An Amsterdam businessman – Photo by Dawn Paley
How financial incentives can re-shape our cities and our behaviour for a better future.
In North America, there are endless incentives that encourage us to drive our cars everywhere. From 0% interest financing on new cars, to unlimited travel car insurance, to significant government tax-breaks for leased automobiles, to free subsidized road infrastructure, to free parking, to paid mileage, and many others.
What if we had financial incentives to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car? Could it help to change our behaviour and have a more positive impact on our cities, our health and our environment?
Well this is what we are trying to do with a new policy at my company, Bursting Silver.
We recently established a number of company policies that we feel will help contribute to reducing our impact on the environment. One of our new policies is to pay employees double mileage for client travel by bike.
Although our staff primarily work from home offices in cities across Canada, we are often obligated to travel and work on-site at our client offices. Since we pay 50 cents per kilometre for staff to travel by car, we are now paying staff $1 per kilometre if they use a bicycle.
When I first tweeted about our new company policy, I received a responses from a few sceptics who thought it was a wonderful gesture, but they thought it wasn’t realistic for most companies because of the significant costs.
But a policy like this doesn’t need to necessarily create significant new costs. For example, when I ride my bicycle to the airport for client travel, I am entitled to $24 for the 24 kilometre bike ride to the airport. However, if I took a taxi to the airport, it would cost the client $55. So on a return trip to the airport, I am saving my client $62, I get to keep healthy, and we have one less taxi to clog the road to the airport.
Driving to client offices could also add significant costs for parking – depending on the location. On a bicycle, I can pull up to the front door of my client without any parking fees.
Everyone wins in these situations. And it’s one extra incentive for our staff when they are looking at their transportation options while traveling for work.
I believe our behaviour and our choices are determined primarily by our incentives and our culture. Sometimes our incentives define our culture (and vice versa).
The Dutch weren’t born to have a greater propensity to ride a bicycle than anyone else around the world. But they do ride bicycles for everyday trips more than anyone else in the world. Why is that? It’s because they simply have a lot more incentives than North Americans to hop on their bicycles instead of using a car for every trip.
The primary incentive for the Dutch of course is their great bicycle infrastructure. Getting around the Netherlands by bike is fun and comfortable, and often faster and more convenient than driving.
If driving is the most convenient and comfortable way to get around, the vast majority of people will always get around by car (as long as they can afford it). And the countless incentives encouraging people to drive will help ensure this will continue indefinitely.
But if we can help change our incentives and behaviour, we can help shift our cities from being car-centric to becoming more liveable, comfortable and healthier.
Please join me and the Bursting Silver team in helping to encourage more people to commute by bicycle. Please raise this idea with your own company and perhaps we can gain some momentum on this initiative.
Bursting Silver is a boutique technology consulting firm that works primarily with not-for-profit and NGO clients to help them leverage technology to serve their constituents effectively.