As lockdown is slowly lifted and more start going back to work the Government is encouraging commuters to exercise their ‘civic duty’ not to use public transport and, if within a reasonable commuting distance, leave their car at home and get to work on foot or by bike.
Locally and disappointingly Worcestershire County Council, as our Highway and Public Health Authority, has just made it clear that (despite statutory Government guidance) they won’t be proactively supportive.
There is however lots that existing cyclists and employers can individually and collectively do to be supportive of the Government.
Encouraging Your Colleagues to Cycle to Work
One of the best ways to encourage cycling is to lead by example. Cycle to work, but ideally leave the ‘lycra’ at home. For those new to cycling the thought they may have to buy and wear ‘spandex’ is a real turn off. It makes cycling look more like a sport rather than a great way to get to work and adds to the impression that cycling is hard work. It isn’t. It’s no more strenuous than walking. The main difference is you get there five times quicker. Anyone of reasonable fitness can easily manage to cycle 5 miles in 30 minutes. If not, electric bikes are now widely available or you can drive part way. For most journeys around the City cycling is actually quicker door to door than driving.
Cycling is nowhere near as dangerous as many perceive, but fear of traffic is the main reason people don’t give cycling a try. It’s therefore really helpful to point out the quieter backstreets, cycle paths and canal towpaths that can be used to avoid the busy main roads. To help work out a quieter route from home to work Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, has a really useful Journey Planner on their website. The County Council also has walking and cycling maps for all of the main towns in the County that you can download from their website. Once a route is identified (and now we’re allowed to meet up with one person from another household etc etc) why not either arrange to cycle to work with them or check out the route after work.
Road positioning and making clear signals can further decrease risks. So, share your top tips, like riding a metre from the kerb and when passing parked cars or refer them to advice and videos at www.bikeability.org.uk.
Bikes are inexpensive, but its false economy to buy a cheap bike online or from a chain store. They’ll be heavy, difficult to ride and will have poor quality components that don’t work well, wear out quickly and are difficult to maintain. A decent £500 bike is a far better investment. It’ll last at least 10 years and pay for itself in a couple as a result of the savings you’ll make by not driving or taking public transport. If your work colleague can’t afford £500 check if they can get one at a 30-40% saving through the Government’s Cycle To Work Scheme, help them buy a second-hand bike or lend them one of yours!
Its also best to direct your colleague to a good local bike shop as they are well placed to advise on a bike that’s fit for purpose, but just as importantly fits them. All of the City’s independent bike shops and mobile bike repairers are still open, but have introduced social distancing measures to keep customers and themselves safe, so please check out their website before visiting.
Finally, recommend them to have a look at all the useful advice that’s freely available on the Cycling UK website www.cyclinguk.org. The charity also has an affordable national membership scheme which includes third party cycle insurance. Currently health and social care workers can benefit from three months free membership.
Becoming a Cycle-Friendly Employer
Even before the current crisis there was a strong ‘business case’ for employers to encourage more of their workforce to cycle to work. Those that do are more productive. They’re fitter, healthier, less stressed and take fewer sick days. They’re also more punctual and don’t need a parking space. Employers can get more details on the Cycling UK and other websites, but here’s a quick summary of what employers can be doing to make it easier for your employees to leave their car at home.
Make use of the tax benefits the Government offers to encourage cycling. Sign up to the Government’s Cycle to Work salary sacrifice scheme which allows your employees to buy up to £1,000 worth of bike and equipment at a substantial discount. Offer them a tax free 20p mileage allowance when using their bikes for business journeys. Its less than half the cost of car mileage.
Provide secure, conveniently located and preferably covered bike storage, lockers to store their cycle clothing and drying facilities. Wall hooks for bikes in an unused part of the building, a dedicated cupboard with hanging rails and an efficient dehumidifier aren’t expensive. A shower would be a welcome addition. So too would providing pool bikes so those employees who still get to work by car or public transport can use them for local journeys that aren’t in walking distance. It may even persuade them to give cycle commuting a try!
Now is a great time to review your Travel Plan for reducing car usage and supporting your Community Social Responsibility commitments. How’s about setting up and supporting a Bicycle User Group either on your site or with neighbouring businesses. Get involved with some of the national initiatives such as Cycle to Work Day www.cycletoworkday.org and various workplace challenges. Or set up your own. A great local example is Aquabio’s SHIFT initiative www.goshift.co.uk.