We need more innovative approaches to encourage cycling and walking
As the impact of driving in cities becomes more widely recognised (namely deteriorating air quality) and the focus on healthy streets grows, both governments and corporations are encouraging cycling and walking through a multitude of carrot and stick policies.
Some of the more traditional approaches remain, such as improved cycle lanes and increased car taxes. But, more recently, personalised schemes have emerged to provide cyclists with a direct financial reward, such as tax deductions, workplace ‘wellness’ points or even payment to commuters - some companies in France paid cyclists €0.25 per kilometer cycled to work during a six month trial.
However, these schemes often lack flexibility, target a homogenised demographic group and don’t maximise the opportunities to harness new technologies or the potential to tie in well with the needs and challenges outside transport policy agendas e.g. in public health and diversity and inclusion. All in all, more innovative and targeted approaches to encourage cycling and walking are needed.
What kind of initiative could be put in place?
Transport is breaking a new frontier as big data and technology provide us with ever more exciting opportunities to decide how we travel. London presents many opportunities to be a testbed for new innovative schemes. Transport for London’s new Innovation Directorate is leading the way for the public sector to get involved in innovative transport ideas through its investigations into emerging technology and disruptive business models in transport. Signs of a shift in attitude towards disruptive transport technologies in local government can be seen in the Greater London Authority Transport Committee’s latest paper, 'Future transport: How is London responding to technological innovation?'.
Bearing in mind the need for more innovative active travel management and the growing opportunities in transport, I'm proposing a new scheme to encourage cycling and walking in London:
The scheme would provide discounts and useful resources to ‘first-time’ cyclists and walkers. Using a mobile app, you could browse the discounts and offers at local businesses, organisations and facilities (your local Italian, your council swimming pool or high street cinema, for example), then cycle or walk over (whilst the app tracks your movement to verify you are indeed walking or cycling) and claim your discount.
The app would have the information consumers need to encourage them to make cycling and walking a more regular form of transport, for example, maps of local cycle routes and trails, local bike shops and bike maintenance guides.This would be one way to convert the 'one-off-ers' to 'full-timers'.
Specific discounts and resources could also be aimed at groups or areas where a greater potential for cycling and walking exists; where there is a greater number of trips which are made by a motorised mode e.g. bus, train, which could instead be cycled/walked. In London, this is mainly made up of women, those aged 55 and over, those in low-income households, and people of colour. As an example, in London, 4.5 million trips a day go 'uncycled' among women, compared to over 3.6 million trips for men.
The scheme would most benefit outer London town centres, where some of the greatest cycling and walking potential exists.
The nature of short car trips to local services and amenities make the scheme effective for those who don’t usually consider making these trips on foot or by bike. Access to incentives and resources could be one of many tools to encourage fewer short car or public transport trips.
What makes a scheme like this work?
Technology exists to make this a reality. In recent years we’ve seen mobile operators launch apps to provide their customer base with localised offers. Little funding is required, as both parties, the organisation and the individual, have something to gain from the scheme. Local authorities would be best suited to deliver this, as they could identify the groups and areas that would benefit most from the scheme. Strategic partnerships with a variety of organisations could also be established; ranging from local restaurants and libraries, to sports facilities and arts institutions. Critical data could also be gathered from one-off users, such as where they cycle or walk, how often, at what time and via what route. Irregular cycling and walking patterns mean they are often left out of data collection, however, this can be fed back to local policymakers and planners to create and design better policy and infrastructure to encourage more cycling and walking.
There are issues and limitations to the scheme; including a reliance on smartphone technology, privacy issues, and the fact that the scheme does not tackle the main deterrents to cycling (perception of danger and fear of collision). However, as with any transport scheme, a mixture of policy and programmes are required to deliver outcomes, and we must ensure these are innovative and make better use of the available technology and data opportunities in order to be successful.