Thursday, 7 January 2010

What’s wrong with the CTC?

The UK’s national cyclists’ organisation has had an amazing 12 months, with membership reaching record levels.

And what is the actual membership? And what was it before? The article, written by someone from the CTC, doesn’t bother to elaborate on such trifles, before going on to blather about what a truly fantastic organisation it is.

Well, me, I think an organisation which boasts that

“A grant of £296,000 towards a short film and allied promotional activity to inform cyclists about climate change was secured from DeFRA Climate Challenge Fund.”

has lost its way. Crap like that is, well, total and utter crap, which has nothing whatever to do with improving cycling.

Thanks to the Bike BIZ blather I was inspired to dig further. I was not particularly surprised to come across this:

CTC is a dysfunctional organisation. This has become clearer over my year on Council. We have an imbalance where the membership are disregarded and National Office concentrates its efforts on project work for government through the Trust.

Sinking deep into the labyrinthine and murky world of comments threads I found reference to CTC membership experiencing a 50% increase in non-renewals.


mistakes on the database have resulted in membership levels possibly being misrepresented. I have told some Councillors, including the Chair, about this. I have the proof on my computer. But nobody is interested. Yet this is frightening as the figures we are being given could be way out.


The Annual Report assured us that the collection of subs was in good shape. The subs are still the Club's principal income, indeed the income that members rely upon for services. .. I've not heard from one person who has read the report that the Annual Report to the AGM is vindicated by it - and, if you were at the AGM you will recall that I questioned it at the time, and you might have noticed that I abstained on the acceptance of the Annual Report in the absence of a satisfactory reply from the Director. You may also recall that I asked how many 'members' across the country were out of time on their subs. I was told 300-400. The month before… 470 dropped off the Manchester roll. Now this is a serious matter.


I discovered that the October [2008] and February [2009] lists contained members whose membership had lapsed as far back as February 2007 (ie two years previously). The April 2009 list had been stripped of those members, which was why there was such a reduction in numbers. If there were so many lapsed members in such a relatively small area as ours, what is the impact on this across the entire CTC membership database?

Or to put all this in a wider perspective:

Overall, this year the CTC non-renewal rate is up by 50% - from about 9% of total membership to 13.5% of total membership.

Not quite such a happy situation as portrayed in Bike BIZ, then.

The reason that recorded complaints seem to be going down is that people have given up complaining - they are simply walking away. We have a membership turnover that is almost twice that for similar organisations - that should be telling us something.

Indeed, yes. But apart from the question of what the CTC’s membership figures really are, and why so many members are leaving, there’s the much bigger issue of the CTC leadership’s pressing for the CTC to become a charity. In the opinion of one member

This takeover is about concentrating power in the hands of a small executive committee and allowing the members' subs to be pillaged unmercifully - and undetectably. The membership can expect nothing from this other than an even fatter bill than the one that's been slipped under their noses for the last few years.

Interestingly, on an annual expenditure of £2,068,819 the CTC spent on ‘cycle campaigning’ just £190,624. That’s £100,000 less than was wasted on that crappy film to inform cyclists about climate change.

Or as one disgruntled CTC member puts it:

While National Office has raced around the corridors of power like a grant-bunny, the administration of the club has deteriorated - look at the membership service fiasco and read the thread on these very boards about National Office helping out member groups with their websites (not).

...too many Council meetings…have turned in to puffs for projects that, however worthy they might be, have no relation to the aspirations of the membership.

For 19 pages of arguments for and against the CTC’s proposed charitable status begin here.

My own dissatisfaction with the CTC focuses much more on its core philosophy of on-road cycling and its highly questionable assertion that there’s ‘safety in numbers.’ Cycling is in decline nationally and I don’t think the CTC’s approach will do, or has done, anything but accelerate that decline. People are quite reasonably afraid to cycle and quoting statistics at them or spending money on marketing and promotion isn’t going to change this situation. The CTC displays a haughty indifference to the kind of infrastructure which has resulted in a spectacular shift away from the car to the bicycle – infrastructure which is superior to Copenhagen, let alone London, Manchester, or Chipping Sodbury.

Groningen's cycling rate is considerably ahead of any other city in the world. The Netherlands is the most successful country in Europe for encouraging people away from car dependency to regular cycle use by most of the population. Yet the Netherlands is remarkably rarely referenced by the CTC website or documents produced by the organisation. That's very odd given that the Netherlands has the highest cycling rate in the world.

The reason for the Netherlands’ success is not ‘safety in numbers’ but segregated infrastructure. And that’s not crappy British style segregated infrastructure, which is purely cosmetic and designed to remove cyclists from roads in order to prioritise vehicle flow and speed, but massively resourced infrastructure which is impressively maintained and gives cyclists priority over motorists.

Even in the Netherlands it's notable that the cycling rate varies. It's relatively low in Rotterdam and Den Haag (around 19/20% and 25% of journeys). Tilburg used to be a leading cycling city but now has only 30% or so of trips by bike, making it look quite backward.

In fact 93% of the entire Dutch population use a bike at least once a week.

In the early 1990s, politicians in Groningen backed radical proposals to dig up city centre motorways and rid the town of traffic chaos and create a virtually car-free centre of green spaces, pedestrianised streets, bike paths and separate bus lanes.

In Groningen an amazing 57% of journeys are made by bike. More journeys are made by bike than by car, train, bus and walking put together.

This is a model of success that the ideologues who run the CTC (and for that matter the LCC) are not interested in. They think they know best. I believe the CTC is sadly mistaken in its core strategy and is ultimately more of an impediment to the development of mass cycling in Britain than a help. If leading cycling organisations have no vision of what could be done, it’s hardly surprising that Britain’s three main political parties all see their mission as pampering the motorist.

It’s time for a peasants rebellion against ineffectual cycling organisations.

Cyclists revolt! You have nothing to lose but your bicycle chains!