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Public Works: Getting Paid to Bike to Work

Commuters in France will earn 25 cents per km for cycling to work. Here's why that should happen in Toronto, too.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

France is getting serious about bicycle commuting. Last week, the French government kicked off a six-month pilot project that involves paying people 25 Euro cents per kilometre to bike to work. Twenty French employers, with a collective 10,000 employees, have volunteered to participate.  At the end of 2014, the government will evaluate how many people took up bike commuting, what type of transportation these converts gave up in favour of cycling, and what kinds of accommodations employers made for bike commuters. If all has gone well, the scheme may be renewed and expanded for 2015.

This is only France’s most recent gambit to reduce car traffic and promote alternative methods of commuting. Paris, in particular, has been trying to brand itself as a bike city. The capital’s Bixi-style bike-rental program arrived on the scene in 2007 and has grown into one of the largest in the world, with more than 20,000 bikes available for rent from 1,800 24-hour stations. Paris has also been creating hundreds of kilometres of bike lanes and mixed-use, bike-friendly routes around the city. It’s even experimented with allowing cyclists to ignore red lights on roads with speed limits under 30 km/h. And, on March 17 this year, the French government banned cars and motorbikes with even-numbered licence plates from driving in Paris. After one day, government officials declared that the ban had achieved its goal of reducing air pollution, and traffic was allowed to return to normal.

The French seem as if they should love bicycles. After all, isn’t a meandering bike ride the epitome of Gallic ennui? Aren’t spinning wheels a metaphor for the individual’s inescapable destiny, which is to commit the same acts over and over again in perpetuity? Isn’t the bell a convenient way for mimes to express themselves? And yet, only 2.4 per cent of France’s commuters use bikes to get to and from work.

Here in Toronto, a piddling 1.7 per cent of commuters ride their bikes, according to Cycle Toronto. That’s just barely above Canada’s national average of 1.3 per cent. As the country’s major urban centre, we really should be doing better. And cycle commute compensation might be just the thing to help us do that.

France is nowhere near the first European country to come up with a cyclist incentive plan. Belgium and the Netherlands have instituted some variation on the idea and are now enjoying cycle commute rates of 8 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively. Last year, a handful of Toronto companies gained media attention by paying their employees to bike to the office. With new downtown bike lanes coming our way, commuters will soon find it easier and safer to cycle through the core. As Toronto’s recent 25th annual Bike to Work Day showed, there are plenty of commuters out there who support the practice of getting to the office on two wheels.

Yeah, maybe it would be nice if the workers of the city united in support of cycling without having to be paid to do so. But, hey, a little financial push in the interests of preserving the environment, reducing traffic congestion, and keeping ourselves fit couldn’t hurt.


  • wklis

    Unfortunately, the current city hall administration considers bicycles to be recreational, not transportation. The suburban arterial roads have the room or right-of-way available for bicycle lanes, but they don’t put them in because of recreational thinking at the top.

    • HotDang

      It’s a federal policy. So unless bikes somehow start making oil, I don’t see our current government subsidizing it.

  • Notcleverguy

    Can I claim back pay for the 15 years I’ve been cycling to work?

  • em_robin

    “2.4 per cent of France’s commuters use bikes to get to and from work”
    “Here in Toronto, (…) 1.7 per cent of commuters ride their bikes”

    Are there any numbers showing the percent of bicycle commuters for just Paris? Considering Toronto’s population is slightly higher than Paris it would be a more interesting (and valid) comparison than Toronto to all of France, who’s population is close to double of Canada’s.

  • PlantinMoretus

    OK but I’d be happy with just really good bike infrastructure in Toronto.

  • Bumbaclot

    Me and Dougie will give Toronto cyclists a crisp $20 bill for every bike they throw into Lake Ontario. Let’s make more room on the roads for SUVs and other legit vehicles. I’m sick of getting stuck behind these muscly-legged libary-card owners every time I take the Escalade out for a two block ride to the LCBO.

    • Notcleverguy

      Fair plan, but only if each SUV only has one occupant. Carpooling is for Latte sipping elites.

      • HotDang

        The only times there should be more than one occupant in a car are:
        1. You’re driving your kids to a drug deal.
        2. You’re under intense media scrutiny and you’re too drunk to drive.

        • Bumbaclot

          “Too drunk to drive” — that’s a real thing?!

