Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gears in the machine

A recent business trip to Amsterdam struck home just how a city can benefit from a number of transport options. The infrastructure and investment in new developments and continuous maintenance is also obvious. I'm not sure what the balance of public and private investment is, but what is clear is the efficiency of how it operates.  The harmony and interface between the various options also works, however the signage and way-finding could do with someone looking at it from a tourist/visitor perspective. 

The four wheel brigade want to keep you dry
There have been a number of Transport initiatives in the UK that have received a mighty hammering from the press and public outcry in recent years. Let's start with a few clangers - Heathrow Terminal 5, the Edinburgh Trams fiasco, oh and how about the country coming to complete standstill last winter due to snowfall. OK, the snow was particularly severe and caught authorities ill prepared and let's face it, the good people of the UK weren't prepared, so should also accept some of the blame. A good measure of this is the current sales of winter tyres and profiteering of tyre suppliers - shame on you. It looks like quite a few folk are paying the price for a new set of 'boots' this year in time for the snowfall and ice. 

What we have enjoyed in the UK and something that has to be celebrated is the Cycle to Work scheme.  The scheme is basically a Tax free bike for work through the Government's Green Transport Initiative. Basically is a misleading word. In practise, it isn't that basic with various options, commitments, buy outs and the revised VAT approach that will be introduced in 2012 will disadvantage some due to earnings and salary sacrifice. What is basic, is the fact that considerable savings can be made on bikes, clothing and accessories. If the stats are accurate; 57million calories where burned yesterday, over 600k car journeys have been saved in the last week and almost 7000 tons of C02 where saved in the last month due to cycling to work.  Does this C02 saving take into account the amount produced due to an increase in bike manufacturing/logistics, increase in food production to feed all those hungry cyclists? I doubt it, but the marketeers do love their stats. Here's another one for the marketeers to consider - the title is a bit dry, so cyclesguff supports a name change and it is very simple, let's get behind the Cycle from Work scheme.

The 'Underground' in Amsterdam
The challenge with cycling in the UK is the complete disregard that you experience from other road users. In stark contrast, a considerable number of kids in mainland Europe, especially the warmer regions progress from the humble bicycle to a moped, then it's on to some tricked out scooter, next step is the small capacity resin rocket. Once they have grown out of that and responsibilities come in to play. Something like a mid capacity scooter (don't be mislead, these things are rapid) or even a small car is next. This means that over the years, their road awareness, spatial consideration and acceptance of all things two wheels is second nature. Just think about a busy junction in Rome, Barcelona etc. Four and more wheeled vehicles are swarmed by the two-wheel brigade. They don't seem to mind as they are engulfed in blue plumes of 2-stroke smoke as the lights turn green. More bikes equals less congestion, shorter journey times and the four (or more) wheel brigade are probably wishing that two wheels had been the order of the day. 

Venue for Amsterdam Hill Climb Championship
Back to Amsterdam. The reason I think the transport system work so well is competition. If any single operator fails to provide a reliable and well maintained service/infrastructure, the user will go to the alternative. The operators of powered transport systems are also acutely aware that the humble bicycle has the upper hand. The efficiency of that solution is their benchmark. Now, let's go back to the UK. Why bother paying over the odds for some crap old bus driven by a grumpy driver and have streaks of water running of the windows due to poor ventilation and condensation, the result making you look like you have peed your pants. Why pay through the nose for a train that turns up late? Why drive the car when the never repaired pot holes will wreck your wheels and those new winter tyres? The main reason is that riding a bike to work in the UK is frequently very stressful and at times a dangerous experience. Do you want a new extreme sport in the UK? Take up cycle to work.

Can you pick the kids up on the way back from work?
Hopefully future generations of UK bicycle commuters will not have to deal with the all too common experiences of those that currently get on their bikes. If the Cycle to Work scheme has any legacy, I sincerely hope it offers commuters a number of viable alternatives, all of which are efficient, benefit from an appropriate level of infrastructure that also has a process of continuous improvement at its core, is fantastic value for money and has the humble bicycle as its benchmark. 

Stay dreaming

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