Greater Manchester is proving that with a co-ordinated approach many more people can be persuaded to enjoy the benefits of cycling to work. Owain Thomas investigates how the region's substantial investment is benefiting employers and employees.
Greater Manchester is a city devoted to cycling. It has held a commitment to it for several years and, more importantly, has enacted plans and policies to increase participation at all levels of society.
One of those is a major citywide project to encourage people to cycle to work – a project which puts employers at the heart of its delivery. The Commuter Cycle Project has lofty ambitions – it aims to increase the number of people who choose to cycle to work each day by up to half by removing the barriers to cycling to work.
This involves investment in cycle parking facilities (including cycle hubs located at key points around the city which feature lockers, showers and changing facilities) and complementary measures to encourage cycling including training, information and a cycle loan scheme.
The investment is expected to exceed more than £40m in total between 2011 and 2015 and is led by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) with support from the local authorities that make up the Greater Manchester region.
It has partly been funded by a £5m grant from the central government Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) while £20m from the Cycling City Ambition Grant will help develop the Vélocity project further.
TfGM head of travel choices Helen Ramsden has been leading the implementation of the project and she explains why the project was put in place.
“Up here in Manchester we take cycling very seriously. We’ve had an ongoing commitment to try to get more people to cycle in Greater Manchester for a number of years and that goes back into all our policies, but in 2012 we secured funding from central government through the LSTF for a community cycle project,” she says.
“This focused on getting people to cycle to work specifically, so we went out and spoke to existing cyclists and wannabe cyclists and identified what the barriers were to cycling more or cycling to work, and they were what we used as the basis to create the commuter cycle project.”
Data on cycling to work showed that about 2% of employees across Greater Manchester cycled to work in comparison to a national average of 3% – and in towns where investment in cycle facilities has taken place, levels have increased to at least 4%.
So as a result of the research undertaken with current and potential future cyclists, the Commuter Cycling Project was created to address the three main barriers to increasing cycling to work:
- Having somewhere safe and secure to leave bikes at the destination end of the journey,
- Having largely traffic-free routes to travel between origin and destination, and
- Increasing people’s confidence to cycle rather than use other transport modes.
Once completed, the programme will provide approximately 650 cycle parking spaces at seven cycle centres across Greater Manchester, while 450 additional parking spaces will be provided at a number of cycle compounds across the county. Facilities are currently available at Bury, Ashton and city centre Manchester, with others planned or being built.
From early on, the TfGM team identified working with businesses as a key method to support successful delivery of the project and to ensure maximum use of the new routes and facilities.
“One of the reasons we’re using businesses as an intermediary is to get them to talk about it among themselves, so it’s not us trying to go in there saying it’s a good thing for them – it’s about businesses being used as case studies and then us sharing it with other firms and saying, ‘We’ve done this and it makes sense, so we think you should do it too’,” Ramsden continues.
“Instead of it being TfGM going in and passing this message on, I think it’s helped having a business-to-business conversation – it’s now them telling each other that it’s a good idea. And I think organisations really understand not only the benefits to themselves, but also to the staff. So we’ve been really pleased with the uptake, and the businesses have been really enthusiastic and helped by the wider cycling agenda that we have in Manchester – the businesses we have in Manchester are very pro-active.”
Indeed, the approach seems to have worked well, as 300 businesses covering about 250,000 employees have signed up over the last few years. And as part of this engagement project, TfGM offers a longer-term tailored programme to address businesses’ needs.
In administration terms, this includes identifying barriers and developing an action plan to tackle these. But perhaps more valuable is the financial and technical support offered, which features storage grants, loan bikes, maintenance and skills training for staff and on-site events.
“We do a longer-term commitment with businesses – we develop an action plan; we do our interventions; we monitor behaviour at that site over a number of years, rather than a very short period of time. Because what we’re interested in is behaviour change over a longer period of time and not just a short or intermediate result,” Ramsden explains.
One of the key strategies for engaging employees is the citywide cycling challenge. The first event was held early on in the project’s development during 2012 and saw significant results (see table below). In all, 137 organisations took part with 2,199 active participants and they covered a combined 170,000 miles in more than 16,000 trips over the course of a month.
After the challenge, 51% of non-cyclists were cycling once a month and 33% were cycling at least once a week more than they would have done before the challenge. Kellogg’s won the business category for large (500+) employees, with 6.9% staff participation and a CO2 saving of 888kg.
A second challenge is planned for this year and Ramsden believes the competitive experience helps engage employees.
“The element of competition always helps, particularly in the business environment and also between individuals in the workplace as it’s also a fun thing to do to challenge your work colleagues,” she explains.
“The cycle challenge really builds on that competitive, fun side but brings back some real benefits in terms of the wider cycling agenda and also gets people talking about cycling in the workplace. So we’re really keen on getting people doing that. It’s like when you go to the gym – it’s always good to have a personal trainer or something to motivate you for what you’re doing. And these challenges, as part of a wider delivery package, definitely have a role to do that.”
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