BY: JESSICA BEUKER
More than 5.5 million people around the world die prematurely each year due to air pollution. And it seems that hammering the urgency of this environmental issue into people’s minds isn’t enough to pull the majority from their convenient, consumer-driven lifestyles. So now, governments are turning to an incentive method to reduce the problem—by paying commuters to cycle to work instead of driving.
Photo by: Ropi Alamy Stock Photo
The effects of air pollution are severe. China’s pollution problem is so bad that Chinese consumers have been paying top dollar for a can of fresh air, shipped in from Canada. France has issued pedestrian days. And Milan and Rome have both had to restrict car use for several days at a time because of dangerous smog build-up.
Milan is among the most polluted cities in Europe and the latest to propose to pay commuters to bike to work. Similar to a program launched in France in 2013, the program has also sprouted up in several other countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Britain. The incentives themselves vary, according to Reuters, from tax breaks, to financial support for buying a bicycle, to pay per kilometer—the French system works by tracking bike activity through an app and then paying staff members 25 euro cents (34 U.S. cents) per km biked to work.
Photo by: Luca Volpi
While on the surface the program seems like an effective idea, some researchers are arguing that the paid cycle-to-work scheme isn’t enough. Cars are a hard habit to kick, especially with all of the benefits afforded to drivers these days. Some commuter benefits in the U.S. include free parking, which is a huge incentive, and would likely outweigh the money gained from the cycling incentive. Some companies offer company cars, and of course, there is the element of personal convenience. Cars are faster, take less effort to use, and you can blast your favourite song and simultaneously sip on your morning latte while on the road.
Photo by: Luca Volpi
According to The Conversation, a study on bike commuting in Washington, DC found that showers, lockers and secure bike parking at the workplace were significantly correlated with increased cycling to work. Other studies found that bike infrastructure effectively encourages bike commuting.
It’s a good step for now, but hopefully the incentive program will eventually be matched with other bike-friendly changes.