West Midlands cycling and walking commissioner and Fusion Media founder Adam Tranter tells Rebecca Morley more about his role in active travel and how the industry can get involved
This piece first appeared in the September edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
“I want our region to achieve its active travel potential,” said Adam Tranter, West Midlands cycling and walking commissioner, on his appointment last year. Covid lockdowns saw people turn to bike riding for their exercise and travel needs, showing the potential that cycling can have if people have the right environment with good, quality infrastructure.
Speaking to BikeBiz, Tranter, also founder and CEO of PR and marketing agency Fusion Media, spoke of the gradual increase in e-bikes and e-cargo bikes in 2022.
“We’re not quite seeing the meteoric rise that we have in some parts of Europe and I can’t help but think e-bikes would be well supported by a Government subsidy to kickstart the awareness and the market of that.
“We’re definitely seeing that going in the right direction. The Government launched its national e-cycle programme, which I think is a good intent to get people trying them and they’ve already supported e-cargo in various different ways. I think we’re seeing the electrification as a trend, which is very positive.”
We’re also starting to see different ways of people using bikes both through conventional cycle hire, and also with companies like Swapfiets coming to the UK, the bicycle becoming something consumers don’t necessarily need to own, Tranter said.
“I think for many people that’s quite attractive and cuts down the hassle and the faff that’s required, so that is also positive. And of course, those people might not quite know whether cycling is for them yet, so it’s a good low-risk way of getting involved before potentially buying a bike, which is also good news for the industry.”
A new challenge
December 2021 saw Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street appoint Tranter as cycling and walking commissioner, to accelerate plans to get more people moving around the region by foot or bike.
Tranter, who has previously volunteered as Bicycle Mayor for Coventry, took up the new role after a ‘rigorous’ recruitment process, and as commissioner, works with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), local council partners and the Department for Transport to steer the region’s cycling and walking policies and plans.
On Tranter’s appointment, Street said: “Adam has an excellent track record of campaigning and lobbying for cycling and walking in Coventry, and I now want to use that expertise to improve our offer across the whole region.
“We have put more funding than ever before into active travel, but we need to go further to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys in the West Midlands. Not only is it good for the environment by cutting down on car use and therefore air pollution, but it is also a brilliant and fun way of improving people’s physical and mental health.
“The benefits of cycling and walking are clear, and I know Adam is the right person to help deliver on my promise to put active travel at the heart of our region’s transport plans.” Tranter said: “My job is to ultimately deliver the region’s vision for active travel, including the mayor’s manifesto of building the Starley Network of safe cycling routes.”
Birmingham-based business leader and active travel advocate Phil Jones has also been appointed as technical advisor to Tranter, where he will support Tranter to deliver Street’s vision of enabling many more people to walk and cycle short journeys instead of using the car.
Tranter continued: “I’m working with my technical adviser Phil Jones on making sure that the schemes that we’re delivering with our local authority partners are really high quality and the kind that people will want to use and really building that political will amongst the local authorities to do the right thing, and invest in this space because we have to. Doing nothing is not really an option.”
The cost of change
“I think the cost of living crisis has very much shown that people are really reliant on the status quo of energy in all forms, and that’s petrol or diesel or the price of electricity bills and gas in their homes,” said Tranter. “It’s really concerning and shows the need to act to help future proof our energy system.
“It’s reached a threshold where filling up your car might cost over £100, and that means that some people might choose to walk or cycle some short journeys instead and realise all the benefits that that has.
“Behaviour change often comes when there is a change in personal circumstances – someone moves house or moves jobs or reconsiders things in a different way. The price of petrol and diesel definitely has a part to play in that consideration for active travel.
“But we need to ensure that not only do we communicate cycling as a viable and cost effective alternative, but we also more widely explain the benefits that it has towards climate change and air pollution, and just making nicer places to live as well. In all the doom and gloom of the cost of living crisis, it could be one of those positive, small silver linings that help bring people together and ultimately save people money, which is important.”
So what’s needed from the Government? “We shouldn’t be relying on people’s confidence,” said Tranter. “[Confidence] shouldn’t be an attribute that’s required to ride a bicycle, or ride a cycle. And to do that we need safe infrastructure, whether that’s protected cycle lanes, better crossings, or indeed low traffic neighbourhoods and reducing through traffic to provide better environments to cycle and walk in.
“We know that helps getting people doing this and finding it as the easiest and most direct option. We have the funding and I think we need to continue with that path of funding but also help build capacity. There’s a real shortage in transport professionals in the transport industry at the moment, a skill shortage that’s acutely an issue, but then when you look at active travel, it’s even more of a concern as well because that’s slightly newer and more niche.
“We have to look at how we tackle that and indeed in the West Midlands, we’re potentially looking to try and create a centre of excellence for active travel and really nurture and develop that future talent. We’ve seen a lot of political will shown by central Government, and we need to see that continue into the future as well.”
And what does Tranter hope to see happen in the rest of 2022 and beyond? “I’d really like to see the industry looking long term for what’s possible,” he said. “I know it’s tough at the moment, we’ve seen a boom and we’ve seen a decline in some places in interest in cycling and therefore in sales.
“But the only way for us to achieve what we need to achieve, whether that’s for the planet, climate or health, or you’re just looking through a business lens, is to support cycling infrastructure.
“To support the normalisation of cycling in society, and to do your bit to keep pressure on local, regional and national Governments to keep investing in this space because it’s only going to come through good infrastructure and changes in behaviour. And I think that’s something the cycling industry can help with.”
The industry can get involved in campaigns like #BikeIsBest, a national cycling advocacy drive run by Fusion Media, using mass marketing to help communicate that, and supporting in their own way, said Tranter. “And it could just be being good advocates in your local area to try and get the first bike lane in your community.
“I’d love to see the industry doing more and not going back instinctively to the core customer and trying to sweat them for as much as they can, because really the future of this industry has got to be in new consumers using cycling for transport, utility and recreation.”