In Italy, officials are targeting pollution with a different strategy. As reported by the Guardian, Milan, the ‘economic powerhouse of Italy,’ and home to countless Vespas and Fiat500s, looks to bring the bicycle back in force by paying citizens to cycle to work.
As a city with a history of being auto-centric, a grave pollution problem, and erratic driving habits, Milan seems like an unlikely candidate for ‘Bike City of the Year.’ However, after reaching dangerous levels of pollution along with other areas of the country, Milan announced in December the beginning of a €35 million (approximately $39 million) fund dedicated to ‘sustainable mobility solutions.’ This came after a mandated period when all traffic ceased due to rising concerns about pollution.
Milan’s councilor for mobility Pierfrancesco Maran will be one of many competing for the state cash – looking to improve the city’s bike infrastructure and build upon a successful bike sharing program.
“Reimburse those who go to work by bike; a project similar to the one in France,” says Maran.
Maran is referring to a system the French tried in 2014 in which commuters were paid per kilometer if they cycled to work. A similar situation is being used in the small town of Massarosa in Tuscany where it has been reported that 50 people are eligible to take part.
“The software exists; it’s not 100% flawless but no one’s thinking of giving large sums,” Maran says in regards to implementing a similar system on a much larger scale. His office suggests using an app to log user’s cycling.
Eleanora Perotto, mobility manger for Milan’s Polytechnic University, has been advising Maran on how to effectively implement such a system.
How does an app verify that someone is actually cycling to work as opposed to driving? Milan’s traffic could make this difficult. “In the city, those who travel by bike are almost faster than cars,” Perotto said. Simply collecting a person’s traveling speed may not be effective.
Perotto supports the cycling initiative in Milan but admits she does not cycle to work due to the distance and strenuous nature of the trip. This squarely presents the difficult task of changing people’s habits and attitudes toward cycling and transportation in general. Sometimes, money just is not a strong enough incentive to make this change. The French system failed to produce outstanding results with a small percentage of people signing up out of the 8,000 eligible.
Furthermore, it seems that infrastructure and safety concerns around cycling are major contributors when it comes to people’s cycling decisions. Ralph Buehler, an associate professor in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech, suggests that a pay-to-bike system in itself is not enough to change most people’s transportation habits. He suggests several different incentives working together.
“If you don’t provide a safe cycling environment, you will only get a very small group of people,” Buehler said. “Just paying people alone will not have that much of an effect, because you don’t get to that part of the population which are ‘enthusiastic but concerned’.”
A program in Belgium sees more employees cycling to work when companies offer incentives. However, the incentives are coupled with incentives to drive, such as company cars, which detracts greatly from the potentially effective cycle-to-work scheme.
It seems that throwing money at people to get them to take up cycling will not be enough. Removing financial incentives to drive, safe and accommodating infrastructure, combined with financial incentives for cyclists seems to be a grouping that is getting results despite the relative ease and comfort of driving.