Meet Joe Camry. Joe is a statistically average 38 year old commuter. Like 76 per cent of the working population, he drives to work. Like 68 percent of Australian men, he doesn’t exercise. Joe just changed his job and his family now lives only seven kilometres from work. He is thinking about cycling. If he takes to the pedals, Joe will save money, ease congestion, increase his productivity and get fitter. This may sound like green agitprop, but research around the world concludes that the less commuting a person does and the more active it is, the better for all.
If Joe’s new job was in the CBD, there are many reasons for him to make the cycle shift. The infrastructure for alternative commuting is superior, and it’s improving because governments will do anything to ease costly inne rcity congestion. Bike lanes are being added, routes joined together, and bicycle traffic lights installed. Inner Melbourne employers are aware that their cycling workforce is passing 7 per cent, and are improving the end of trip experience, too, in the knowledge that this helps attract staff and retain them.
But the number of people travelling to work within the outer suburbs makes it statistically more likely that Joe won’t ride. In the suburbs, there are no cues to suggest he should change his ways. Nationwide, 40 per cent of workers live close enough to work to ride in easily, but only 2 per cent do.
Cyclists are often painted as greenies hellbent on disobeying road rules, evading registration fees, and generally getting underfoot. So a hurdle for potential cyclists is “coming out” to the office. If an office expects workers to be wearing a suit or skirt and doesn’t provide parking and change facilities, or if cyclists are routinely called “greenies” and “do gooders”, many won’t risk it. Bicycles are just a mode of active transport, not a political persuasion or a fashion statement. Management can assist in cultural change with a little propaganda and a few incentives, but the best way is to provide cyclists with good facilities… and for the CEO to get on a bike.
Colliers International says that tenants’ second highest rising desire, placed just below environmental performance, is the provision of bicycle facilities in house. Today, 89 per cent of tenants rate this as important to extremely important in attracting and retaining staff, but these end of trip facilities may need a rethink. Dr Steven Fleming from the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Tasmania believes that bike cages in basements are put there to gain a few Green Star “brownie points”. After a refreshing morning ride through the parks in the open air, why make a cyclist descend into the gloom of a basement car park, along with cars, then zigzag to a distant cage that looks like a hazardous goods store?
“The best ending for the journey is to take your bike in the lift, and leave it right at your workstation,” says Fleming. This would make it obvious where a company stood. Design studios and creative businesses wanting to wear their attitude on their sleeves have been doing this for years, but other sectors have OH&S concerns and aesthetic expectations that keep bikes out of sight. If a remote cage is the only way, it should at least look good, be easy to use and be secure.
Bike parking ideally needs to be complemented by showers, lockers, drying areas and change zones facilities that can also be used by other workers exercising at lunch time. For offices that can’t provide this, facilities are starting to open to plug the gap. Cyclists in Melbourne’s CBD can take advantage of BikePark, a cyclist-built park and shower facility in the old banana vaults on Flinders Street. Manager James Chong thinks they are already making a difference. If a small company can’t get their landlord to provide facilities, they can buy a group membership at BikePark. Many don’t want to ask their company for sponsorship, so join on their own. “Some of our members have said that if we weren’t here, they wouldn’t ride.”
The point of promoting alternative modes of commuting isn’t to take the high moral ground or make people feel guilty about their waistlines or carbon footprints, it’s to give them all the options so that they can make an informed choice about what’s best for them
Tips to tempt healthy commuting
- Help drivers calculate the true costs of their commuting, both fixed and variable. It can take more than half a day at work to pay off weekly car costs.
- Organisations are using web tools to make carpooling much simpler. The City of Monash estimates annual savings of $575 to $3500 per person, depending on distance and the numbers sharing.
- Question free parking, as this perk is known to reduce alternative commuting.
- Examine alternatives to traditional vehicle salary packaging and FBT that also cater to commuters without cars.
- Driving and office work are both low exercise activities, so build exercise into the office routine. Stairs are becoming more obvious and enticing in recent commercial designs.
- Consider allowing long-distance commuters to spend the occasional day teleworking from home or a local hub, so they can work, exercise and see their kids.
- “But I need my car during work hours!” Companies such as Lend Lease enrol employees in car-share schemes to tackle this simply and cheaply.
- Consider loosening work hours to stop people stressing unnecessarily in traffic jams or on motionless trains.
- Only 25 to 35 per cent of cyclists are female. Reasons are far ranging, from safety fears and parental responsibilities to income disparities and helmet laws. In contrast, more than half of Dutch cyclists are women. Company transport surveys could tease out the reasons why and address them.
- Google donates to chosen charities based on the number of “self-powered” commutes an employee notches up.
This article was written by Peter Johns and first published in the 2012 December/January issue of HRmonthly.
16 October is National Ride to Work Day in Australia #Ride2Work