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What is Active Travel And How To Encourage It As An Employer?

woman on bike commuting to work

In today’s fast-paced world, how we commute has significant implications for our health, the environment, and overall quality of life. Traditional reliance on motor vehicles contributes to a host of issues. We are all painfully aware of how slow and annoying traffic congestion can be, how polluted our air in busy cities is, and how sedentary our lifestyles have become. As awareness of these challenges grows, so does the interest in sustainable and health-promoting alternatives. Active travel—such as walking, cycling, and other non-motorised transportation—presents a compelling solution. This mode of transportation not only reduces environmental impact but also promotes physical and mental well-being.

For employers, encouraging active travel among employees is more than just a nod to sustainability and a box-ticking exercise. It can represent a strategic approach to fostering a healthier, more engaged workforce. By creating an environment that supports active travel and incentivises employees to embrace it, or at least try it out, businesses can reap numerous benefits like better employee health, reduced absenteeism, and a positive corporate image. Here, we explore what active travel entails and provide actionable strategies for employers looking to promote it within their organisations.

What is Active Travel?

Active travel refers to modes of transportation involving physical activity, such as walking, cycling, e-bikes, or using non-motorised vehicles. The idea is to rely less on cars and more on our own steam. The concept has also slowly expanded and often includes wheelchair users or other mobility aids.

The idea is to use your own body to power your movements. There is very good evidence that active travel, especially for short journeys where people use cars unnecessarily, can increase health outcomes and reduce carbon emissions. More physical movement means better physical and mental health and a reduced environmental footprint. Active travel is a key component of sustainable urban mobility and helps reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

What Are The Benefits of Active Travel?

We all know exercise is important to keep us fit, healthy and happy. Little physical activity leads to a number of well-studied problematic outcomes like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Public Health England estimated in 2016 that physical inactivity directly contributed to one in six deaths yearly. Knowing this, however, doesn’t mean that most of us can make time for it. Busy schedules, daily chores and long hours spent commuting are only some of the things we spend time on, whether we like it or not. Adding exercise to this can sound exhausting. One of the best things about active travel is that it can be seamlessly included in your daily routines by replacing your car commute with a bike one. By making the swap, you can increase your regular physical activity, improve your cardiovascular and mental health, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

Active travel is a key part of the environmental puzzle. Road transport is responsible for a fifth of the UK’s total emissions. Unlike motor vehicles, which rely on fossil fuels and contribute to carbon dioxide emissions, walking and cycling are zero-emission modes of transportation. Reducing emissions helps combat climate change and improves air quality, leading to healthier communities and ecosystems. Additionally, active travel reduces noise pollution and decreases the need for extensive road infrastructure, preserving natural landscapes and promoting biodiversity. By reducing our reliance on cars and adopting more eco-friendly modes of transport, we can contribute to a more sustainable future where our cities are cleaner, greener, and more enjoyable for everyone.

Another benefit of active travel is how budget-friendly it really is. For employees, walking or cycling to work can significantly reduce transportation costs, including fuel, parking, and vehicle maintenance expenses. Over time, these savings can add up, improving personal financial health. For employers, promoting active travel can lead to reduced healthcare costs due to healthier, more active employees experiencing fewer chronic illnesses and lower absenteeism rates. On a broader scale, active travel can decrease public spending on road maintenance and infrastructure, as fewer vehicles mean less wear and tear on roads and bridges.

Active travel fosters a range of social benefits, enhancing community cohesion and quality of life. Walking and cycling promote interaction among community members, encouraging social connections and a stronger sense of belonging. These activities often lead to safer neighbourhoods, as increased foot and bike traffic naturally enhances surveillance and deters crime. Furthermore, active travel routes can connect different parts of a community, making it easier for people to access local services, parks, and recreational areas, promoting inclusivity and accessibility. Active travel also supports mental health by reducing stress and providing opportunities for outdoor activity, which can improve mood and overall well-being. By encouraging active travel, communities can become more vibrant, connected, and supportive environments where people thrive.

How to Encourage Active Travel as an Employer

Being an active travel-friendly employer involves creating a workplace environment that supports and encourages employees to choose cycling, e-biking or walking as a viable and genuinely comfortable mode of transportation. Here are some steps you can take to do that:

Infrastructure and Facilities

One of the most basic needs to meet is storage. Secure and convenient bike parking facilities, like bike racks and shelters, can encourage employees to cycle to work. Ideally, consider alternative modes of transportation, such as scooters, e-scooters, and e-bikes, and install suitable racks or stands for them, too, like our Two-Tier E-Bike Rack.

Once you have covered the basics, consider providing overall end-of-trip facilities like showers, changing rooms and a repair station. People often worry that walking or cycling to the office means spending the day sweaty and smelly after a ride. Access to showers and lockers can make it easier for employees to freshen up after walking or cycling, making it more comfortable for them throughout the day. Adding a bike repair station with tools and equipment for basic bike maintenance is also a great way to ensure people have peace of mind that should anything happen to their bike, they can fix it.

Incentives, Rewards and Engagement

One of the ways to help employees get on board with active travel is to take some of the financial pressure of buying a bike or an e-bike off them. You can do this by taking part in a Bike To Work Scheme and offering financial incentives or subsidies for purchasing bicycles and accessories.

Also, consider providing allowances for active travel modes, similar to car allowances. And make sure to start an in-house acknowledgement and reward scheme for employees who regularly engage in active travel. This can be done with monthly competitions for those who have cycled the most miles or anything else creative and active travel-related you can think of.

It is also a great idea to start organising Bike to Work days or other monthly challenges, which can foster a sense of teamwork, friendly competition, fun, and, most of all, a community. This can motivate employees to be more active and also act as a team-building exercise.

Promoting active travel among employees is a strategic move that can yield numerous benefits for both individuals and organisations. Active travel addresses critical health and environmental challenges and contributes to economic savings and social well-being. For employers, fostering an environment that supports and encourages active travel can lead to healthier, more engaged employees, reduced absenteeism, and a stronger, more positive corporate image. Employers can make a significant impact by investing in the necessary infrastructure, offering incentives, and actively promoting a culture of active travel. The shift towards active travel is not merely a nod to sustainability but a comprehensive approach to improving quality of life in the workplace and beyond. By adopting and promoting active travel, employers can play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more sustainable future for everyone.

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