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Workplace cycling cultures, modal shift and bicycle design: implications for individual and organisational practices

Overview

Partners to the project include Dawes Cycles, the two Cambridge schemes and the organisations where interviews will be carried out. The project also has support from the Cyclists' Touring Club.

The project is funded by the ESRC through the national LINK programme on Inland Surface Transport, and runs from 1st May 1999 for two years

Research team: Paul Rosen and David Skinner

Over a million new bicycles are sold in Britain each year. Why are so few of them used to travel to work? Over the last five years, transport and planning policy have become increasingly concerned with finding alternative forms of mobility to the private car, but most people still drive to work. The Government's Integrated Transport White Paper in 1998 reaffirmed the commitment to increase commuter cycling, with support for Green Transport Plans and better facilities for cyclists.

But is a change of policy enough? Even when the physical and policy infrastructures are fully in place, how can people be persuaded to leave their cars at home and get onto their bikes?

Purpose

The purpose of this project is to understand what factors facilitate the development of workplace cycling cultures, within the context of broader workplace transport cultures.

The project draws on work in social studies of technology, organisation studies, the sociology of the environment and the sociology of consumption. It builds on previous research within SATSU, notably projects looking at urban and transport planning and the organisational consumption of technology, as well as Paul Rosen's PhD thesis and forthcoming book on the British bicycle industry.

The research is concerned with how individual and organisational decisions and practices interact with each other to shape the pattern of work-related travel at any workplace, or indeed across a whole city. The project will be looking to answer questions such as:  

  • What features of organisational culture are most conducive to commuter cycling? How do transport choices interact with the sense of identity of an individual member of staff, or an organisation as a whole? For example, what does it mean to be 'a motorist' or 'a cyclist', and what kinds of transport choices are compatible with being, say, 'a manager', 'a research scientist' or 'an administrative officer'?
  • Can certain areas of a company's business practices serve as a model in encouraging greener transport - for example employment or environmental policies?
  • What can employers do to help their staff become less car-dependent, and how seriously do they take the transport needs of staff who would prefer to find an alternative?
  • What effect does involvement in local initiatives for sustainable transport have on a workplace - or on the city as a whole?
  • What role in all this is played by the kinds of bicycle and cycling equipment available? What bicycle designs are 'appropriate' for commuting? Is 'the bicycle' generally seen as a means of transport, or as sports or leisure equipment?
  • And how important are the transport patterns of the wider city milieu in influencing the decisions of individuals within a company?

These kinds of questions highlight the amount of work that needs to be done in changing the culture of transport in order to achieve the government's target to quadruple cycle trips by 2012. Whilst the project will build on existing studies of travel attitudes and behaviour, its cultural perspective is often missing from transport policy and analysis. The project consequently aims to feed into, and help shape, policy concerning modal shift at both local and national levels.

Research outcomes

The study will focus on six workplaces in Cambridge, some of which are members of the Travel for Work and Cycle-Friendly Employers Schemes established in the city within the last few years.

As well as the usual academic publications and conference papers, research outcomes will include:

  • a symposium on workplace transport directed at policymakers and planners
  • reports for the local schemes and for the employers involved in the research
  • new cycle products based on the findings on what users want from bicycle design
  • knowledge-based products identifying how employers can encourage the development of workplace cycling cultures