An active and sustainable commute
Julian Scriven, managing director of Brompton Bike Hire – member of the Urban Mobility Partnership – discusses the success of the Wheels for Heroes Campaign during the pandemic, and the importance of integrating micro mobility with public transport and other shared transport providers, to give a better choice for greener staff travel and commutes
Brompton Bike Hire joined the Urban Mobility Partnership (UMP) as its first active travel partner and represents the bike hire mode. UMP works with Brompton and other members representing a range of other modes, from car rental to e-scooters and ticketing systems, to develop sustainable mobility solutions which help reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions, as well as encouraging active travel.
Brompton has been making our iconic folding bike since 1975 when our founder, Andrew Ritchie, designed and built the first prototype in South Kensington, London. We still make the iconic bikes in London with around 100,000 bikes made each year. The Brompton was conceived as a product that increases people’s sense of independence and freedom, and this concept is still at the heart of everything Brompton does, as we seek to make city travel more accessible and sustainable.
The Wheels for Heroes Campaign
We are very proud of the ‘Wheels for Heroes’ Campaign which in many ways was a happy accident. In March 2020, we were contacted by the St Barts Hospital NHS Trust who asked if they could borrow a few bikes as team were worried about the risks associated with travelling to work during the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to ensure they kept themselves and patients as safe as possible as they carried out their life-saving work keeping our country safe.
Within two weeks almost every Brompton Hire bike was out on loan to NHS staff at hospital trusts across the UK. From here the Wheels for Heroes Campaign was born.
As Brompton and Brompton Bike Hire were allowed to continue operating during the lockdown period and cycling was deemed ‘essential’ by the UK Government, we wanted to use this opportunity to do what we could to help those in need. Although demand from our customers around the world remained strong and production was challenging, we were determined to do our bit by allocating some of our manufacturing capacity towards building more bikes for NHS staff.
Our approach was as follows: for the first 30 days that an NHS worker signed up to the Work for Heroes scheme the use of Brompton Bikes was entirely free. At 90 days, hire still only cost 50p a day or £15 a month.
The campaign far exceeded our initial plans and expectations. We launched this Crowdfunder back in April 2020 with the ambition to raise enough funds for dedicated NHS bikes. In June 2020 we were delighted to see the Campaign culminate with Sky Sports choosing Wheels For Heroes as the cause for The Race, a virtual cycling chase in which 4x Tour de France champion Chris Froome chased down other ex-pros such as Kevin Pietersen and other celebrities for charity. On 19th June 2020 we successfully raised £344,785 with 2394 supporters in 78 days, with £100,000 being donated by major industry partners including British Cycling, Sport England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This enabled us to build over 700 bikes especially for the campaign.
In total, 3,641 NHS staff signed up to the scheme, with 1,772 workers borrowing a bike for free and 1,072 progressed to continuing to use the scheme after 90 days. The total number of bike use days was a huge 220,898 and the estimated distance travelled by NHS staff on bikes during the pandemic was 1.78 million miles, with NHS trusts across the country utilising the scheme. Most important of all though was one in five staff who started the scheme went on to convert to a long term user of cycling as a mode of transport.
Long term impact
Following on from the success of the Wheels for Heroes Scheme, Brompton has committed that these bikes will never be used to generate a profit. These bikes will only be used to generate modal shift toward cycling in low propensity to cycle groups. We have also worked to provide bike docks at hospital trusts throughout the UK to support a permanent legacy of safe, low-cost travel for the country’s healthcare staff going forward.
Crucially, the scheme did not just help NHS staff get to work but it also helped shift public attitudes towards cycling. Research carried out by Westminster Research found that Brompton’s inherent convenience has encouraged people who were less comfortable with cycling on roads to start cycling and continue. When a sample of COVID-19 commuters’ intention were asked about intentions to continue to cycle for commuting after the pandemic by via a bike ownership model, 50 per cent of Brompton bike users said ‘definitely yes’. Another interesting find was that Brompton Bike Hire work from home users scored higher in majority of statements which focused on new cycle commuter, highlighting a newfound passion and understanding of cycling.
There is also an important point to be made about business travel. At Brompton, as we have shown through the ‘Wheels for Heroes’ programme and the other work we are doing around transforming the way people get to and from their place of work, there is the demand for these solutions. However, changes to commuting practices can’t be made if employees are required to use their private vehicles for business travel during the day. This requirement, often contractual, means they will inevitably use their private car for their commute. So, there is work to be done, in businesses of all sizes to ensure corporate travel policies reflect our collective goals to reduce private car use and make use of active, public and shared transport solutions.
Bike sharing schemes as a key micro mobility solution
The ‘Wheels for Heroes’ Campaign successfully highlighted that bike hiring and sharing schemes are a crucial part of transforming the way people can commuting to work and the overall transport system, with many of those taking part in the scheme continuing to cycle to work long after the pandemic, including those who had perhaps never cycled before.
In order to maximise its potential, active travel solutions and cycling infrastructure need to be integrated with sufficient public transport and other shared modes such as public transport, car club and daily rental which can accommodate for journeys that cannot be completed by active travel, to ensure bike sharing is made better accessible to those who wish to make this a part of their morning commute.
There should be specific requirements to ensure that not only is there the requisite road infrastructure to support cycling, walkways, cycle lanes and paths, but there is also access to bike hire and bike share within significant new developments and ensure bike sharing stations are installed where possible.
Brompton Bike are committed to continuing to work with key stakeholders, Government and the other members of the Urban Mobility Partnership to ensure access to affordable and quality bike sharing schemes are made better available across the UK’s major cities.