Joe Camry is an average 38-year-old commuter. Like 76 per cent of the working population, he drives to work. Like 68 per cent of Australian men, he doesn’t exercise. Joe just changed his job and his family now lives only seven kilometres from work. If he bikes, 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.
Make the cycle shift
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 want to ease congestion. Bike lanes are being added, routes combined, and lights installed.
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 two per cent do.
Cyclists are often painted as greenies disobeying road rules, evading registration fees. 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, many won’t risk it. But management can assist in cultural change with a few incentives, but the best way is to provide cyclists with good facilities … and CEO support.
Colliers International says that tenants’ second-highest rising desire 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 they 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 in the open air, why make a cyclist descend into a basement car park?
“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.
For offices that can’t provide showers and change zones, 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. If a small company can’t get their landlord to provide facilities, they can buy a group membership at BikePark.
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.
- Organisations are using web tools to make carpooling much simpler. The City of Monash estimates annual savings of $575 to $3500 per person.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Google donates to chosen charities based on the number of “self-powered” commutes an employee notches up.