Why businesses should incentivise their employees to cycle to work and how companies are already pushing this agenda
“If an architect were to design your house like this,” writes Co-Founder & Urban Planner at Humankind, Lior Steinberg, in a LinkedIn post, “you’d fire them. Why then do we allow professionals to design our cities like this?” I give the post a thumbs up.
I like this graphic for its simplicity; it demonstrates in visual terms what is, in reality, a complex issue around urban planning and the demand to accommodate, in as efficient and cost-effective a way as possible, an ever-evolving, ever-growing population.
The advent of the mass-produced automobile in the early 20th century has a lot to answer for, says Forbes mobility economy expert John Frazer, since it created “unpredictably powerful ripples in the design of cities that resonate even today”.
But the tide is turning.
Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed rapid shifts in travel and commuter behaviour, even reshaping travel infrastructure itself.
In March 2020, with the global spread of the virus, the use of bike-share systems increased by roughly 150 per cent in Beijing and 67 per cent in New York, where cycling on main thoroughfares increased by 52 per cent.
Meanwhile, the national trade association for the UK cycle industry, The Bicycle Association, has revealed that cycling during the pandemic lock-down from April to June of last year regularly exceeded 250 per cent of normal pre-COVID levels. The Sport England survey data also recorded an increase in participation, amounting to an extra million cyclists on the road.
In response to this extraordinary uptake, BA’s Executive Director, Steve Garidis proposed: “the cycling industry should be seen as one of national strategic importance … COVID-19 has shown just how true this is – bike shops were recognised as essential businesses able to support key workers needing to travel safely, and cycling was promoted as one of just a handful of accessible ways for the population to stay fit and sane during multiple lockdowns.”
Similarly, this year’s ChangeNOW Summit, the largest positive impact gathering in the world, showed an increased and collective commitment to the cycling cause with many inspiring innovators and changemakers speaking up about how they are fiercely pushing this agenda forward.
This has all led to a point where the benefits are clear for businesses that incentivise their employees to cycle to work.
Expanding Appeal With Affordability and Access
Thomas Beaurain, entrepreneur and co-founder of Zenride, established a bike leasing enterprise in 2018 which aims at helping companies both great and small to offer bikes to their employees at a hugely discounted rate.
The consumer has autonomy over the bike they choose to rent (be it cargo, electric, traditional or foldable), paying only 30 per cent of the real cost of the service while the rest is financed by their employer. While the scheme, from a health and financial standpoint, is clearly beneficial to the consumer, Beaurain also believes that Zenride will be advantageous to businesses funding the endeavour.
Not only will companies automatically be “tapping into CSR benefits” but in order to catch and retain the best talent, the bicycle service is a real hook. According to Beaurain, in a recent Zenride survey, 87 per cent of users would not have switched their modes of transport for Zenride had it not been for the financial help offered to them by their employer, while 72 per cent attested to feeling less stressed and more satisfied when using the scheme.
What’s more, employees increasingly want to see examples of their employers going the extra mile, “taking the money part out of the transition” and integrating positive social impact at the heart of what they do, he added.
Catching Up to a Changing Culture
The culture around owning a vehicle is changing too. President of the Brazilian Cyclists’ Union, Ana Carboni, states that young people tend not to be as keen on gaining a driver’s licence nor is it something to which everyone feels they must aspire, with the increase in motoring costs, stagnating wage rates and a decline in disposable income being possible motivating factors.
According to a recent study, a parked car requires at least three times more space than public transport and ten times more than a bicycle. With the average car in the UK said to spend about 96 per cent of the time parked, it is no wonder that there is an increasing demand for a fairer distribution of road space.
Over the last year, as a result of social distancing requirements and public transport restrictions, we have seen a proliferation of pop-up cycle lanes and temporary street closures in cities from Bogotá to Berlin, while in Brussels, the entire city core has been reclaimed as a priority zone for pedestrians and cyclists and will remain so “until further notice.” Last year, Milan announced an ambitious plan to transform 35km (22 miles) of streets into a citywide expansion of cycling and walking space.
These moderations to transport planning, however small, are incredibly important when we consider that the greatest deterrence for people taking up bikes is the perceived danger of poorly designed roads, substandard infrastructure, lack of space and bad driving.
Indeed, Janette Sadik-Khan, former transportation commissioner for New York City and a founding principal with Bloomberg Associates, involved in “transport recovery” programmes, sees the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to transform cultural behaviour.
“Cities that seize this moment to reallocate space on their streets to make it easier for people to walk, bike and take public transport will prosper after this pandemic and not simply recover from it,” she said.
Innovative Solutions Fueling Growth
At Springwise we are seeing a surge of startups who are dedicated to finding better ways to share our public space and encourage people to opt for greener and healthier modes of transport.
This includes everything from a Munich start-up, Fetch.ai, which has developed an AI-based platform designed to help reduce congestion in cities by offering demand-responsive pricing and cheaper public transport, and a UK-based bicycle wheel design that uses movement to purify air from particulate matter, and noxious gases in prime polluted roadways while rewarding consumers based on distance travelled.
While the future of city planning remains uncertain, the pandemic has offered us all an opportunity to see what our cities look like when we prioritise people over cars.
Perhaps it was the fear of instigating change without any existing standard which has, until now, deterred cities from embracing change, but, the rapid increase in cycling and pedestrian initiatives — however hastily implemented — as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with new knowledge and understanding of how pedestrian and bicycle planning can and must be integrated into the city core.
As Ana Carboni rightly says, engaging with all people, even those who are not self-proclaimed cyclists, will be key to understanding “that these choices are beneficial to everyone.”
10th June 2021