparently too expensive, as was the train. It did her no harm, she died at 95, but bicycles were not as common as they are nowadays, at least in The Netherlands.

Slow Factory said...

@Frits B: I already mentioned that link about early 20th Century Amsterdam. I think the modal share is more relevant than the real number.

Also regarding my earlier comment, can anyone steer me towards some data etc. so that I can figure how expensive it would be to drive now if the cost of car was proportionately similar to the cost 100 years ago?

Frits B said...

GIF: "In about the first half of the 20th century, or at least the first few decades, there was none-to-little separated infrastructure for bikes inside cities in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen (see also here) or Dublin, but the bike vs. car modal split seems equal to or leaning way towards cycling."
There was no separate infrastructure for bikes in cities as it was not necessary. And modal share for both cars and bikes was low. People walked or used public transport.
"I would guess that at this time driving and owning a car was still relatively very expensive."
The same was true for bicycles. Don't forget that bicycles started out as toys for the rich in the late 1800s. And when the Germans confiscated Dutch bicycles in WW2, they not only deprived them from the only viable mass transport system but also did a lot of harm financially. There were enough bikes available in shops but far too expensive; food came first at that time.

Kevin Love said...


As someone living in Canada, I don't accept winter weather as an excuse for not cycling. I've cycled every day so far this winter to work, shops, church, etc.

The weather forecasters are currently saying that tonight we are about to get the worst winter storm for the last three years. High winds, cold temperatures and up to 30 cm of snow.

If that happens, I'll take the subway to work tomorrow morning. I expect that the next day the roads will have been cleared so I'll be back on my bicycle again.

Losing one day in three years is not bad. As far as driving a car goes - forget about that during a storm like this one. The police close many of the roads to cars.

Anonymous said...

"most of those increased costs you mention about Netherlands, probably also apply to the UK compared with USA. i.e. it's the USA that has incredibly cheap motoring, not that NL is particularly expensive."

I agree, which I think is part of my point, or maybe I didn't actually make my point. The way I see it, a city needs three factors to achieve high cycling levels:

1) Separated, safe infrastructure;

2) Infrastructure that goes to useful places (i.e., not just a beach bike path, like we have in L.A.);

3) Relatively expensive alternatives to cycling.

With these three factors, I think there's a better chance of a substantial mode share.

Many U.K. cities, for instance, have high driving costs, but don't have safe infrastructure, and have a low mode share. Some German cities have similar driving costs paired with moderate infrastructure and have moderate usage. The Netherlands has all three, and is a world leader.

Most cities in the U.S. have none of the three, and have a mode share level of about one percent. The few American examples that do have good infrastructure have a mode share around ten percent. It's an ongoing question whether usage will increase with infrastructure alone, but I have my doubts.

I never saw people in Los Angeles get so green so quickly as they did during the 2008 fuel crisis. Bikes were flying out of the stores, and you couldn't sell an SUV at any price. By 2010, however, when fuel prices fell again, all that was mostly forgotten.

Anonymous said...

A couple of observations. First I think this discussion is failing to acknowledge the role of culture. In places like the Netherlands with excellent cycling infrastructure, there are still fairly large difference in cycling rates between the native born and immigrant populations. The reason Muslim populations in the Netherlands aren't ride there cycles around isn't because the infrastructure is poor, they are failing to use their cycles as much because they were not brought up in a culture that emphasized cycling the same way that the native population was inculcated with cycling. If you are going to try to get people in Los Angeles at rates that people in the Netherlands do, it going to take a lot more outreach than this discussion has so far acknowledged.

The other issue is trip length. In the US, the median trip length people are willing to cycle is about 3 miles, for distances longer than 5 miles the rate of cycling really drops off. For trips longer than 5 miles, most people in the US drive.

What matters here is accessibility. How many of your life activities can you take care of within that preferably 3 to 5 mile radius?

In Los Angeles land uses are quite segregated. Where people work, where they shop, and where they live is pretty spread out. Even assuming Southern California built Dutch type cycling facilities, if you are living in Burbank and working in Downtown LA, only the most committed cycling enthusiasts are going to cycle the 12.5 miles each way between work and residence.

Where land uses are pretty well mixed and accessibility is high like say San Francisco, Boston, Philly or Manhattan, I think there is a huge potential for the growth of cycling. But in the neighborhoods and communities built out post WW2, I think the upper bound for cycling is much lower. The trip lengths are are too long.


