France Wants More People to Bike. So the Country Is Paying Them (…Kind Of)

As soon as their lockdown ends, the French government could be paying its citizens nearly a grand to ride their bikes.


By Jessica Coulon |

What will it take for more people to start riding their bike, especially as a form of transportation? Better bike infrastructure has undoubtedly been an important part of that equation so far, as has local culture and public perception. But now, France is looking to take it one step further and directly encourage its citizens to bike more, using one of the best motivators around: money.

The French government will begin paying up to 50 euros—roughly R1 000—per person to put towards bike repairs. It’s one component of a new initiative called “Coup de Pouce Vélo,” which translates to “Bike Boost.” The program is set to launch May 11, which is the same date that the country will start coming out of its pandemic-induced lockdown. Overall, paying towards their expenses is an effort to encourage more people to bike instead of taking public transportation, especially since many social distancing measures will remain in effect.

“Indeed, the bicycle makes it possible to respect health distancing measures while respecting the environment,” the program’s website states.

The French government will be partnering with certain bike shops where people can go for their subsidised repairs. This financial assistance is applied directly to the customer’s invoice in the form of a discount of up to 50 euros, not including taxes. The funds can also be used to purchase certain commuting and support-cycling safety equipment and accessories like helmets, lights, and bike locks.

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Bike shops that are looking to participate and individuals seeking bike repairs can apply through the program’s website.

But the plan isn’t just paying for bike repairs and important accessories. Part of the R402-million package will also go towards increasing temporary bike parking and providing free, one-hour educational sessions through a program-affiliated bicycle school or coach to cover bike handling skills, navigating bike networks, learning the rules of the road, and more.

“We want this period to take a step forward in bike culture, and for the bicycle to be the ‘queen’ of deconfinement,” French Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a tweet (translated via Google Translate), who announced the plan on April 30.

Even beyond health safety measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, cycling is increasingly being promoted as an alternative form of transportation, especially in congested urban areas like Paris. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is extremely pro-bicycle and, through her Plan Vélo, is hoping to transform Paris into one of the bike-friendliest cities around.

Could such a scheme work in South Africa? It would involve a dramatic shift in mindset, in a culture where the bicycle is derogatorily seen as a poor man’s transport, but that is workable. It would also require a state focus on human-powered transport solutions, which might just be a bigger challenge. The biggest hurdle – we can’t see our government paying people to ride bikes, quite yet.

READ MORE ON: commuting sustainability sustainable cycling transport

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