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From today's Irish Times:

A grand idea for cyclists

that if people were told there was a way they could save themselves €1,000 a
year while simultaneously reducing their stress levels, losing weight,
strengthening their hearts and increasing their punctuality no end, they'd
jump at the chance? Of course they would. Until they realised they would have
to leave their car keys at home and start cycling to work. Then the excuses
would inevitably start: it'll be cold and wet; I'll get sweaty; I might be hit
by a car; I'll look ridiculous; my bike will be stolen; it's too far - the
list of reasons why the vast majority of adults in this country have a almost
pathological dislike of cycling is long.

Despite public wariness, the Government has ambitious plans to get 10 per cent
of Irish commuters - in excess of 150,000 people - on their bikes before 2020
with a view to easing city-centre congestion and reducing the country's carbon
footprint on the cheap.

With two cycling Greens in Cabinet, the Government is trying to make it more
financially attractive, although it has proved to be an uphill cycle. Apart
from a handful of derisory "on yer bike" headlines, a pro-cycling proposal
(one of the few consumer-friendly plans outlined in the Budget) has been
largely ignored in recent weeks as a tidal wave of rage swept over the
Government due to its plans to take away over-70s' automatic entitlement to a
medical card.

In order to encourage more people to cycle, the Minister for Finance, Brian
Lenihan, is to give tax breaks to cyclists and their employers. Under the
plan, which begins in January, employees working for participating companies -
the scheme is voluntary - can choose a bicycle and any associated safety
equipment up to a maximum value of €1,000 which the employer will then buy;
the purchase will be treated as a tax-exempt benefit-in-kind.

We contacted both the Department of Finance and the Department of the
Environment to see how they would be encouraging their employees to take to
their bikes and were told that both departments would be embracing the new tax
relief measures enthusiastically.

A FINANCE SPOKESWOMAN said it already offered its employees shower facilities
and had a bike park. Across the Liffey, in the Custom House offices of the
Department of the Environment, the spokesman was keener still. He pointed out
that John Gormley, himself a keen cyclist, "will actively encourage" his
colleagues to do likewise.

He said there was "a self-contained bicycle facility and there are showers
available for cyclists. We also have a workplace travel plan which actively
encourages the healthier, sustainable options of walking or cycling for all or
part of the journey." He said the department had recently participated in the
Ecology Foundation's Cycle to Work scheme, a not-for-profit programme which
aims to operate as a one-stop-shop service for employers to facilitate their
employees cycling to work - that means providing the bicycles, safety
accessories and training and any other necessary support.

"The scheme is being operated through the Dublin Transportation Office. They
gave a presentation to staff here in the department on the benefits of cycling
to work. The department has engaged in this scheme and staff are availing of
the bicycles for use to cycle to work. We are also in the process of setting
up the bicycle user group in the department."

David Maher of the Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) is "very happy" with the new
measures and is optimistic it will encourage more people to get out of their
cars and onto their bikes. "I would have fainted if I had read about the
introduction of a policy like this in the paper 10 years ago so at least we
can take some comfort from the fact that transport policy has moved on a
little bit," he says.

He believes many "enlightened employers" who are struggling to pay in excess
of €2,000 for parking spaces for their employees will be keen to take
advantage of the move. "I think the €1,000 in tax relief is more than
sufficient. You can get a good bike for €350 and all the gear for another
€100. We do need to tip the balance for people who are considering taking
their bikes to work, to give them that little bit of encouragement to leave
their cars at home."

According to research carried out by the DCC, some 60 per cent of people who
cycle to work have access to a car but choose to commute on "what is far and
away the most efficient way of getting into the city". Maher describes driving
as "incredibly inefficient. You drive in at speeds of around six miles per
hour, guzzling expensive petrol while stuck in traffic."

There is also a cultural problem which is behind the enormous reluctance of
many otherwise sensible adults to consider cycling. Of all the reasons people
put forward for not cycling, sweat, safety, rain and ridiculousness are the
big four.

The fear of getting wet is a red herring as, according to Met Éireann
statistics, someone from Dublin who cycles 15 minutes to work, five days a
week, will be rained on only four days out of 100 (admittedly, in Galway,
where it seems to rain on two out of every three days, the chances of getting
soaked are considerably higher).

"If you're cycling short distances and don't cycle like a madman then you
won't need a shower when you get to work," Maher says. "These excuses are not
real. Safety, on the other hand, is a real issue and the key problem here is
the complete non-enforcement of basic traffic laws in this country. Cars
routinely park illegally in cycle lanes and the Garda don't seem to care."

BUT HOW MUCH does a cyclist save? A commuter who lives in Sutton - some seven
miles from Dublin, will spend €3.80 on a return Dart ticket into the city
daily. Allowing four weeks for holidays and a further week for sick days, the
average Sutton-based commuter will spend €893 on train tickets each year.
Someone taking the bus in from Rathmines, meanwhile, will spend €690
annually while it will cost someone coming in to Dublin city centre from
Goatstown on the Luas just shy of €1,000 every year.

Stuck in traffic and travelling an average of six miles per hour, motorists
are spending even more on driving to work.

A decent bicycle including lights and reflective gear, on the other hand, will
cost €350. Assuming it is not stolen, the Sutton-based cyclist will save
themselves €2,329 over the course of three years while the person living in
Goatstown will find themselves with an extra €2,611 at the end of year
three, enough to pay for a couple of holidays to the Caribbean.

© 2008 The Irish Time

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