|Free car parking is offered in very|
many locations. In this case an
advertisement for a local shopping
centre. Workplace parking is free
and it's also free at at the hospital.
Many people seem to believe that the Dutch government supports cycling above other modes of transport. However, this is not really true either. Cycling is funded well compared with other nations, but roads for motor vehicles receive far more funding than do bicycle paths. What's more, some policies of the government could be seen to be aimed at reducing the use of bikes. Here are two of those:
Paying people to commute by car
The Dutch government actually allows employers to offer a tax free perk to those with a long commute by car, and many employers choose to offer this perk.
Helpfully, I don't even have to translate this because the Dutch government provides the relevant information in English on a website designed to help foreign companies:
If you own a company in the Netherlands, you can pay employees with a fixed place of work a predetermined travel allowance. You are not, however, required to do this. Often agreements have been made in the employment contract or in the collective labour agreement (CAO) about the allowances for travel expenses.
You can pay this kilometre allowance for both commuting and business trips. Allowances of € 0.19 or less per kilometre are free of tax and social security contributions. If an allowance exceeds € 0.19 per kilometre, the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (Belastingdienst) will regard the excess as wages.
If your employee (partly) travels by public transport, you can choose. You reimburse no more than € 0.19 per kilometre free of tax or you reimburse the actual travelling expenses free of tax.
Nineteen cents per km travelled goes a long way to cover the actual cost of driving many motor vehicles, and for economical or older vehicles it is likely that the driver will make a profit on this. It can also be claimed by people who car pool, meaning that a total of 38 cents per km is paid for one car - definitely profitable.
It is also possible to claim the allowance for cycling and this results in a tax free bonus as the cost of cycling is generally much lower than that of driving. I received this allowance for a 60 km per day commute. My commute earned €11 per day so in effect I was paid better than €6 per hour, tax free, to cycle. However, this option not open to most people as the minimum distance covered by the regulation is 10 km and for most people that's too far to commute by bike.
Encouraging students not to cycle
The leading cycling cities in almost all, if not all, countries are cities where large numbers of students live. I've discussed several times before how students and relatively recent graduates are uniquely placed to find cycling attractive as they're predominantly confident young adults, usually without children, with little spare cash and usually with short journeys to make. The Netherlands is no exception to this. The leading cycling city in the Netherlands, Groningen, is a student city. 50000 students live in a city of 190000 people and as a result of this influence Groningen residents have the youngest average age of any Dutch city.
|The "discouragement" appears not to|
be working. Bikes outside one
university building in Groningen.
700 more indoors around the corner.
It's not actually a bad policy. Students must claim their free transport for use either during week time or at the weekend, but not both simultaneously. Our eldest daughter cycles to college within Groningen but uses her free public transport on the weekend in order to visit us or friends who live elsewhere in the country. This is why cycle-parking at the main railway station in Groningen is most full on weekends. Our neighbour's daughter who still lives at home uses her free transport to travel to college in the week (a 60 km round trip each day is more than most people would choose to do by bike) but she cycles to local friends at the weekend.
The pass also allows students to claim a 40% discount on the trains at any time that they cannot travel for free.
How many students take a free bus instead of cycling ?
In Groningen, it is estimated that the free bus pass is currently used by 5000 students a day on one of the main routes to university buildings. If the free bus pass was not available, it is estimated that around half of those students would travel by bicycle instead.
So why do people cycle ?
Both these policies, of giving commuters encouragement both to lengthen their commutes (Dutch commutes are in fact the longest in Europe) and to make them by car, and the other policy of providing a free of charge alternative means of transport for students, must have some negative effect on the cycling modal share of the Netherlands. Yet despite both these policies the population still views cycling as a positive choice because of the benefits that it brings. Cycling remains popular with a huge proportion of the population despite the government seemingly using fiscal measures in an attempt to discourage it.
Cycling is a convenient and economical means of transport everywhere. However, in most countries it does not reach its full potential. In The Netherlands, a bike offers more. The infrastructure not only makes cycling even more convenient than in other nations but it also makes cycling into an option so safe and pleasant that nearly everyone is attracted to cycling.
Student cities will of course always tend to have more cycling than non-student cities. City centres will always be busier than suburbs. Longer commutes are less amenable to cycling than short commutes, but good infrastructure in all of these locations is fundamental to unlock whatever demand exists for cycling in each place with each given population.
What this blog post isn't about
There seems to be some confusions amongst readers about what they perceive as anti-driving measures in the Netherlands. It's quite normal in this country for driving routes to be longer than cycling routes but this is not so much as a result of anti-driving measures as of pro-cycling and pro-pleasant neighbourhood measures. The problem of rat-running through residential areas has been almost eliminated by making those areas almost impossible to use for through journeys by car.
|It's quite normal for a bicycle route|
(blue) to be shorter than the shortest
possible car route (red).
The same principle is applied in town centres and in the countryside and there are many thousands of examples of this throughout the entire nation. However while these measures make driving slightly less convenient than it might otherwise have been, they do not make it impossible. Dutch roads are well designed and well maintained and a pleasure to drive on.
Similarly, residential car parking is quite generous in the Netherlands. New developments are built with ample space to accommodate the cars that people own and older streets are rebuilt to accommodate them. This means cars can be parked without causing conflict with pedestrians and cyclists.
|The Netherlands, here in Orange, has|
the highest rate of non-motorized
transport in all of Europe.
The end result is that despite this being a rich nation where people can afford to own and use cars and other motorized forms of transport, the Dutch people make a positive choice to use non-motorized forms of transport more than the people of any other nation. Is this not the result we should all hope for ?
Carrots work better than sticks.
Today we went on a very enjoyable family trip to a seal sanctuary in Groningen. The 120 km round trip was too much for the family by bike so we made one of our rare trips by car. We didn't check in advance, but parking our car turned out to be free of charge in a half empty car park- an experience we've had almost everywhere that we've gone by car in this country. On this hot day I'd much rather have ridden a bike. That would have been a positive choice, much more pleasant. The cost of parking a car is immaterial.