  • Penmore

    “Here in Toronto, a piddling 1.7 per cent of commuters ride their bikes, according to Cycle Toronto. That’s just barely above Canada’s national average of 1.3 per cent. ”

    Actually, 1.7% vs 1.3% means that Toronto is 31% above the national average. I’d say that’s pretty significant.

    And since, according to Stats Canada, over 80% of Canadians live in urban centres where you’d expect people could bike. The national figure isn’t being hugely lowered by the (presumably low) rural numbers.

    I’m not saying this is a good figure and is certainly much lower than many European cities, I’m just saying the article’s assessment of the Toronto vs National figure is incorrect.

    That is all.

  • Penmore

    I just started biking to work last week after finally getting off my middle-aged duff. And the thing is there are already financial incentives to bike. Every day I bike to and from work, instead of taking the TTC, that’s an extra $5 in my pocket. And probably and extra $15+ vs driving.

    Sure, I’d take a cash incentive if it were offered, but given that there’s already lots of money to be saved by biking, I don’t know how many people that it would really motivate.

    • Notcleverguy

      Plus no parking fees, less aggravation and the associated health benefits too.

      Good for you for getting on your bike.

      • Penmore

        Thanks. Yes, the health benefits are huge – I can get some exercise without having to set aside any extra time in my day.

        There are some downsides though:
        1. Being a bit sweaty when I get to work and/or having to load up work with clean clothes to change into. Unfortunately my workplace has neither showers or a casual dress code.
        2. Road safety. I’m able to take bike lanes for most of my route but even so, I don’t feel entirely safe on the roads. You’ve got to stay pretty alert – so it’s a bit of a trade off with the aggravation of delays and overcrowding of public transit. Certainly I don’t think I’ll be biking at times of the year when it’s dark when I go to /from work – even if the weather is otherwise ok.

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      It isn’t just saving dough on the TTC. There’s a certain freedom to being able to take off when you want, not wait for public transit and be able to take most streets or even bikepaths.

      • Penmore

        True enough – I’m fortunate to live and work on the subway line so there’s not a big wait for public transit, but certainly on less frequent bus routes this is a factor.

  • Weaver2

    $0.25/km is short change for the death sentence that is biking downtown.

    • Bumbaclot

      Just came across this on the Goggle:

      “About 15 to 20 cyclists are killed on Ontario roads every year, with roughly one-quarter to one-third of the fatalities occurring in the Greater Toronto Area.”

      DEATH SENTENCE! Don’t know what the fatalities are for those driving around in cars, but it can’t be anywhere near as high.

      • Notcleverguy

        Rob Ford feels for them, but knows it’s their fault for dying.

      • Weaver2

        I see we take things literally around here.

        To me biking in the downtown core is incredibly stressful, intimidating and dangerous. I’d rather just take the TTC or walk.

        • Bumbaclot

          It’s not for everyone, but it’s far from a death sentence. I live downtown, and one of my neighbours is a 72 year old woman — in great shape for her age, but still, elderly — and she rides her bike every day. She doesn’t seem stressed or intimidated at all.

  • Penmore

    I’ve just started cycling to work in the last week and feel it’s somewhat safer than I’d expect. That said, I’m hyper aware of what’s going on around me and could have probably been in an accident if I wasn’t. For the small bit of my trip on a separated bike lane, I am far more relaxed than when squeezing between cars and the curb (and often poor quality pavement on the roads).

    I also found – on the morning and evening commutes, most cyclists follow quite safe practices, although there are a certainly a few that ignore traffic lights and weave through traffic.

    I agree that a greater awareness (through ticketing or otherwise) of road safety for both cyclists and drivers would be great.

  • swen

    Public work is payed too much already.I think every person in TO need to be payed to bike to work when temperature outside is -25C. And not just 25 cents but a 3 bucks per km.

  • James Schwartz

    Been riding basically every day for 12 years here in Toronto. Choose your routes carefully to stay comfortable, ride at a reasonable pace on a city bike (mine is a comfortable Dutch bike), and you will never need a change of clothes. I ride with my work clothes (sometimes in a suit).

  • James Schwartz

    Studies show a net loss to society for every kilometre driven by cars, and a net gain for every kilometre ridden by bicycle. It makes economic sense. The U.S. could save $17 billion dollars a year if 1/3 of people rode a bike for 1 mile a day:

  • swen

    We have HARSH winters! I do understand that ridership falls of by 90% in winter time.So only lunatics, bike couriers, and people that really have no options ride in winter time.We will make all these lanes for 5 months of active cycling in this city.Encouraging anyone to ride is retarded.,,

    • swen

      and delete this moderator…