Commuting – cycling revolution in the workplace

Courtesy of Ethical Corporation magazine, 6 Feb 2013

The benefits of cycling to work are becoming more widely acknowledged. And although the picture is patchy, the money is starting to follow the tyre marks.

From Europe to the United States, in many of the world’s car-dominated cultures, more people are choosing to travel to work by bike. They are spurred by a combination of infrastructure improvements, financial incentives and bike share schemes.

Cycling for happier, healthier staff

Many employers in both the private and public sectors are also doing more to encourage staff into the saddle. Organisations can not only reap major cash savings on car parking provision – an average of £400 a year for a single space, according to the UK Department for Transport – but also take credit for carbon cuts and reduced congestion.

Typically the cycling commute is for shortish journeys, up to about five or six miles – often less than three – or in combination with public transport, particularly train, for longer ones.

Whatever the journey length, there are health and wellbeing benefits for the individual and employers. “We know that people who cycle to work tend to feel happier, fitter and more productive,” says Sam Robinson of Challenge for Change.

The numbers back this up. Employees who cycle to work take 1.3 fewer days sick leave per year than non-cyclists, according to two independent studies, one by the London School of Economics and the other by Dutch researchers TNO.

Measurable benefits

In the UK, Challenge for Change is at the forefront of moves to get more employees cycling. It also operates in New Zealand, where it was founded in 2007, and Australia.

Like other campaign groups, it takes a gradualist approach, recognising that to entice non-cyclists onto bikes even occasionally is just as worthwhile as converting occasional cyclists into regular ones.

This is mirrored in the US, where Bikes Belong, a national lobbying group, goes under the slogan: Putting More People on Bikes More Often.

Challenge for Change offers a mixture of incentivising prize schemes, mechanical support and information, with participants logging mileage and frequency of rides over the three weeks of a challenge in any given geographical area. It aims to nurture a spirit of light-hearted, friendly competition in the workplace, with social media and smart phone technology featuring prominently.

The case for getting more people cycling to work rests on these “real and measurable business benefits”, says Robinson, the group’s partnerships manager. “Our programmes are all about finding new cyclists. We do engage with existing ones but we’re trying to get people who aren’t cycling.”

Funding comes from local authorities and grants, including the UK Department for Transport’s local sustainable transport fund, enabling Challenge for Change to reach private as well as public employees.

The organisation is hoping to team up directly with a major UK company, with multiple branches nationwide, so that it can maximise exposure.

Caroline Muldowney is human resources adviser at Zen Internet, which took part in the Greater Manchester Cycle Challenge in 2012 – a programme run by Challenge for Change. Ninety-seven out of 412 staff took part, including 36 new cyclists, and almost 4,000 miles were logged.

“It was very successful and made a lot of us aware that it’s not as hard as it looks taking part in something that’s good for fitness and wellbeing,” says Muldowney. “Since the challenge, 22 employees have signed up for the new bike scheme we operate with Evans Cycles, making 37 for 2012 in total.

For the full article please go to Ethical Corporation online magazine

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