Doubts about his fitness discouraged Martin Ward from ever attempting the long cycle to work. That was until a major fault to his car forced it out of action and forced him into the saddle.
Martin, who is the head of workforce strategy at East Midlands Trains, didn’t think he had the stamina to tackle the 20-mile round trip from his home to the company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Derby’s city centre. Now he wouldn’t think twice about it.
Martin’s passion for cycling has since gone into high gear. Last year, he competed in the RailSport Games’ sportive and recently he took in the sights and sounds of India as part of a 450km Railway Children fundraiser. With at least one major annual cycle challenge, Martin clocks up hundreds of miles each year, an endeavour that is made easier by picking up new bikes and equipment through the government’s Cycle to Work initiative.
How it works
First launched in 1999 to promote healthier journeys, the scheme allows employers to buy and then loan cycles and cycle safety equipment to their staff as a tax-free benefit up to the value of £1,000. Employees then pay this back over a number of months. Significantly, payments are taken from salaries before any tax is deducted, meaning tax and National Insurance contributions are reduced each month.
Overweight and determined to change
Thousands of rail industry workers take-up the scheme every year and each have their own motivations. Martin has praised the scheme for being a “cash flow-efficient” method for buying new bikes but for signaller Keiron Curtis, 67, it was part of a lifestyle change to improve his health.
“Back in 2004, I was playing five-a-side football with some work colleagues, got knocked over, and struggled to get back up off the floor,” said Keiron, who works in the Vale of Neath, Wales. “At over 17 stone, I was way overweight and decided there and then to do something about it. My employer, Network Rail, was promoting Cycle to Work, so I thought I would give riding a bike a go.”
Keiron now cycles the 20-mile commute from Glynneath to the Port Talbot signal box three or four times a week. He said the scheme has turned his life around. Not only has it helped him to become healthier but he feels less stressed.
Sheds, showers and superhighways
The appeal of dedicated cycle infrastructure was the factor that motivated Eurostar programme manager Nicolas Madier to join the scheme.
More and more money is being invested in improving cycle infrastructure, to encourage integrated cycle-rail travel. This isn’t limited to lock-ups at stations either, it includes changing, shower and storage facilities and sophisticated bike shelters. For example, East Midlands Trains recently announced that electric bikes are now available to hire from Derby station.
Nicolas, who joined the scheme in 2013, said: “I had just moved into a new apartment on Cable Street in East London. Under my window I could see the Cycle Superhighway 3, which triggered me to join the scheme.
“It is now quicker for me to cycle to work than taking the Tube.
“Over the last five years, with the new superhighways and infrastructure that Transport for London has put in place, the take-up has been exponential. In morning peak hours you can even have mini cycle traffic jams forming at traffic lights.”
Nicolas has cycled around 6,500km – the equivalent of 8 journeys from London to Paris and back – since buying his bike.
“At least when you sweat it’s from exercise, rather than boiling in a crowded Tube,” he added.
A rewarding job
Reward specialist James Duncan oversees a number of employee benefits at Network Rail, including the Cycle to Work scheme. Since it switched to a new supplier in 2012 the average uptake has been 3.2 per cent of the workforce each year – around 1,200 people.
James said: “One thing we’ve struggled with in the past is reaching our core workforce.
“In this year’s window, we’ve had a higher take-up. We’ve not had a full year’s stats yet, but we’re at over 60 per cent of our usual year take-up, just in one window alone. That’s because we’ve been putting out posters and reaching out to more of our routes to get more to the track side, so that’s driven quite a big increase in take-up.
“There is obviously a higher take-up in offices, and that’s usually because they have higher population densities and are easier to promote the benefit to.”
But it’s not just employees that benefit.
“We also save on National Insurance contributions,” he adds, estimating savings of up to £120,000 a year. “We also get a healthier and more engaged workforce – and once they’re on the Cycle to Work scheme they tend to stay with the company longer, so that helps with retaining employees – but it also helps by freeing up car parking spaces.”
James’ team is currently promoting adaptable bikes under the scheme which aren’t subject to the same £1,000 limit, such as hand cycles, tricycles and stepper bikes. In the future, he believes the limit will need to be increased to cater for a growing trend for electric bikes.
An immersive experience
Returning to Martin Ward, although he has benefited financially and seen his fitness improve through regularly cycling, it’s something else that he has found most rewarding.
He said: “There’s an Ernest Hemingway quote that’s something like ‘It’s by riding a bike that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.’
“When you go on holiday and you’re in a car or a coach, you’re very removed from the experience, but by cycling you’re using all five senses because you can hear birds in the trees and smell flowers. It’s incredible.”