David Hembrow said...

Thor: I'm with you on culture. It certainly can be difficult to convince people to cycle if they're not used to doing so. The Netherlands has programmes to encourage new Dutch citizens to cycle.

You're also right that only the committed will cycle 12 miles in each direction to get to and from work, and that many trips will have to be shorter in order to encourage people to cycle for them.

The reason why Dutch women cycle for more journeys than Dutch men do (55% of all cycle trips are made by women) is exactly this. Working age men are more likely to have longer commutes which are not so attractive for cycling.

However, not all journeys are commutes, and journey lengths are over-stated as a cause of problems. 40% of urban journeys in the US are under 2 miles - yet the car is used for 90% of those journeys.

Because journey lengths are constricted more by available time to make the journey than by distance per-se, I suspect that while mean journey lengths for all reasons in the US will be much longer than they are in the Netherlands due to a minority who regularly make very long journeys, median journey lengths are probably not very different at all.

Anonymous said...


Several points you bring up seem to have been addressed recently in a German study, which concluded that governments needed to foster bicycle culture along with infrastructure. I guess one could call this the 'peer pressure' factor.

I agree with many of your Los Angeles assessments, including the longer distances that many of us face in conducting daily life. That said, I believe many shorter trips are well within bicycle range for many (most?) people. In recent months, I've taken to riding my bicycle for most errands, requiring only that I alter a few habits (choosing closer grocery stores, bunching trips). These small changes have allowed me to reduce my car usage to one or two trips weekly. Any peer pressure factor I might have, however, gets lost among the many structural deficiencies of L.A. streets. When I encourage others to ride, they usually can trump me with a simple, "Well, you were hit by a car." At that point my momentum is lost.

Anonymous said...

I live in Holland. Personally I think the government was following a (growing) tendency to cycle; a tradition. 25 years ago, when I was at highschool, everybody of my class cycled to school. Rain, distance, cold, it didnt matter, we all cycled. Often together. Some had to cycle over 15 kilometers to school, so 30 a day. If you let you parents bring you with the car, you where called a whimp. Everyone owned a bike. Cheap shitty ones:), but still they rolled and did the job. Since most people cycled during their lives they, once in a car, have respect for cylists and know how to treat cyclists. Most people in our government used to go to school on bikes. So I think it starts with parents giving their child a bike and tell them to cycle to school, I believe its a parenting tradition, which the government is facilitating. friendly greetings Mo

kfg said...

""Well, you were hit by a car." At that point my momentum is lost."

And people in cars never get hurt, or . . .something.

You need to put a little more mass in your arguments.

Anonymous said...

I live in Toronto, Canada. I cycled to work and back today. It was about -5C and very slushy. Even with a fender, the slush sprayed all up the back of my coat. My pant legs were soaked and dirty within a few minutes. My face was uncomfortably cold despite wrapping a scarf around it.

I can live with this degree of discomfort and inconvenience because I really like to ride my bike. But I can understand that it's not for everyone. If I had needed to look more presentable at work, I would not have ridden a bike today. Some days, like when it's -25C, it really is too cold.

But most days aren't like that. I would say that even a somewhat fussy rider could manage at least 280 or so days of cycling each year.

Gareth Dent said...

I am reasonably convinced that the graph in the post supports the point you are making -ie high petrol prices do not in themselves explain the variation in cycling rates across countries.

What some of the commentators seem to have take from this however is that changes in petrol prices have no impact on the level of driving and the level of cycling. This flies in the face of decades of studies of consumer behaviour.

One of the reasons this area is complex is that people's behaviour is influenced by not just the price today but also their expectation of prices in the future. A doubling of the price of petrol will have a bigger effect in driving down car use if people believe the change is permanent than if they expect it to be short-lived. Another factor is that not all of the impact is felt at once. Sheffield Cycle Chic is right that in the short term once the costs of buying a car are sunk, it will be used. However in the long term cars have to be replaced and people can make different choices about where they live in relation to where work.

So - increases in petrol prices are a good thing for cyclists - they lead to fewer motorists on the road and more potential supporters of the alternatives to driving.

We need carrots sure, but let's use the sticks that Government's have at their disposal too.