Cycling to Work in France
Shortly after I wrote this post, I read a report in a French language newspaper on cycling. It reported that Elisabeth Borne, the French Minister of Transport has said,” We must stop looking at the bike patronisingly and consider it a minor matter. “ She is thinking of launching a great bike plan in early 2018 for improving daily transport and help the bicycle to take off as a daily mode of transport for many.
Still little known in France, the ‘l’Indemnité kilométrique vélo (IKV)’ a kind of transport allowance for those who commute by bike to their offices already exists in France, having been introduced in 2015. It allows the employer to compensate employees for travelling to work by bike for each kilometre travelled. The figure has to be negotiated by the businesses but approximates to around 0.25 Euro per kilometre travelled, a threshold beyond which it is no longer exempt.
The IKV allows the amortisation of the initial purchase of the bike and takes care of ancillary costs — repairs and equipment — that are needed to make the bicycle a practical regular alternative to other of transport. The French authorities are considering this measure not as a privilege given to cyclists but a means of putting the bike on an equal footing with other modes of transport. The employer already has an obligation to pay half of the public transport subscription of his employees or may pay a mileage compensation to an employee who uses his personal vehicle between home and work.
But, the IKV is yet optional and only 85 companies, representing almost 150,000 employees, have implemented it to date. This is still like a drop of water in an ocean. Two years after brining it in, less than 1% of French establishments have accepted the IKV. Yet where the IKV has been implemented, it has produced convincing results. It brought among the employees of a company or an establishment an increase in the share of bicycles among the various means of transport to about 50% after a few months and 125% after one year. This was pointed out by Ademe ( Agency for Environment and Energy Management) in January 2016 during a review of the first conducted experiments.
The authors of that report advocates a four-year plan, beginning next year with a large-scale enterprise where 1,000 employers will opt for the IKV voluntarily and then a gradual expansion of it between 2019 and 2021. This compensatory measure must be opted for in all companies and establishments where employees ask for it. It must also offer enough incentives, around 35 Euro per month, and it can be combined with the reimbursement of 50% of the subscription to public transport. This calculation is very complicated today and may be one of the main obstacles to the development of IKV at present.
A generalised IKV could put 1.4 million employees on the saddle in 2022. This is not an impossible goal because 75% of the commuting trips are now of less than 5 km and 70% of these travels are by cars today. However, over such smaller distances, cycling is the most efficient method of transport in urban and semi-urban areas.
But will an indemnity be enough to put the French employees take to the bicycle? Responses from 113,009 bikers show that cyclists are asking for more security – separate ways for motorised vehicles – and arrangements for bike parking at the railway stations. These will mean building new infrastructure and although it can be done, it will take time. But the IKV can be introduced right away and be the first boost to the practice of cycling in France.
The most ambitious hypothesis as regards the cost of these actions and arrangements – an allowance of 35 Euro per month, combined with the reimbursement of public transport – would cost 450 million Euro per year, according to a report submitted to the Transport Minister, Elisabeth Borne. But we will have to keep in mind that cycling has many positive benefits for the environment, for the cyclists and for the government and society. It will have a bearing on the reduction of CO2 emissions. It will again be in the best interest of the health of employees. Regular cycling reduces the risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart attack. The report too is based on a study conducted in the Netherlands, where this compensation existed since 1995, and which shows a frequency of sick leave among cyclist employees of less than 15% compared to non-cyclists. So the employer also benefits. This may be a win-win measure for all concerned.