Cycling is a significant mode of mobility in India. This blog post illustrates 5 global examples which can inspire the Indian government to launch cycle-to-work schemes.
Statistics show that cycling accounts for more than 15% of trips in most towns. This is because bicycles play a substantial role in enabling the livelihoods of the urban poor by providing a cost-effective transport option.
Health and environmental quality have emerged as the new drivers supporting cycling activity in recent years. Still, growth due to these drivers has been constrained by our cities’ cycle-unfriendly environment and infrastructure. Policy measures to create and provide large-scale safe cycling infrastructure, accompanied by regulations on the use of private motorised vehicles, must be implemented to enhance the share of cycling. More than ever today, India needs to think of implementing a cycle-to-work scheme for its 471688990 workforce.
Below are five global Cycle-to-Work schemes which have been successful and from which the Government of India can seek inspiration to launch something similar to tackle various common problems prevailing in Indian society – air pollution, noise pollution, traffic jam and obesity, among others:
1. UK’s Cycle-to-Work Scheme
UK’s Cycle-to-Work Scheme is one of the earliest cycle-to-work initiatives ever implemented, introduced in the Finance Act 1999 as part of the government’s Green Transport Plan to promote healthier work journeys and combat environmental pollution. A tax exemption scheme enables employers to loan cycle and related safety equipment tax-free to their employees.
The salary sacrifice scheme also offers employees the option to exchange part of their salary for a non-cash benefit which, in this case, is a bicycle whereby their employer pays for their new bicycle at a reduced cost which is then covered in instalments for 12-18 months from their gross salary. This scheme helps employees save at least 32% off the bicycle price. Employers also save around 13.8% on their employer contributions to National Insurance.
The Cycle-to-Work scheme benefits individual finances, health, and the environment by boosting physical activity, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and improving air quality. In recent years further amendments have been made to the scheme, allowing employers to provide bikes and related equipment worth over £1,000. As such, employees in the UK can now buy electric, cargo, and adapted bikes, further encouraging the Cycle-to-Work culture.
2. The Netherlands
The Netherlands has earned its reputation worldwide as a cycling hotbed, with the number of bicycles exceeding the number of people in the country. The country boasts a highly accommodating cycling infrastructure with dedicated cycle lanes that keep cyclists safe from the rest of the traffic and make it easy to navigate even urban areas such as Amsterdam safely and speedily. In addition, the Netherlands has the advantage of relatively flat geography and the Dutch Reach practice, which makes it easier and safer for Dutch citizens to travel by bicycle.
Today, around a quarter of the trips made by Dutch people are by bike and out of those, 25% is for a commute. The Dutch government offered financial incentives to its working citizens through tax credits to encourage the cycling-to-work culture. For every kilometre cycled to work, Dutch people earn around €0.19 tax-free. The distance cycled from and to work is discussed and agreed upon beforehand by companies and their employees. Besides its allowance per kilometre scheme, the Netherlands offers other schemes like the UK, such as company bicycles, lease bicycles and salary sacrifice to its working populace.
According to the Dutch government, these Cycle-to-Work schemes benefit companies as employees remain fit and healthy, reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. Companies also save on parking costs while the environment recovers from the damaging use of fossil fuels.
Italy is another country that tried to follow Netherlands’ lead in implementing cycle-to-work schemes to encourage sustainable living. Although Italy has a growing cycling culture partly due to BikeMi, the public bicycle sharing system launched in its city Milan in 2008, a Cycle-to-Work reimbursement scheme funded by the government was introduced later to propagate the cycling culture further.
In 2019, the Italian town Bari announced its scheme, offering its inhabitants 20 cents for every kilometre they cycled to work. However, the maximum amount earned by commuting by bicycle is capped at €25 per month. During the pilot phase, the citizens were offered 4 cents per kilometre for non-commuter bicycle trips, and an extra €50 was rewarded to the top 10 participants. The latter cycled the most kilometres each month. This scheme was supported by the country’s Ministry for the Environment. The scheme also includes an allowance of €155 to buy a new bicycle and €255 to purchase an e-bike.
Similarly, the council in the Italian town of Massarosa trialled a cycle-to-work scheme in 2015, offering cyclists €0.25 for every kilometre commuted with a monthly cap of €50. Most recently, in 2020, the Italian government incentivised people living in towns and cities with a population exceeding 50000 people who pay €500 towards a new bike. This initiative was taken to relaunch Italy and provide green alternatives to public transport after the COVID-19 outbreak.
4. Tour de France
In acknowledging its widely popular cycling race Tour de France, France holds much regard for cycling as a sport and means of transportation. Yet the country still falls behind other nations regarding its cycling culture. In 2014, France put forward a Cycle-to-Work payment plan implemented in 2016 in the wake of its 2014-15 pilot phase. A scheme like that in Italy provides a mileage reimbursement where employees who cycle to work are paid €0.25 free of social security and tax per kilometre travelled with a cap of €200 per annum.
The scheme’s evaluation showed a positive change in travel behaviour. Additionally, in light of the data gathered during its 6-month monitoring period when the scheme was first implemented, ADEME reported a 2.7-ton reduction in CO2 emissions, demonstrating its environmental benefit. Financial cycling incentives are also available in France, such as a tax exemption of up to 25% on bicycle acquisition and maintenance costs for businesses that provide bicycles to their employees for free. Another is a national subsidy of €200 for buying electric bikes.
In October, the 2021-2026 cycling plan, dubbed Plan Velo: Act 2, was published, revealing the next steps towards its bold attempt to turn Paris into a “100% cyclable” city by 2026.
5. Belgium’s Cycle-to-Work Scheme
Belgium first implemented a financial incentive scheme for cyclists in 1999, thus boasting the most extended established financial cycle-to-work scheme. Like the Netherlands and France, Belgium’s Cycle-to-Work scheme offers a tax-free mileage allowance to employees who travel by bicycle. The kilometre allowance provides a rate of €0.22 per kilometre. Employers receive a tax refund as reimbursement for the pay supplement.
This scheme is a great way to avoid Belgium’s severe traffic congestion and an easy way to earn extra cash while staying fit. In 2010, Belgium employers paid a total of €43.4 million in mileage allowances with 270728 participants cycling a capacity exceeding 206 million kilometres, while in 2015, the employees passed a total cost of €93.3 million for 406,000 bike commuters onto the Belgian state, a 50% increase from 2011. In addition, the Federal Commuting Survey 2017-2018 revealed that 11.1% of the Belgian population used the bicycle as their primary commute mode.
To further encourage the Cycle-to-Work trend, Fietsersbond, a bicycle advocacy group in Belgium, Fietsersbond launched the national ‘Bike to Work’ scheme, a campaign many public administration bodies signed up to, including the European Commission. Under this scheme, bike commuters can earn ‘bike points’ for every work journey by bicycle they log online. The employees can exchange these points for several benefits, including discount vouchers for high-end stores. The Commission supports such Cycle-to-Work schemes in Belgium and European countries like Denmark and Austria.
Cycle-to-Work schemes have been implemented aplenty worldwide to promote healthy and sustainable living. However, proper cycling infrastructure should be available for these schemes to succeed. The alternative of cycling to work needs to be convenient instead of a burden. For example, employees will prefer commuting by public transport if no parking spaces are available for their cycles. How the public road network is designed, built, and managed directly impacts the utility and safety of cycling. Cycle-to-Work schemes will be slow and dangerous without bike lanes, paths, and specialised traffic signs, thus discouraging people.