Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How do you get people riding bikes for daily transportation?

- Henry Cutler. Eyes on the Street in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

There is more to it than just wheels and concrete. It is a systemic challenge, and here for example is one small part.

In the Netherlands there's a tax rule that allows one to purchase a bicycle each three years with pre-tax salary.

You can buy any bicycle with a maximum tax-free price of €749 plus €249 of extras, but the great majority of bikes here are utility models. Given that both Dutch taxes and use of bikes as transportation are very high this rule is widely used. This tax benefit enables more new and better bikes to be sold but it's unclear how much it actually increases cycling usage. The Dutch cycle because it's the most practical, safe, cheap and enjoyable option ...and do so whether they're on new bikes or ancient, single-speed granny bikes. Nationwide the Dutch cycle an average of 2.48 km per day.

That cycling is so often the most practical, safe, cheap and enjoyable means of transportation in the Netherlands isn't just cultural; it's a function of cycling being a key element in the nationwide transportation infrastructure. It is widely recognized that bicycles are the most flexible, economical and space-efficient way for people to get around the densely populated cities. Private cars are the least.

Practically every point in the entire country is outfitted with bicycle roads, signals and storage facilities... and drivers who also cycle. Scary intersections and high-speed roads without separated bicycle paths are extraordinarily rare. To the contrary bicycle roads are often much more direct and convenient than those for automobiles. These traffic routes are planned out and implemented city wide.

A good example is the northern city of Groningen, which apparently has world's highest cycling modal share at 57% of trips. Until the 1970's there were no restrictions on driving cars through the city and bike paths were being removed. In 1972 the government designated the city center "living space" and integrated transport policy with town planning . Over the following four decades auto access was restricted, cycling infrastructure improved and new neighborhoods developed to encourage cycling. Some notable statistics: There are 0.4 cars and 1.7 bikes per person and the average speed of cycling within the city is 50% faster than driving.

How do you get the population riding bikes for daily transportation? Build your cities to make it safe, practical and fast so that cycling becomes something everyone will do instead of just a few hardy, bike commuter "warriors". Children must be able to cycle to school and elderly people to the grocery store. Tax benefits for bike purchases might help but not if the basic infrastructure isn't in place.


Henry Cutler,
WorkCycles B.V.,
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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  1. 1st in EU: Italian Government Spurs Bike Sales with Incentives


    MILAN, Italy - For the first time in Europe a government started handing out direct incentives for the purchase of a bicycle or e-Bike. Last week on April 22, the Italian government by means of its Ministry for the Environment started an incentive scheme which contributes to a maximum of 30% of the retail price of a bicycle or e-Bike. The maximum amount is € 700 which is for a bike that retails for € 2,330. This is on average the retail price of a high-end electric bicycle.

    According to the Minister for the Environment the incentives are not only for the purchase of bicycles but are also intended for small scooters and for electric Powered Two-Wheelers. They are valid for the whole of 2009. The incentives are based on a governmental budget of 8.75 million euro to be given to users who purchase a new bicycle or power assisted bicycle, without the need of writing-off another vehicle.

    The incentives are also given to purchasers of scooters either with an EURO-2 engine or electric powered. In these latter cases the writing-off of a scooter EURO-Zero or EURO-1 is mandatory. The maximum incentives for the purchase of big electric motorcycle is set at 1,300 euro and for an electric scooter 850 euro. For EURO-3 hybrid motorcycles the maximum amount is 950 euro while for hybrid scooters it reaches 600 euro. For EURO-2 four-strokes and two-strokes the incentives are only 350 euro and 180 euro respectively. In order to obtain the incentive for the purchase of these vehicles it is needed to write-off a non-ecological PTW.

    Piero Nigrelli, responsible for bicycles at ANCMA (the Italian National Association for the Bicycle and Motorcycle Industry) stated: “The decision of the Italian government to support cycling with incentives is something really new in Europe. Not only is this fantastic but more important is the fact that the incentives have been given based on the fact that the government wants to give a real push for the improvement of the air quality in particular in large urban areas.”

    According to Nigrelli a rather large number of people took the opportunity to buy bicycles or e-Bikes with the incentives just after the start of the scheme. At the first day 11 applications came in of which 10 for bicycles and 1 for a Powered Two-Wheeler. He said: “Luckily we were able to simplify the paper work for the scheme by the dealers. And even some consumers called us to express their gratitude.”

    Browsing through the government documents in which the incentive scheme is described it is stunning to read: “Bicycles, power assisted bicycles and similar vehicles are real options to promote a sustainable mobility as an alternative to motor vehicles …”. With that it seams the world is really changing…
    Published @ 28-04-2009

    Todd Edelman, Eyes in Berlin

  2. The Italian Government is subsidising bicycle sales at 30% of cost. []
    Are they building the infrastructure for cycling as well?

    Bob Moore

  3. Bob. Good question:

    Cycling infrastructure provision, in Italy as in most other countries, is a policy decision of city government.

    But you of course bring up a great issue: namely, what and how should national governments be encouraging and supporting the provision of safe cycling infrastructure in cites? Hmm.

  4. In Italy provision for cycling infrastructures is very poor, although some improvements have been made in the last 10 year.
    But funding bycicle's purchase is far more popular and easier than spurring majors to build cycling facilities.
    We have some big towns that started some good (considered from a very narrow technical point of view) bike sharing projects without a consistent bicycle path network... I think it could be suicidal: once again politicians choose the most popular option and forget the rest.


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