Piia Moilanen: Productivity leap by cycling

1/8/2016

Danes love their bikes which to them symbolise both vitality and ecological values. In fact, almost a fourth of all commuter trips in the country are made by bike. Bikes are used to carry children and groceries. Bikes take people to school, work and hobbies, regardless of income.

Each cyclist benefits society and the environment, often without noticing. Cyclists take less sick leave and work harder than their car-driving colleagues. According to an Austrian study, every cycled kilometre saves approximately EUR 0.90 in illness-related costs. Since an average Dane cycles slightly over 1.5 kilometres a day, this generates aggregate annual savings of nearly EUR 3 billion. Meanwhile, cycling Finns generate annual savings of EUR 1.3 billion. By doubling our cycling kilometreage we could add speed to our nation's productivity leap.

Increased cycling reduces the need for wide roads and large car parks, saving valuable urban areas for other purposes. Cycling reduces the need for expensive road investments and decreases traffic congestion. This creates annual savings of approximately EUR 25 billion in Europe. The benefits clearly outweigh the required investments. Up to now, less than one percent of transport sector financing has been allocated to cycling infrastructure. This means that Finland's investments in cycling infrastructure are roughly EUR 10–20 million per year, while the benefits in the form of reduced congestion are tenfold.

Cyclists all over Europe reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 11 million tons a year, thereby helping to keep the Earth cool. If other Europeans cycled as much as the Danes, this would equal almost 480 billion kilometres a year, reducing Europe's carbon dioxide emissions by 55–120 million tons, which would correspond to as much as 10 per cent of Europe's climate goals. Finland's transport sector intends to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 3 million tons over 10 years. We could achieve this by doubling our cycling kilometreage – in other words, by cycling like the Danes.

The cycling-related sector is the largest cleantech employer in global terms. More than 650,000 people work full-time in this sector in Europe, creating a turnover of over EUR 60 billion. Of this amount, bicycle manufacturing accounts for approximately EUR 20 billion. Increased cycling would also give a boost to the growing Finnish bicycle manufacturing sector. The e-bike market, which is experiencing exponential growth, is particularly interesting in this context.

The largest cycling-related segment in Europe is cycle tourism, which is worth around EUR 44 billion. Although cycle tourism still forms a marginal part of Finland's tourism offering, it has been estimated to have a potential turnover of over EUR 2 billion.

Cycling strategies are being rapidly unveiled all over Europe, and more and more people are being encouraged to take to two wheels. Differences in cycling volumes between cities and countries indicate that there is still plenty of growth potential. Copenhagen is expected to reach its 50 per cent cycling target very soon – a rapid increase from 36 per cent only a few years ago. Meanwhile, in Helsinki, slightly over 10 per cent of citizens choose a bike as their primary mode of transport. On the other side of the Gulf of Finland, in Tallinn, only 1 per cent of the population are regular cyclists.

The Danes have shown that an effective cycling policy can yield major results within a short time span. Factors that promote cycling in Denmark include the Cycling Embassy of Denmark (CED), a national cycling strategy and the Danish Cycling Fund, which distributes funds to promote cycling. Furthermore, cycling has been integrated into Denmark's climate strategy. In addition, Danish politicians set an example for other citizens: more than 60 per cent of members of the Danish Parliament cycle to work on a regular basis.

Finland could also make an impressive productivity leap through small investments and a strong commitment to the development of cycling. This would also create growth and thousands of jobs in the cleantech sector – with no need to extend working hours.

Piia Moilanen
Programme Manager, Tekes


Photo: Susanna Lehto

Eero Lukin
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