Cycle to Work scheme grabs fitness-conscious commuters

4 Oct 2011

Michael Dawson, Group CEO, Gift Voucher Shop, and broadcaster George Hook, both enjoy the benefits of cycling (front left), as they took part in Cycle4haiti 2011, a 225km charity cycle from Dublin to Galway in May for Soul of Haiti Foundation

The Cycle to Work scheme has only been up and running in Ireland for just over two years, yet over 90,000 people have already capitalised on it, availing of the tax incentives to get to and from work on two wheels, minimising their carbon footprint and getting fit all at the same time. Apparently, cycling to work also saves economies on sick days too – that’s according to a London School of Economics report.

Despite having to weave through rush-hour traffic on Dublin City streets, battling it against taxi drivers, bus drivers, parents dropping kids to school, commuters, and the Luas all edging along the commuting corridors in the morning, or having to trudge over hilly country roads, it seems that cyclists are liking the Cycle to Work scheme, which also has knock-on benefits for the Irish economy and its green economy drive.

The Irish Bicycle Business Association (IBBA) today launched its first report on the Cycle to Work scheme, introduced in 2009, reflecting how people are getting concerned about doing their bit for the environment, as well as getting fit and saving on fuel for shorter commutes that can be done on a bicycle.

Pedal power

And it’s not just solo commuters. Parents are also getting in on the scheme, ferrying their children to school or crèche on the way to work via their bicycle.

The Cycle to Work scheme is a government incentive that was announced in the November 2008 budget when the Green Party was in Government with Fianna Fáil at the time.

Win-win for employers / employees – the tax incentive

Via the scheme, employers can buy a bike at a cost of up to €1,000 for employees to cycle to work and recover the cost from the employees’ pre-tax salary over the following 12 months. The benefit is not subject to benefit-in-kind taxation and employees can save up to 52pc of the cost of the bike, while employers save 10.75pc in employer’s PRSI.

Tourism and job-creation spin-offs

According to the IBBA, the scheme has spawned many spin-offs, aside from the environmental benefits, such as significant spin-offs for domestic tourism, charitable fundraising, job creation.

The IBBA is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2011 as the Irish trade body representing cycling retailers and businesses within the cycling sector in the Republic of Ireland, which is worth over €100m per annum.

Speaking today, David Walsh of the IBBA said: “The most important aim of the Cycle to Work scheme was to encourage people to leave their cars behind and cycle to work. With 90,000 bicycles purchased in the last two years through the scheme, we can safely say that this has happened.”

In terms of tourism, IBBA estimates suggest that there has been an estimated 50pc increase (from 350 to 528) in cycling tours and events currently registered throughout the country since 2009, resulting in significant benefits to local tourism.

Our own Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD participated in this summer’s Ring of Kerry cycle. The cycling event in the Kingdom has increased its numbers by 66pc since 2009, bringing an estimated €770,000 into the local Co Kerry economy, with an average spend of €140 per cyclist as they stay in hostels/B&B’s and consume food during their visit.

Key findings from the IBBA:

  • 90,000 bikes have been purchased through the Cycle to Work scheme since 2009, generating about €138.68m in direct and indirect sales.
  • 50 new bicycle shops across Ireland have been established since the launch of the Cycle to Work scheme.
  • An estimated 767 jobs have been preserved or created in Ireland as a result of the Cycle to Work scheme.
  • Cycling Ireland membership numbers are up to 10,000 from 5,000 in 2008.

Padraig Ryan, transport co-ordinator for Temple Street Children’s University Hospital (CUH), a hospital that participates in the Cycle to Work scheme, spoke today about how the scheme has achieved a massive take-up from hospital staff:

“Since 2009 we have seen a 450pc increase in the number of staff cycling to work, coinciding with a 44pc reduction in the number of staff driving. This could not have been achieved without the Cycle to Work scheme. It has made Children’s University Hospital a more accessible place for all concerned.”

Coincidentally, Temple Street CUH last week won the overall sustainability award at the Green Economy Forum in Dublin, held by Dublin Chamber, as profiled on our sister site Business & Leadership. Temple Street CUH is aiming to be a sustainability exemplar for other hospitals to follow suit and save on their bottom line by embedding sustainability into their core business planning, from procurement to the serving of meals to patients, saving on food waste, by being smarter in this area.

Cycling to works saves economy on sick days?

The IBBA is also asserting that the Cycle to Work scheme has saved the economy €15.3m a year in absenteeism. According to a London School of Economics study, regular cyclists take on average one less sick day per year.

A study of 9,000 UK civil servants found that cycling 25 miles a week halves the risk of fatal and non fatal heart disease.

Charities capitalise on cycling craze

Charities are also getting in on the cycling vibe. A 2011 study from 2Wheels Cycles bike shop in Dublin says 70pc of charities in Ireland use cycling events to fundraise, with a 50pc increase in number of participants year-on-year.

Kevin Hillier, co-owner of 2Wheels Cycles, said today: “The interest in cycling in Ireland has grown dramatically, both as a means of transport and leisure.

Cycling to work in Ireland

Just this September Vodafone Ireland Foundation, 2Wheels and Temple Street CUH held a charity cycling event to raise money for Temple Street CUH, when over 1,000 cyclists pedalled their way from Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium to Ireland’s boutique and eco festival, Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois.

In 2011 to date, €2.3m has been raised for charity through cycling events.

Michael Carey, chairman of the Soul of Haiti Foundation and former chairman of Jacob Fruitfield Food Group, spoke today about how charities have a “massive” opportunity to capitalise on cycling events to raise funds for their causes.

“The Cycle4Haiti is a perfect example of this. It is the single largest fundraising activity for the Soul of Haiti Foundation and continues to grow year-on-year”.

Recommendations of the IBBA report

  • IBBA members have suggested allowing employees to purchase a new bicycle through the Cycle to Work scheme every three years rather than every five years as is currently the case.
  • The Association proposes that employees who have had their bike stolen and who have reported the theft to the Gardaí should get a new bike without having to wait five years.
  • It suggests that the eligibility of child seats and trailers for bicycles through the Cycle to Work scheme needs clarification as many employees combine the school run trip with their commute.
  • IBBA members propose allowing insurance to be purchased under the scheme.
  • The Association supports the National Cycle Policy Framework and Smarter Travel targets and recommends that funding for cycling is increased to the per capita levels of other European countries.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic