What cycling does for the economy

Cycling generated £2.9 billion for the UK economy in 2010 – a rise of 28% over 2009. This amounts to an average ‘Gross Cycling Product’ of £233 for each of Britain’s 12½ million cyclists. What is more, the figures are likely to continue growing rapidly in future years. This is the central finding of the LSE report, The British Cycling Economy, authored by Dr Alexander Grous, a productivity and innovation specialist at the Centre of Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics.

The major benefits to the economy from cycling include the sale of cycles and accessories, cycle maintenance, the generation of wages and tax revenues from 23,000 people employed directly in bicycle manufacture, sales, distribution and the maintenance of cycling infrastructure. There are also health benefits. These are partly the direct benefits to the economy of fewer days taken in sick leave by cyclists (a contribution of £128 million in 2010) and partly the health and well-being benefits to the individual and the saving on healthcare expenditure.

But are enough people being encouraged to get on their bikes? What are the major incentives for people to cycle? The report identifies the following:

• Cycling being made both segment- and gender-neutral, appealing to the widest number of user groups, across all ages and genders;
• Coordinated and preferential traffic signals that facilitate faster and safer journeys;
• ‘Short cut’ routes in dense urban areas and capital cities that join arterial road routes;
• Traffic calming initiatives that include road narrowing and speed restrictions that range from 30km/h to ‘walking speeds’;
• Extensive parking and in some areas, designated women-only spaces with CCTV and enhanced lighting;
• Established bike rental schemes;
• Long-running training programmes for children;
• The prevalence of strict ‘liability laws’ that assume a car driver is responsible in the event of a collision between a car and a cyclist.

Read the following articles and report and then consider, as an economist, how the benefits and costs should be analysed and what policy implications might follow.

Wheels of fortune: how cycling became a £3bn-a-year industry Independent, Tim Hume (22/8/11)
Cycling worth £3bn a year to UK economy, says LSE study Guardian (21/8/11)
Cycling industry gives economy £3bn boost BBC News (22/8/11)
Growth in cycling ‘boosting economy’, says LSE BBC News (22/8/11)
Britain Gets Back On Its Bike British Cycling (22/8/11)
‘Gross Cycling Product’ worth £2.9bn to UK economy says LSE Road.cc (22/8/11)

The British Cycling Economy: ‘Gross Cycling Product’ Report LSE, Dr Alexander Grous


  1. How is the figure of £2.9bn derived? Explain whether it is a ‘value-added’ figure?
  2. Which of the benefits can be regarded as externalities?
  3. Are there any external costs from cycling? If so, what are they and how might they be minimised?
  4. How might incentives be changed in order to encourage more people to cycle?
  5. Assume that you are a government or local authority considering whether or not to increase investment in cycle paths. What factors would you take into consideration in order to make a socially efficient decision?