London’s teenagers, Bikeability certificates and driving licences

In September, Transport for London published an answer to a Freedom of Information request enquiring about the results of Local Implementation Plans by London’s borough councils.

(The What Do They Know website has the full history of the FOI request by Roger Stocker).

Local Implementation Plans (LIPs) are the schemes by which London’s boroughs obtain funds from Transport for London (TfL) to implement the Mayor of London’s transport strategy.  While TfL runs major investment programmes, it’s the boroughs which do the smaller, less glamorous interventions such as new pedestrian crossings, tweaks to bus lanes, and providing cycle training to adults and children.  Each year, the boroughs submit their plans to TfL which then dispenses the money, and the boroughs report their progress.

The answer to the FOI provided a summary of the results for the financial year 2015/16.  Of particular note is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with lots of data for each London borough.

I’m know TfL collates this data each year and prepares reports for its internal purposes.  But so far, this is the only public example I’ve found for a London-wide set of LIP results.

Bikeability Training

Riding a bicycle is, fundamentally, a simple thing once you’ve mastered the laws of nature such as balance.  Bikeability training aims to provide skills and confidence to handle the stuff that makes cycling complicated – our messy infrastructure, motorised road users and their vehicles.

I think Bikeability training is a good thing. But I also agree with Chris Boardman – designing good public infrastructure so our roads are good for cycling would reduce the need for complicated training.

Bikeability training has three levels:

  • Level 1: usually pitched to children aged 8-10, covering basics of riding a bicycle, in an off-street environment such a playground: starting, stopping, using gears, avoiding obstacles;
  • Level 2: children usually aged 9-11, conducted on quiet, residential streets: skills needed to cycle on roads with light(er) traffic; and
  • Level 3: aged 11+ (caveat below), focussing on skills to manage all traffic conditions, including busy roads, roundabouts and route planning. There’s a big difference in the conditions to be mastered – and road craft required – compared to Level 2.

Talking to the cycling instructors I know, most believe Level 3 is more successful when aimed a middle teenagers (14-16), as it requires a more mature level of road-craft than usually demonstrated by 11-12 year olds.  That’s not a hard & fast rule: I’ve cycled with 12 year olds who’ve demonstrated road skills far better than adults twice (and three times!) their age.

LIP outputs for cycling

Many London boroughs request LIP funding for a variety of cycling-related benefits, including Bikeability training to children and adults.  For 2015/16, the results are below.  (Note: I’ve reformatted the table to provide an easier-to-read portrait layout). I suspect the results are under-reported, i.e. there’s zeros for some London boroughs where I know money was invested productively.



London’s Bikeability training

Looking at the results above, London invests a lot of money to provide children and adults with cycling skills.  Some of the outer London boroughs, such as Bromley and Hillingdon, have really strong numbers.

The UK’s census data suggests that there are about 90-95,000 school age children in London in each year’s age group.  So, if the LIP money is training 22,000 children to Level 1 and the same number again to Level 2 each year, then it’s potentially reaching 20-25% of the target age groups.

For a comparison of sorts, the same LIP results spreadsheet reports that 107,000 children received “pedestrian skills training” in 2015/16.

The numbers in the tables above that jump out, to my eye, are the difference between children trained to Bikeability Levels 1 and 2 (44,000+) compared to Level 3 (639).  Indeed, the number of adults achieving Level 3 is three times higher (1974).

When I posted this on Twitter, a London cycling instructor reminded me that even some 17 year-olds, who happily demonstrate level 2 skills, struggle with level 3.

And that set me thinking: at 16 years-old, you can have access a licence for a 50cc moped, and at 17 a licence for a 125cc motorbike or a car.  How many teenagers in London have driving licences?  There’s a lot of overlap in the road skills required in Bikeability Level 3 and the Compulsory Basic Test (CBT) required to ride mopeds and motorcycles on the public highway.

London teenagers and motorised riding/ driving licences

Two to three times a year, the UK’s Department for Transport publishes data on the number of driving licences held by the British public.  Let’s have a look at the June 2017 dataset.

The dataset doesn’t explicitly state the number of Londoners aged 16 & 17 with motorised vehicle licences, so bear with me while I crunch some ratios and guestimate a rough answer.  I’ll first focus on provisional licences as the numbers are easier to extract:

  • Nationally, there’s 8,030,343 people with provisional licences, of whom 1,864,754 are in London post code areas. That’s 23.2%;
  • Nationally, there’s 402,956 teenagers aged 15, 16 or 17 with a provisional licence. (You can apply at 15 years and 9 months to start using a moped when aged 16). Generally, all provisional licences provide access to class AM mopeds.  The 402k 15-17 year-olds are 5% of the total number of people in the UK with provisional licences;
  • Applying the 5% to the 1.8m London licences, or the 23.2% to 402k teenagers UK-wide, gives a crude guestimate of about 93,500 16 & 17 year-olds in London with at least provisional licenced access to a motorised vehicle.

My instinct is that 93k is an over-estimate: London has good public transport, so there’s less urgency for teenagers to be self-sufficient for motorised transport, and the cost of living in London would suggest that teenagers have other priorities for their limited funds.   The constraints on provisional licences mean that riding mopeds and motorbikes on the public highway is dependent on completing Compulsory Basic Training, and driving a car must be supervised.

Turning to full licences – which the DfT describes as driving a car – then there’s 65,800 17 year-olds nationally who have passed a driving test.  London has 12.5% of licenced drivers, so a rough ratio might suggest there’s 8,250 London 17 year-olds with full driving licences.

Whatever the answer, it appears that the number of 15 to 17 year-olds in London with provisional driving licences (mopeds, motorbikes and cars) or even full licences (for cars) far outstrips the number with Bikeability Level 3 certificates.  It’s likely to exceed the number who’ve ever received Level 1 or 2 training too.

What’s my conclusion?

Whatever the future may bring in terms of automated vehicles, for many of today’s teenagers learning to ride or drive a motorised vehicle is, and will continue to be, an important life skill.

But in an urban society like London, where we want to reduce dependence on personal motorised vehicles for shorter journeys, I wonder if we should put more effort into the likes of Bikeability training for young people, in parallel with building infrastructure to make our roads safe and attractive for active travel.  What difference might we see if the 20,000 London youngsters who achieve Level 2 each year went on to complete Level 3?  And may be got a few more of their parents trained too?


One thought on “London’s teenagers, Bikeability certificates and driving licences

  1. A big thing you’re missing is the quality of the “training” involved. Much of it is schooling people to defer to motor traffic. Some of it is about building confidence and an assertive (not arrogant) style of riding. That doesn’t come out of the official monitoring. Ideally there would be a good quality audit to check that the right kind of training is being delivered.


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