THE Heart Foundation is stepping up its campaign to convince governments to support walking, cycling and public transport in our cities, following encouraging results from a survey in which more than 70% of respondents supported financial incentives to cycle to work.
The survey, conducted by the Foundation and the Cycling Promotion Fund, released late last month, focused on workers aged 25 to 54 who lived within 15 km of work and did not currently ride to work.
Asked if they supported financial incentives for commuting by bike, 71.5% of survey respondents said yes, 13.7% said no, and 14.9% were unsure. More than one in three said they would like to cycle to work. Their reasons for not cycling included distance (17.5%), traffic/road conditions (11.7%), don’t feel safe (11.4%), need car for work/home office (9.7%), no access to a bike (9.2%), inconvenience (6.2%) and time (6%).
The survey proposed three financial incentive models: direct subsidy (a per km amount), indirect subsidy (employer tax refund passed on to employee), and tax deduction (for the purchase of a bike). Direct subsidy was strongly favoured by 72%, but tax deduction (63%) and indirect subsidy (58%) were also popular.
The Heart Foundation’s national spokesperson on active living, Associate Professor Trevor Shilton, said the survey results “were on the better side of expectations”. He said an interesting result was that, although a large number of survey respondents cycled recreationally (nearly 40%), only 1% of Australians cycle to work.
Incentives were only part of the picture, he said, and a comprehensive approach was needed to address environmental problems, increase education and reset policy. A good example of such an approach was the campaign against tobacco consumption, which included tax increases, the Quit campaign, and smoke-free environments, he said.
Associate Professor Shilton said there was no reason why Australia could not match the success of other countries with cycling to work. “We’ve got good international evidence to inform target setting – we can aim for 10%, that’s what comparable cities have achieved in relatively quick time.”
Vancouver, Calgary, Copenhagen and Portland had prioritised walkers, cyclists and public transport, had built fewer freeways, and were reaping the benefits.
“Solving traffic congestion by widening roads is a bit like solving obesity by loosening your belt – it doesn’t work – it’s not a long-term solution,” he said.
In addition to the cycling survey, the Heart Foundation has published a new version of its Blueprint for an active Australia, which includes a 13-point plan for getting Australians moving through policies for the built environment, workplaces, healthcare, travel and sport, and to tackling problems such as prolonged sitting and disadvantage.
“All of our policy initiatives, including incentives for cycling, need to be seen as part of the broader picture,” Associate Professor Shilton said. “But you don’t get things by asking for them just once, we’ll keep talking.”