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Why some countries are paying people to cycle to work

Across Europe, more and more people are swapping cars and public transport for bikes. Great for our health and the planet’s, several businesses have begun rewarding this form of commuting.

Commuting can be pretty bleak.

For those of us in the UK, this is especially the case during summer, when getting to work involves squeezing onto the tube like sardines in a tin – except on occasion that tin reaches temperatures as high as 30°C and there’s a great deal more sweat.

Driving, getting an Uber, or catching the bus isn’t usually any better either, particularly in London, where traffic jams will have you collapsing into the office well-past 9am reciting the words ‘sorry I’m late’ for the third time that week.

Whether or not it’s as bad across the rest of Europe, I couldn’t say.

But as more and more countries continent-wide start offering cycle to work schemes, I’d assume that taking public transport or wasting hours behind the wheel has become increasingly less appealing for Europeans without remote jobs, just as it has here.

In France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands, a growing number of businesses have begun rewarding bike-riding employees.

The reason for this is twofold, seeking to bolster more than efficacy alone.

For starters, cycling does wonders for our physical and mental health.

Not only can it strengthen your joints, lower your cholesterol, improve your posture, boost your stamina, and even extend your life span, but thanks to the endorphins it releases and the fresh air you’re exposed to while peddling along, it can also ease feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety and put you in a good mood.

Secondly, it’s a fantastic alternative to other carbon-intensive, pollution-generating, and gas-guzzling forms of commuting, making it one of the best options out there for the environment.

For example, Dutch people cycle an average of 2.6km a day.

If this pattern was replicated worldwide, annual global emissions would drop by 686 million tonnes, which is more than the UK’s entire carbon footprint.

The government encourages this habit by offering bike commuters a ‘mileage allowance’ whereby businesses reward employees who cycle with €0.19 per kilometre that they can deduct from their tax bill.

‘Cycling is good for reducing congestion, it’s good for air quality in cities, and it’s good for the health of people themselves,’ secretary for infrastructure, Stientje van Veldhoven, tells HuffPost.

‘And you can save hundreds of euros a year. So, there is a big advantage for your wallet.’

Belgium and France offer similar schemes, with Belgian commuters able to claim €0.24 per kilometre and French commuters – where the number of active cyclists has risen by 50 per cent as a result – €0.25, up to a yearly cap of around €200.

In Italy, however, things are slightly different, as access is based on where you live, with incentives varying widely depending on the area or province.

The northern city of Florence recently introduced a scheme starting from June 3, which will see those who ditch their car and start cycling get €0.20 for every kilometre covered within the municipality, capped at €30 a month.

Participants must register using the Pin Bike app and the council plans to award €100 bonuses each month to the 200 users who accumulate the most points.

This kind of incentivisation is also popular in Luxembourg, where people who cycle to work can deduct up to €300 from their personal income tax in order to purchase a new bike or related equipment.

Across Europe, there now exists over 300 tax-incentive and purchase-assistance schemes for bike-to-work programs, according the European Cyclists’ Federation.

With this in mind, the UK is lagging considerably.

This is due to safety fears, as busy roads that lack segregated, continuous cycle paths can be dangerous as well as intimidating, and cycling is still around 28 times riskier than driving.

‘If you want the UK’s workforce to cycle, then businesses should be a critical part of calling for public money to be spent differently.,’ Nick Chamberlain, policy manager at British Cycling, tells Raconteur.

‘We need safe roads, we need good policing, we need safe, high-quality infrastructure.’