Still a long way to go in Buenos Aires

In my last post I tried to reflect my views as a bike commuter here in Buenos Aires. I made just a brief comment on public transport but in this post I’d like to picture the scene in a broader way.

Biking is relatively comfortable and safe in Moreno, my hometown. The situation changes if you want to cycle beyond Moreno: on working days and especially at rush hours, travelling on the train with your bikes is almost a torture as companies seem unable to realise the one and only carriage they provide for bike commuters is not enough. Yes, they only provide one carriage for bike commuters. I don’t use the train to go to work because I work in the suburbs of my hometown but lots of people do use the train to commute and it’s chaotic. Below I’ll show you a shot of a carriage for bike commuters.

The picture shown is a carriage meant for bikes in my train line. Believe it or not, this carriage is packed with bike commuters during working days. I’d like this railway company to do something for us. We need it..

Free Transportation Program

I work for a company that has more than a thousand employees. Approximately eight hundred of them are located in two buildings in the same neighbourhood only half a mile away from each other, and both really close to a bike path.

In 2007, when I noticed that more and more of my work colleagues were interested in my commuting choice, I decided I should do something to encourage more people to bike to work.

CELEPAR bike commuters

CELEPAR bike commuters

The project started when I joined the company’s CIPA (an internal comity responsible for employee’s health and safety, compulsory to every Brasilian company). We were able to use the intranet and corporate email to help us develop educational campaigns, organise visits to different departments, and distribute flyers.  It was the first phase of the project called Survey.

Survey
Before carrying out any effective measure toward cycle mobility in the company, we designed a questionnaire to evaluate the feasibility for the company and whether or not there were people interested in it. It contained a set of closed-ended questions (e.g.: commuting distance, travelling time and costs) and open-ended questions (e.g.: pros and cons for biking, street safety). We also recorded some video interviews where the employees could speak more freely and we could gather some suggestions and critics.

All this process took almost six months. The results were promising and we were anxious to start the second phase.

Most employees support cyclists

Most employees support cyclists

Analysis
From the collected data, it was possible to acknowledge that the majority of the employees supported the project, even those who said that would continue to use their car. However, bike commuting wasn’t an appropriate choice for all those who were interested. During this phase we determined our target group and developed some strategies to encourage a more efficient use of the bicycle. It was time to ride.

Implementation
Almost one year later the program was launched. Besides the employees who spontaneously began to use the bike during the first two phases, it was time to get people to ride.

We organised bike tours with groups of more than 30 people among employees and relatives. The route was made exclusively by bicycle. It was an excellent opportunity to enforce bicycle as a valid means of transportation and address legal issues, basic bike fitting, and riding techniques.

We also started a “Ride Buddy/Mentor” program (similar to CommuteOrlando) helping people to choose the best route, fitting their bike and riding with a mentor for novice cyclists.

Follow-up
Although our study indicated that the company staff supported this mobility program, there was no incentive to maintain and expand the program from the board of directors.

Even so, there are new employees adopting the bicycle. On sunny days, more than 15 bicycles can be seen leaned against the company garage’s wall. And they aren’t always the same ones. It is good to see more and more bicycles than the measly two or three bikes parked there before the program.

The importance of the program has been recognised outside the company. Last year it was accepted in the Towards Carfree Cities Conference in Portland, USA. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it. And this year, it will be presented at the 17th National Congress of Transit and Transportation (CNTT-ANTP) held in September here in Curitiba, Brazil.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Ulrich Jager, a mobility consultant from L & J Mobility who strongly supported our project since the very beginning.

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