MP Ruth Cadbury: Women ‘Appallingly Underrepresented’ in Transport & Cycling

"Even green, progressive blokes can be blokey"

Ruth Cadbury is the Labour Shadow Housing Minister and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG). TWC met her when the group hosted a discussion focused on women in cycling, and Laura Laker spent some time asking her about her own cycling and what she thinks needs to change before we see more women on bikes.

Read more about APPCG: Women in Cycling Discussed in Parliament

In a café in the modern Portcullis House, Cadbury – who also chairs the Women in Transport Committee – tells TWC women are “appallingly underrepresented” in transport, both on bikes on the street and as engineers in the UK.

Cadbury after completing Ride London (Image: @RuthCadbury)
  • What is the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group? (APPCG)
  • The APPCG’s vision is to get more people cycling in the UK more often
  • They use their influence to promote cycling across the public, private and third sectors
  • They also review research evidence and current best practice and provide recommendations to try to shift government policy
  • They are currently running an inquiry into how the justice system treats cyclists, amid widespread concerns it is failing to protect those on two wheels

The Brentford and Isleworth MP often raises cycling questions in Parliament. Her questions range from long-term investment in infrastructure, to design standards that encourage women, children, people with disabilities and older people to cycle. She was asked to co-chair the APPCG after the 2015 general election.

She says: “I got targeted in a way that I couldn’t really refuse: ‘would you like to be the chair, you will won’t you?’ I was flattered to be asked and I’m really pleased to be doing it.”

She adds: “I suppose it was natural, because I’ve generally been concerned about – and as a councillor as well – interested in and focused on alternatives to the car, and making it easier to have alternatives to the car, and the environmental issues as well.”

As with transport, and cycling, women are still underrepresented in Parliament. In 2015 women made up 191 of 650 MPs – just 22 per cent. We wonder, does it help the cycling agenda having a female co-chair in the APPCG?

“I think so,” she says. “I think cycling, like anything to do with transport, can be a bit blokey; even though they’re very nice people and very green and progressive in many ways, even green, progressive blokes can be blokey.

“I think it’s important because we’re more likely to say: ‘well what about parents with children, or what about short journeys, or what about … not feeling intimidated and patronised when you go into a bike shop?”

“You need to have women at the table to make these points: it’s not just about making life easier for fit middle aged blokes to cycle eight miles plus into the city of London, or Westminster.”

Cadbury charing the recent meeting around women and cycling

Cadbury, who describes her part of West London as highly congested and polluted, says it’s faster to travel around her constituency by bike than by car. She believes getting women cycling is key to the UK ascending to higher cycling levels, and to “normalise” riding a bike.

“In the Netherlands, more women than men are cycling,” she says. This, she points out, includes women into their 80s, who keep cycling because it is something they have always done.

Introducing Anna of Amsterdam: the World’s First Cycling Mayor

“You can only normalise cycling if children are doing it with their parents from an early age. That’s what happens in parts of Europe with high rates of cycling: it’s a normal activity. So if kids are cycling with their parents on the roads, and then they’re progressing to cycling themselves to school and secondary school, and then they start work and uni.

“You’ve got to have women in that debate,” she says, partly because women are mums and still tend to spend more time with their kids than dads, but also as role models.

“Obviously they are influencers, they’re important role models for their daughters and if we want to see more women and young women cycling we’ve got to make sure more middle aged and older women are encouraged to cycle.”

Cadbury says teaching parents cycling skills, and safe routes to school and work, through things like buddy schemes and Bikeability Plus, is essential, to give them confidence to let their kids out on the roads and to learn to cycle themselves.

“You’ve not just got to teach kids technique, you’ve got to work with their parents,” she says.

“If you talk to kids doing Bikeability and ask them after this if they’ll cycle more and they’re like ‘my mum won’t let me’, or would you cycle independently, ‘my mum wouldn’t like it’. And mums and dads are protective of their kids, quite rightly.”

Infrastructure is “woefully underfunded outside of London.” Image:

She acknowledges a lack of safe infrastructure is a major barrier, especially for women and children.

“I think we’ve got a struggle, we’ve got soft measures like Bikeability and other methods that encourage people to cycle, then we’ve got the infrastructure, which is woefully underfunded outside of London.”

Cadbury, like many of us, cycled as a kid, and has cycled on and off throughout her life, though when her children were young she admits the bike was in the shed more than it was out of it.

Now, she tends to use the bike for local trips within West London, rather than the commute to Westminster.

“I’m often going round my constituency to meetings on my bike, I do have a tendency to do my passive aggressive to whoever greets me: ‘anywhere I can put my bike?’”

It was great to speak to Ruth Cadbury, and we hope to see the APPCG making exciting and positive changes in the coming months and years. 

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