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Coronavirus - a turning point for cycling to work?

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Wales is becoming a safer place to cycle. Local authorities have new funding to set up networks of segregated ‘pop-up’ cycleways and more people are getting out and about on their bikes.

Will this lead to a long-term change in the way we travel to work? And what can unions do to get employers to provide support and facilities for those who want to cycle?

What is happening with cycling in Wales?

The Welsh Government recently announced £38 million in additional investment for active travel. It’s the largest ever investment in active travel in Wales. The new funding will help local authorities to provide safe walking and cycling infrastructures through:

  • pop-up cycle routes
  • increased cycle parking
  • widened footways
  • improvements to school streets
  • 20 mph speed limits
  • suspensions of on-street parking.

Take a look at the list of new schemes and contact Sustrans Cymru and local councils or cycling groups for further information on cycle routes.

Cycling, Covid and the Climate Emergency

The number of people cycling during the lockdown boomed. Bike sales soared by 63 per cent as there was a huge reduction in traffic. Many enjoyed safer walking and cycling on the quieter streets and there were big improvements in air quality.

But even before the changes imposed due to Covid, there was growing interest in cycling. This was due in part to concern about the climate crisis and the occupational and public health emergency caused by air pollution.

Public Health Wales estimates that poor air quality causes around 1400 deaths in Wales each year . Pre-Covid, a study revealed that air quality in Cardiff is among the worst in the UK. And to make matters worse, there is compelling evidence that air pollution worsens coronavirus .

Many of us see making a journey by bike instead of by car as a way to be part of the solution to these problems. The well-documented benefits to physical health and mental well-being are another reason why many want to make the switch to a commute by bike in the longer-term.

Safe travel to work in the time of Covid

Many of us are still working from home. In Wales, anyone who can work from home should continue to do so.

However, many workers are returning to their workplaces, or have not been able to work from home during the crisis. It is vital that they have safe and socially-distanced ways to travel to work.

For some workers, travelling by car is the only practical option. This might be because of shift patterns, disability or caring responsibilities. Or simply because there aren’t viable alternative ways to get to work from where they live. Often these workers may be among the lowest-paid, such as cleaners or care workers. And they may already experience significant social/economic disadvantage. It’s important that their needs are supported by employers.

But some workers do not have a car and are now unable to use public transport to get to work. Many people already choose to cycle to work and a further 1 in 5 workers say they are now considering commuting by bike . However, concerns about safety on the road, bike theft and a lack of changing facilities at work are often felt to be barriers

Employers should ensure that all their workers are able to travel to work safely. The journey to and from work and travel for work should be included in employers’ Covid-19 risk assessments. These should be carried out in conjunction with trade union health and safety reps. You can find out more in our guide to a ‘return to safe workplaces’ .

Why should employers support cycling to work?

Welsh Government and local councils are starting to make our streets more cycling friendly. But it’s equally important that employers do their bit to support cycling as part of a safe return to work.

If employers do not take action to support cyclists, car journeys will increase and roads will become gridlocked. There have already been reports of an increase on pre-Covid traffic levels because people are concerned about using public transport.

As well as providing opportunities for safer travel to work, supporting cycling also helps employers:

  • tackle the costs that arise from congestion
  • reduce the organisation’s impact on air quality and the environment
  • create a healthier and more productive workforce

Read more about the benefits of being a cycle-friendly employer

What can unions ask employers to do to support cycling to work?

Many unions have already successfully secured better facilities and support from employers.

As workers return to their workplaces there may be increased demand for facilities. Unions can work with employers to review arrangements and facilities to ensure they meet the needs of all those who want to cycle to work.

To understand these needs better, unions could ask employers to share any information they have gathered about workers’ travel plans. Reps could also carry out their own travel review survey. This could be done as part of a wider ‘return to the workplace’ survey. Here is a transport review survey which you can adapt.

To support cycling to work, employers can:

  • gather information on workers’ current or intended travel arrangements (this should already be being gathered as part of Covid risk assessments).
  • provide secure, weather-proof cycle parking close to the workplace. Ideally it should have capacity for bike trailers/cargo bikes for workers transporting children.
  • provide workers with local information about cycleways (including the new ‘pop-up’ lanes) and other active travel infrastructure, alongside maps and information on journey times. More information is available from local authorities and Sustrans Cymru .
  • offer help with a bike purchase (through schemes such as cycle to work or grants, vouchers, salary sacrifice or other low-cost bike loan schemes)
  • provide suitable changing and showering facilities, and access to lockers
  • offer training such as bike maintenance and cycling training ( British Cycling has some helpful free videos to help people learn to commute with confidence )
  • provide workplace bike repair facilities and/or details of local repair shops
  • set up a workplace bicycle user group and share information about local cycle groups (e.g. Cardiff Cycle City)
  • provide pooled bikes for work journeys
  • pay mileage for work-related bike journeys (HMRC rules apply )
  • relax workplace dress codes (so workers can attend work meetings in clothes in which they can cycle).
  • offer flexible start/finish times to support those with school drop-offs
  • join a cycle friendly employer accreditation scheme
  • raise awareness – make sure all staff are aware of the facilities available
  • work with unions to develop a travel plan (Sustrans Cymru can provide useful information on putting one together)

Next steps towards a green recovery

We warmly welcome the Welsh Government’s investment in active travel. We called for more investment in active travel in our recent “A green recovery and a just transition report” .

We also want investment in low-carbon public transport to be brought forward and increased. We need to ensure that more workers have access to public transport once we are through this crisis.

We are currently working to produce a more detailed guide for reps on negotiating on active travel, which will be available soon.

In the meantime, if you’d like more information please get in touch with us at wtuc@tuc.org.uk. We’re also looking for case studies on cycling friendly workplaces. We would love to hear from reps who’ve been involved in negotiating on active travel plans or better facilities for cyclists at work.