In her latest article based on the MCIA’s Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework, Jenny Luckman explains the work going on behind the scenes to promote motorcycles as a practical solution to creeping congestion, air pollution, business profitability, and our general wellbeing
Last night I had a dream about the framework. Some of my most exciting dreams are about transport policy, and this was no exception. First, I’d like to point out that in this dream I was fully clothed. In fact, I was wearing full motorcycle gear, purchased through a motorcycle-to-work tax incentive scheme, which also helped me buy my bike.
I told you my dreams are thrilling. In it, I rode to work on a network which catered equally for motorcycles and bicycles. At work I got showered, changed and fluffed up my helmet hair using the changing facilities, which are mandatory at all places of business. And as I beavered away (on other transport related matters) I knew my bike was safely anchored in the secure motorcycle parking section of the car park. I also knew I was not as vulnerable as a road user because many drivers had also spent time on two wheels and so understood the way they move on the road.
OK, so I made that dream up, but it’s a vision which all local and national transport planners need to be made aware of and one which will be communicated repeatedly to them over the coming years, as set out in theme three of the framework – Motorcycles as a practical solution.
Theme three is about influencing policy and will become more and more relevant to local transport planners. Soon they will be desperate for realistic solutions to the creeping congestion which is eroding air quality, profitability for business, and our general wellbeing. Encouraging motorcycling is “new thinking” to many local authorities, which are currently confused as to where motorcycles fit in with the walking/cycling paradigm they have been encouraged to promote. They see motorcycles as a road safety “problem” and are scared to promote them in case casualties increase.
We need consistently to challenge this incorrect assumption. In our general PR we will continue to position powered two-wheelers as part of the “solution” to congestion, pressure on parking and transport poverty. We need to promote them as a sustainable private transport alternative to cars and reinforce the fact that solving congestion problems will simultaneously address safety concerns. When the needs of riders are properly factored into road planning, we achieve greater awareness through “safety in numbers”.
Action 22 in the framework identifies the need to change policy at both local and national level. Councils need to drive change on their own roads, and this needs to be backed up by central government. Action 21 proposes that for this to happen, motorcycling needs a level playing field. I have asked senior local transport planners why they don’t promote motorcycling and they have said it’s because they only get funding to promote cycling and walking, which recently received another £1.2 billion boost.
There is a big fat flaw to limiting the promotion of transport choices to just walking and cycling. Realistically they won’t suit all people, especially if they are travelling more than a few miles, which is why people need additional options. Cycling to work seems like a virtuous idea on a Sunday morning but when you’re thinking about the journey home at 5.30 on a Monday evening and still haven’t got anything for tea, it feels like a bad choice. If I cycled the seven miles between home and the office, which I believe is about the national average for a commute, I would want to lie down in a dark room for an hour afterwards, not start cooking and hanging out the washing, which is what I need to do. Motorcycles and scooters make more sense for longer journeys.
We know the financial savings available through the Cycle to Work scheme played a huge part in inducing 400,000 to switch to a bicycle, with 73% citing them as a factor. Theme three sets out how we intend to lobby government to extend tax breaks for the purchase of motorcycles, safety gear, and perhaps even training. This would have to be structured differently to the cycle scheme, as it would require a larger capital investment to meet the cost of motorcycles and scooters, but we are looking at options to drive this forward.
We will be working with cyclists on a number of shared issues and have devoted a whole theme to collaboration, which I will elaborate on in the future, but the level playing field in the promotion of cycling needs to be addressed. This even extends to the reporting of accident statistics. Biased reporting in favour of cycling is in no one’s interest. A prime example of this can be seen in two recently released reports by the Welsh Government. One summarised the casualty rates for motorcyclists and the other for cyclists, but they did not receive similar treatment. In the motorcycle report, the writers made interesting use of colour. Motorcycle casualties were red in pie charts with all other user types in hues of blue. In a table making comparisons to 2004-08 averages, red ink was used to show improvements and blue ink to show increased casualties, but arrows were only used in the motorcycle report, even though the same table was reproduced in both reports. The table showed a 6% increase in KSIs on the 2004-08 average for motorcyclists and a 76% increase for cyclists! By using a blue upwards-pointing arrow, it made the 76% look more impressive at first glance. In the cycling summary the 76% figure was not highlighted or contextualised at all and, instead, the authors found a favourable comparison for cycle injuries to “peaks in the 1980s”. As I mentioned, this does not serve cyclists well, who, like us, need to be able to lobby for better infrastructure based on facts, not fluff.
So how are we drawing attention to motorcycles as a practical solution? We are asking local authorities to support motorcycles as a legitimate transport choice, by taking this message to conferences up and down the country, where we have access to those in decision-making roles. We promote to central government through our association with the All-Party Parliamentary Motorcycling Group, which launched the framework at the Houses of Parliament in November last year.
We are active members of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) and our public affairs team is constantly making opportunities for our framework partners to speak to relevant MPs and civil servants. For example, Tony Campbell, chair of the MCIA, was a witness at a Transport Select Committee looking into urban congestion, to put forward the case for motorcycling.
Gaining Highways England as a framework partner also brings us closer to the Department for Transport and we are intending to take this message to other areas of government too, for example tax and education.
I keep reiterating that the framework is a long-term project, just in case you’re expecting results a week next Thursday, but one local authority is ahead of the game in understanding this vision. I am, of course, referring to Northamptonshire County Council, which aims to achieve a modal shift away from cars with its Motorcycle Northants project. The reason I mention it so often is because it is putting the framework into practice, so provides an example which could be rolled out across the whole UK. A lack of changing facilities and secure parking was cited as a barrier to commuting by motorcycle or scooter in Northampton.
The council’s response has been to talk to businesses planning to build new premises to encourage them to include changing facilities and designated motorcycle parking spaces.
From conversations with staff at the council, I know that businesses which hadn’t considered motorcycles in their early build plan realised that it would actually put them in a stronger position to recruit staff since out of town developments tend to be poorly served by public transport and it is more difficult to attract workers, especially if the wages aren’t huge.
You could have similar conversations with local businesses. If you know of companies which have parking problems in your patch you could contact them and offer your services to talk about how motorcycles might help, or how motorcycle security could be improved.
As an industry we can all play our part in highlighting motorcycles as a practical solution and, as ever, I would be happy to talk to you and forward any literature we have which might help you make your case. Meanwhile, I’m considering a move to Northamptonshire to make my dreams come true.