Research shows economic benefit of cycle commuting in Scotland

29 July 2021    

Recent research conducted at the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH), using a tool developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has calculated a substantial economic value of walking and cycle commuting in Scotland.

These findings form a vital part of advocacy for further investment in walking, cycling and wheeling friendly environments in Scotland.

The study, ‘Quantifying the health and economic benefits of active commuting in Scotland’ was published in the Journal of Transport and Health and used census data to estimate the number of pedestrian and cycle commuters who achieved the recommended daily level of physical activity (30 minutes of moderate intensity activity).

The research concluded that 14.5% of all commuting in Scotland in 2011 was ‘active commuting’ (walking, cycling, and wheeling) and 50% of all active commuters met their recommended levels of physical activity through their commute.

The modal share (the percentage of people using a particular type of transport) of active commuting rose from 13.5% in 2001 to 14.5% in 2011.

Co-author Graham Baker said:

These findings provide valuable evidence of the role that active commuting can play in achieving government recommended levels of physical activity.

It is clear from our findings that there is great scope for further promotion of cycling as a means to travel to work. It is essential that organisations that promote cycling are supported by resources and investment, that is accompanied by larger-scale infrastructure changes.

Using the WHO’s Health and Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT), the researchers were able to estimate the annual health economic benefit of commuting to work in Scotland by foot or bike as £671 million*.

The HEAT tool works by estimating the reduction in mortality (fewer deaths) that results from walking and cycle commuting and placing a monetary value on the reduction.

Paul Kelly, another author of the research said:

These findings demonstrate the value of cycling in Scotland, in terms of health and well-being at a population level. They provide justification to protect current investment cycling promotion, and a rationale to find new ways to support safe and accessible cycling for all.

In addition, previous research has estimated that physical activity – through walking and cycling for example – can prevent 3.9 million premature deaths globally each year. The researchers identified cycling as having great potential to increase the levels of physical activity within a country, given the capability of most adults to cycle short journeys.

The health, economic and climate benefits of moving towards active travel for short journeys is clear and is reinforced by this research.

*The research used Euros to calculate the economic benefit as €780 million – converted to £671 million using an exchange rate of €1 = £0.86.