The UK government today launched a campaign urging employers to make it easier for staff to cycle to work.
In an expansion of the popular Cycle to Work scheme – which enables eligible employees to buy bikes and equipment tax-free – ministers have introduced a new Cycle to Work Guarantee.
Business which sign up to this Guarantee must not only operate the salary sacrifice scheme but also provide safe bike storage, decent changing facilities and bike repair "on or near site", plus training, reward and incentive programmes for cycle commuters.
The stumbling block is that there is no government funding or tax breaks for employers. They will have to fund any improvements out of their own pockets, as well as deal with all the extra paperwork generated by the Cycle to Work scheme.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport told BikeRadar: "There are tax breaks through the Cycle to Work scheme, but when it comes to the other facilities, that's for the employer to provide.
"We're not talking about small business; we're talking about big companies that should already have sustainable travel strategies in hand. It's not compulsory, but it's a simple scheme that for minimal effort will provide big rewards [in terms of employee health and goodwill]."
More than 70 major public and private sector employers have already pledged their support for the Guarantee, including broadcasters BSkyB, energy firm EON, drugs makers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and numerous local authorities. Other large employers will be encouraged to follow suit.
At present, Cycle to Work is only offered by a small minority of organisations, and just three percent of the working population ride a bike to work.
Chris Boardman and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis at the launch of the Guarantee
Announcing the new Guarantee, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: “If proper facilities were more widely available, I believe far more people would cycle to work. We could double or treble that figure with proper bike storage and changing facilities, and safe cycle routes – and that’s my aim.
“For employees, cycling is a great way to save money while getting fit. And for all of us, it will cut rush hour congestion and reduce carbon emissions.
"We've seen that this approach can work. The number of GlaxoSmithKline employees cycling to work has tripled since they introduced the right facilities at their headquarters. I see no reason why the Cycle to Work Guarantee can't spread this success widely."
Among the more unexpected supporters of today's move were the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists), whose cycling development manager Duncan Pickering pointed out that many drivers choose to commute by bike at least part of the time.
He said: "The Cycle to Work Guarantee ensures that the focus isn’t solely on acquiring a bike and this is a positive step, but organisations also need to recognise the importance of practical, on-road training, which helps to create confident cyclists who ride more often.”
Cycle to Work is part of the government's Green Transport Plan introduced in 1999. According to retail chain Halfords, 15 percent of all UK bike sales are now made through the scheme. For some independent shops it accounts for up to 25 percent of annual turnover.
Today's announcement quashes fears that the scheme might be scrapped because it loses tax revenue for the Government. (Last month, prime minister Gordon Brown announced he would scrap tax relief on childcare vouchers – the most popular benefit offered by employers – from 2011, and it was feared Cycle to Work might face a similar fate.)
To find out more about the new Guarantee, visit www.cycletoworkguarantee.org.uk.
Ben Bradshaw (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), Lord Adonis, Chris Boardman, Health Minister Andy Burnham and Communities Secretary John Denham at the launch