Public Works: Getting Paid to Bike to Work
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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.