The Irish Times view on the Bike to Work scheme

Cycling in the dark

On the face of it the Cycle to Work tax scheme is a winning proposition. Faced with unsustainable transport trends, measures were introduced in 2009 to promote cycling by allowing employers to provide a new bike and accessories to staff. Workers repay the cost via salary deductions that spread out repayments. They are not liable for tax, PRSI or Universal Social Charge on this expense. Those on the highest tax rate can save almost half of the cost.

In principle, there are many benefits. Cycling is good for health, and encouraging people to take the bike to work reduces road congestion and pressure on public transport. Moreover, the trip to and from work does not add to all those harmful emissions from the car. What’s not to like? But quantifying the cost – or indeed the implied benefit – turns out to be quite a challenge.

Extraordinarily, a Department of Transport spending review has found there are no official figures on scheme uptake or cost and notes that estimates vary for each. Oversight is limited “and there are no records centrally available concerning details of scheme operation, such as the numbers of people availing of the scheme, or the revenue foregone by the Exchequer in order to provide it”. Not good enough. The very lack of data makes evaluation difficult. “While an examination of Census data indicates an increase in cycle-commuters since the introduction of the scheme, the increase is modest considering the reported estimates of scheme uptake.” Still, the authors do not have evidence to determine that the scheme has failed to deliver a significant impact.

The muddled application of what remains a very good idea derives from the model chosen to deliver it, which restricts eligibility to the employer-worker relationship and tends to deliver greater savings to people on higher incomes. There is strong case to recast the scheme with a view to asserting central control and widening access. For the State the lack of data and oversight is akin to cycling off on a dark wet night with no mudguards, no lights and no helmet.